Cubs Uniquely Suited to Helping Darvish Overcome Doubts

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a rambling think-piece aimed at uncovering the roots of Yu Darvish’s early struggles in a Cubs uniform. I mean, yeah, we’re going to get into some of that stuff, but my goal is to put forth a more perfunctory effort here.

Ed. note: I think he probably failed in that effort, so maybe keep that in mind.

I probably wouldn’t have gotten into it at all, even after Dylan Hernandez published a viral piece in the Los Angeles Times this past Wednesday that included quotes about Darvish not wanting his kids to go to school in LA (which, can you blame him?). But then I heard Peter Gammons on Mully and Hanley talking about the Cubs pitcher and it sparked a few thoughts.

“It’s really hard to gamble on a guy who’s never had expectations,” Gammons told to the show’s hosts, which this week includes David Haugh in place of Brian Hanley.

In the interest of full disclosure, the baseball scribe was actually paraphrasing something a baseball exec had told him about a certain setup man for the San Diego Padres. But Gammons was using that quote to reference Darvish and what he’s going through right now, which I felt tied in nicely with both what he had to say a few weeks ago and with what Darvish shared with Hernandez in LA.

“I’m not so sure Yu has quite the same approach and, again, I think it’s self esteem,” Gammons said shortly before Darvish went on the DL with the triceps issue. “There are times when he pitches, to me, as if he doesn’t want to let people down.”

Darvish himself echoed that assessment when he talked to Hernandez about his time with the Dodgers and how he felt about coming back to the city as a member of another team.

“More than what was actually written, what bothered me was the idea that Dodgers fans were disappointed,” Darvish said.

While we’re on the topic of Darvish basically reiterating what others have said about him, I suppose we could touch briefly on how he reinforced Chris Gimenez’s ill-advised comments to Steve Greenberg of the Sun-Times.

“I think he thinks that Chicago hates him for going on the DL a couple of times,” Gimenez said of Darvish in a fit of transparency that probably never should have been shared on the record.

Compare that to what Darvish told Hernandez about being cognizant of the fans and how they react to a performance on the mound.

“When people boo you, they’re telling you, ‘We don’t like you,’” the pitcher said. “It’s not a good feeling to get that from the fans of an organization you respect so much.”

But to look at all of that and to hold it against the other things Darvish has said and done would be foolish. Yes, he’s concerned with what people think of him. Yes, he wants to live up to the hopes and expectations those same fans have for him and for their team. No, that doesn’t make him weak.

Nor does the fact that Darvish was thinking about retiring last season, which was yet another revelation in that LA Times column. Think he’s alone there? Far from it, even if we just stick to current and former Cubs. Tommy La Stella left the team for a while amid a career crisis and he’s been welcomed back and lauded as a team leader in the time since.

Jake Arrieta, a man considered by many throughout Cubdom and baseball in general as one of the most mentally tough pitchers around, was similarly disenchanted and almost quit baseball when the Orioles demoted him. Dillon Maples, a potential closer in the making, nearly gave up the game when injuries and poor performance left him mired in A-ball for years.

And that’s just what I’m coming up with off the top of my head. The point is that, while any organization probably has its share of similar stories, the Cubs may be uniquely equipped to help Darvish navigate these choppy waters. He said that being traded to LA “changed something in my soul” and reinvigorated his love for the game.

The move to Chicago may have done more of the same, but there’s no doubt that such drastic changes in relatively short order may also have been overwhelming for Darvish. Which, again, is where his teammates are going to be integral in getting him back to who the Cubs need him to be.

“The [Cubs have the] most nurturing and people-friendly environment you will find in sports,” La Stella said.

Whether it’s Jon Lester telling him to “F— it” and just worry about what he can control or La Stella’s slightly more nuanced advice to embrace the internal struggle, Darvish has plenty of support.

“You have to make your peace with all of the stuff that makes you afraid,” La Stella said of his own journey. “You have to go into the noise in order to ever get any separation from it.”

Everyone’s different, though, and Darvish’s path may vary greatly from the ones his teammates have followed. What’s important is that he follows it, that he takes care of himself both mentally and physically, and that he arrives at a place that allows him to pitch — and, even more important, exist — at a high level.

Maybe then the noise he heads into will be that of adulation as the Cubs prevail over the Dodgers yet again.

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