Starving Chicago Cubs Fans Cling To Pujolsian Embrace

For fans of the Chicago Cubs, it's an image that may be destined to become only slightly less famous than the one of President Obama and his staff huddled around their video screens on the night a certain wanted man was rubbed out. Or perhaps that of the U.S. Navy seaman kissing a buxom young lass in the streets of New York upon his return from World War II. Yes, I'm referring to this picture:

Angry face

 (Courtesy US Presswire, CSN Chicago)

Indeed, thine eyes do not deceive thee. That's Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals -- already indisputably one of the greatest players in baseball history -- giving the ol' bro-hug to Cubs GM Jim Hendry. Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune took advantage of the opportunity to tweet a Facebook post of the image and use it as the lede for his recap of yesterday's 6-4 Cubs loss. And I'd love to write a scathing critique of Sully along with all of the fans, bloggers and whatnots who reportedly made a big to-do of the photo. But I can't really blame them.

Admittedly, when I first learned of it, I was rather taken aback by the concept of Jim Hendry hugging Albert Pujols. This is mainly because I honestly had no idea the two were on hugging terms. I didn't know they were on speaking terms. Then again, it's not hard to believe Pujols feels all warm and fuzzy about a guy who runs the team against which King Albert has hit 47 home runs and put up a career .999 OPS (160 games, 691 plate appearances).

Naturally, Hendry denied the embrace means anything other than a friendly greeting. And Jimbo's keen awareness of MLB's anti-tampering rules, along with any degree of reasonableness, lead me to believe him. Yet I still feel oddly, even counter-intuitively, elated by the notion that Pujols and Hendry could, theoretically, at some point months from now, sit down and have an amicable discussion about what it could take to make St. Louis' greatest nightmare come true.

I'm not saying a deal is going to get done. In fact, I doubt it. But I can forgive and even understand the minor hubub that bubbled up about the image. Because Cubs fans don't have much to cling to right now besides hope for the future -- however crazed.

As of this writing, the team sits four games under .500 at 15-19, five games out in the NL Central. The Cubs are 5-8 against division foes and 7-11 at Wrigley Field. They've lost two starting pitchers to injury, produced very little with runners in scoring position, often embarrassed themselves on the base paths, and haven't exactly looked airtight defensively. In many ways, the 2011 season thus far has looked far too much like 2010 -- with the team's corner infielders failing to provide the power the Cubs so desperately need and the notion of an extended winning streak seemingly out of the question. The Cubs still haven't won more than two games in a row.

That's not to say there aren't some things to feel good about. The bullpen appears to be much better and this 2011 squad does seem to have a knack for scoring in the late innings. Now that the starting pitchers seem to be regularly turning in quality starts (six innings pitched, three or fewer runs surrendered) or close to it, who knows. Maybe a winning streak is on the way. But I'll believe it when I see it. I'll believe it when the Cubs start scoring runs.

Yes, the future is all Cubs fans have at the moment. A future that may or may not include our general manager proudly embracing the greatest right-handed hitter in MLB history. A future that should include a few prospects graduating to the big leagues, performing well and not costing the team a ridiculous amount of money. A future that, I hope, includes at least one winning streak.

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