Our exhibit for today: the Chicago Cubs.
Late last season, the Cubs stank so badly that fans who had paid for tickets to late season games were showing up disguised as empty seats. Now in some cases this simply meant that no one could be found to buy tickets that the owner hadn't actually intended to use himself. In other cases, the weather was crappy as well, so the attraction of what one Sox-fan friend of mine referred to as "The World's Largest Outdoor Beer Garden" was also pretty much lacking, not just the horrid play of the team.
But the White Sox had just won the World Series in 2005, Cubs TV ratings were down, actual attendance (as opposed to ticket sales) was down, and disaster loomed. All this, when upper management knew that a sale of the Tribune Company and the Cubs was likely in the near future.
Something had to be done. And something was. The long-time Cubs President, Andy McPhail, was dismissed and a new President installed. And the first words out of the new President's mouth were approximately, "I believe that the Cubs can win the World Series in 2007."
The unanimous consensus around Major League Baseball: "Not likely at all." Teams do occasionally do worst to first runs in MLB, but they're built on a better foundation than the 2006 Cubs were. The Cubs needed to undertake some serious rebuilding. Instead, Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry had been told that he needed to construct a team that would win right now.
This left Hendry with two choices: explain that it couldn't be done and quit, or try to do it anyway. Like many of us in software development, he chose the latter course.
So instead of hiring Joe Girardi, an ex-Cub who really wanted the manager's position and would have been good for a rebuilding club, Hendry hired Lou Piniella who -- in my judgment -- would really prefer to be managing the New York Yankees. He spent money on free agents like it was water, which might not have been a bad idea, save for the fact that this was a pretty lousy free-agent class.
So the Cubs overspent to sign Alfonso Soriano, overspent to resign Aramis Ramirez who -- although he can hit homeruns! -- can't draw a walk and looks like a statue at third base. He signed a career backup infielder who had a career year, Mark DeRosa, to a big money multi-year contract. He signed outfielders like Cliff Floyd who are useful parts on a contender, but mainly serve to keep Murton and Pie out of the lineup on a rebuilding squad.
And he signed a few pitchers, Lilly and Marquis, who have worked out so far, although I'm waiting for Marquis to explode.
The only good news was that he didn't succeed in signing Zambrano to a big-money extension, given how well Zambrano's pitching at the moment.
All this, you see, is what happens when you're not allowed to say "No".