"Hey! Reading self help books doesn't make me less of a man!" "Yes it does, Rich." "But.." "Yes it does."
The Rich Hill thing, for Cubs fans, has always been about hope. There was hope in 2005, when we thought "this guy HAS to throw a strike at some point!" and then "please God let Prior and Wood come back so we don't have to watch this schmuck!" There was hope in 2006 when we believed maybe he'd get run over during the scrum that started after the Pierzynski-Barrett fight (he was on the mound that day...for 4 innings...and 5 walks...and 7 runs). There was hope in 2007 when we anguished as another young star failed to put together any consistent success. And, yes, there was hope in 2008, when we groaned as our own Steve Blass was railroaded off to Iowa. We thought, "hell, Sean Marshall has to be better than this sniveling mess." There was always a twinge of pain to the hope; against all rational thought, we believed in Rich Hill, because if you believed in him, you could believe that if a frog had wings it wouldn't bump its ass, or that Rex Grossman could be a successful NFL quarterback. It made Cubs fans miserable; it was through our constant derision and sarcasm, we believed, that Rich could cowboy up and throw a god damn strike. We would be bitter; we would wait yet again for a friggn' successful Cubs prospect, in a way we couldn't see other fanbases doing. It came from the very darkest parts of us. Whatever your thoughts on the jaw-dropping Mlbtraderumors story this morning, that frustration is now replaced with ... something else.
Our fellow Cubs fans will go through similar dissembling over the next few weeks — because this isn't going away; Rich Hill is going to be remembered for this much longer than Daniel Garibay ever will — certain people will defend Hill no matter what, and others will think of him as a headcase until the end of time, and the truth will remain somewhere in the middle (but much closer to the headcase). (We certainly aren't going to stop burning his jersey or anything.) And that, friends, is what this story is really about: It's not about making Chuck Knoblauch look composed, it's not about the Cubs, it's not even about Rich Hill. Fourteen hours ago, Rich Hill was what we loathed about Larry Rothschild: His story existed in the black-white world we demand of our sports. His story was pure; it was impossible not to think of him as a weakling with mound composure that Matt Clement found laughable.
But as much as we try to make it not so — and boy, do we try — the sports world is gray. Rich Hill is not a talentless hack... But he's not the Guy In The White Hat Here To Replace Mark Prior we all believed — needed to believe— he was either. His story is a human one (failure is as human as it gets). His story is gray. It always was.
That we now realize this, so vividly, is what we truly lost, at 8 a.m. this morning, logging onto the internet as we desperately avoided actually working, the world entirely different than it had been 10 minutes before, yet, with Rich Hill in Baltimore. So long, Chump.