Jake Arrieta’s release by the Cubs after Wednesday night’s latest ugly start was obviously the right move for both parties.
It also was just as obviously a move made weeks — maybe months — later than it should have been.
But perhaps most of all, when the curtain finally dropped on the six-month, second act of Arrieta’s Cubs career, it provided Exhibit A for why baseball reunion tours are rare. And should be.
Especially when they involve players who did exceptional things for the franchise the first time around.
“That’s one of the things we did talk about [Wednesday] night,” team president Jed Hoyer said. “Nothing that happened on the mound last night or the other nights in any way diminishes his role in club history. I think there’s a good argument to make that he’s one of the more influential people in the history of the franchise.
“This guy’s a legend here.”
Hoyer’s right. That doesn’t change because of the 5-11 return engagement in Chicago that included a 6.88 ERA — 2-9 and 8.28 in his last 15 starts, including nine that lasted just four innings or less.
But Arrieta didn’t do his otherwise sizable Cubs image any good, either, with a season that started OK (2.57 through five starts), unraveled quickly and ended with a gratuitous, surly, childish comment to a veteran Cubs reporter Wednesday night to remove his mask during what became Arrieta’s final Zoom session with Chicago media as a Cub.
It was an ugly, disrespectful moment that evoked flashbacks of Arrieta pushing back on the science of vaccines during a Zoom session in May.
Not exactly the ideal look for a role model and mentor of young men — which, perhaps ironically, was what the reporter’s question to Arrieta on Wednesday night was about in the first place.
Hoyer said Arrieta’s comment Wednesday did not come into play in the decision that was shared in a sit-down between Hoyer, Arrieta and Ross after Wednesday’s media sessions had concluded.
Regardless, it didn’t take a snarky, unprofessional parting shot to make releasing Arrieta the right thing to do if he wasn’t going to step aside on his own.
“We thought it was the right thing to do for him. If he can catch on somewhere, maybe a change of scenery would help him,” Hoyer said. “For us it seemed like the right time.”
If not well past the ideal time.
“It just stinks,” said Ross, who caught one of Arrieta’s two no-hitters during their two seasons as teammates. “I try to forget stuff like [Wednesday] night. What he’s done for this organization, how consistent he’s been with the time that I was on his team in ’15 and ’16 — those are the things I’m holding onto.”
Nobody can take away those no-hitters or the historically dominant 2015 Cy Young season or the 2015 wild-card game win over Gerrit Cole and the Pirates or the two road wins in the 2016 World Series.
And nobody could know that this return to the scene of all that greatness after three injury-hampered seasons with the Phillies could go this wrong this fast.
But everybody knew he wasn’t the same pitcher when he returned at 35 as he was back then. And the risk of a bad ending was always in play — even if you chose from the start to put a firewall between the enormity of that 2015-17 legacy and this second stint with the club.
So maybe don’t be so quick to scream for a reunion with Kris Bryant, Javy Báez or Anthony Rizzo — even if none of them have been gone for as long, and all are in a different career phase than Arrieta.
Hoyer said when the three championship-core All-Stars were traded at the deadline less than two weeks ago that he was leaving the door open to discuss returns. And Ross has suggested the same possibility multiple times since then.
But long before Wednesday, insiders said the club did not intend to pursue re-signing any of them (while leaving open the slim chance of a steeply discounted market creating a possibility).
And why would they go down that road again once the hard decisions were made to trade them all and wear the blowback and bad optics of the rubble left behind — including an eighth consecutive loss Thursday by a 17-4 score?
Even if they were able to get one or two back on a team-tolerable enough deal, what then?
That’s where the Arrieta experience should be instructive.
The point isn’t that anybody else the Cubs might bring back would have as miserable a second tour as Arrieta did, or that they would fall short of expectations at all.
But you can’t go back, much less go home again.
And bringing back heroes to the site of their 2016 glory days in the effort to produce the next generation of heroes and glory is almost as unreasonable as it is unfair to expect.
The Cubs moved on from the 2016 core in no uncertain terms at the trade deadline. And 12 days later, they closed the book on the last snarly gasp of nostalgic swagger.
“We’re definitely going to miss him,” Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks said of one-time mentor Arrieta.
Maybe even as much as Bryant, Báez and Rizzo.
But it’s probably just as important to recognize when it’s time to move on.
As Bryant said last week: “We can [still] be friends.”