Rhetorical Constructions of Anger Management, Emotions, and Public Argument in Baseball Culture: The Case of Carlos Zambrano

By Johnson, Kevin A.; Anderson, Joseph W. | Nine, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Rhetorical Constructions of Anger Management, Emotions, and Public Argument in Baseball Culture: The Case of Carlos Zambrano


Johnson, Kevin A., Anderson, Joseph W., Nine


Carlos Zambrano was a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, and at the time of this essay, a pitcher for the Miami Marlins. Many baseball fans and writers know him for his pitching talents as well as his emotional outbursts. For example, Matt Leland recently noted, "The guy just has a fiery temperament. Sometimes, it's a focused intensity that he channels into his pitching performances. When that's the case, the Big Z normally dominates. Too often, though, Zambrano has let his emotions get the best of him, both on and off the mound." (1) Leland described Zambrano as having "no qualms about fighting teammates in his own dugout, showing up his manager or letting the umpires know exactly how he feels about their calls." (2)

Leland is one of many baseball writers who have questioned a string of incidents involving Zambrano. In June 2007, Dave Van Dyck reported, "It has come to this with the Cubs: Unable to beat other teams, they have started beating on each other. ... In the midst of losing their fifth straight game and nth in the last 15 ... batterymates Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett tussled in the dugout and then apparently had an all-out set-to in the clubhouse.'" The fistfight between Zambrano and Barrett would be followed by many temper tantrums in the dugout. In June 2010, Zambrano was "suspended indefinitely after a dugout tirade" where he "had to be separated from teammate Derrek Lee in the visitors' dugout after surrendering four runs to the Chicago White Sox in the bottom of the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field." (4) As part of his suspension, Zambrano completed anger management counseling before being able to return to the playing field.

Zambrano talked about the counseling, telling Carrie Muskat, "It's all done. I'm cured. ... The problem I have to solve is when I get upset on the field. I think my problem is after I cross those lines. When somebody makes an error or I make an error, that's my problem. ... It did work, and believe me, that was an experience that I can take through the years." (5) Fans and baseball writers have begun to question the sincerity of Zambano's reflection given two subsequent incidents.

As a batter, Zambrano struck out in a game on May 31, 2011, and broke his bat over his knee in frustration. Then, on June 5, 2011, he called the Cubs "embarrassing" and questioned Cubs reliever Carlos Marmot's pitching strategy after the Cubs lost six games in a row and eight of their previous ten. Many baseball writers called for a suspension. For example, Gene Wojciechowski wrote, "You could see this latest meltdown--one in a lonnnnnnng line of nut-job moments by the Chicago Cubs starter--coming for days. And after what he said about his teammates Sunday, Cubs management ought to suspend him for days, weeks, months or, in a perfect world, the remainder of the season." (6) A few writers were sympathetic to Zambrano's claim that the Cubs were an embarrassment, but even those reporters commented on Zambrano's anger getting the best of him. For instance, Dylan Polk noted, "If [the Cubs] look long enough, they'll understand Zambrano's point of view and turn things around." Although sympathetic, Polk still commented, "Zambrano has a history of flying off the handle and letting his temper get the best of him, which prior to Sunday, fans thought had culminated in 2010 with an altercation with then-first baseman Derrek Lee, landing Zambrano in the bullpen as well as anger management. Since then, his temper has been a running joke among baseball fans, sort of a ticking time bomb that fans ... knew would inevitably explode." (7)

The purpose of this essay is to explore the implications of the rhetoric of baseball fans and writers surrounding the early June 2011 episodes involving Zambrano. Zambrano's case is perhaps the most notable and most recent example of an athlete receiving attention because of his anger, as well as being required to undergo anger management therapy. While this essay does suggest that Zambrano's case has much to teach us about MLB'S anger management rhetoric, we do not mean to imply that he stands alone.

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