Monday, August 23, 2010

Contemplating Lou Piniella

Citing pressing family issues --specifically the grave illness of his mother -- Lou Piniella walked away from his job managing the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.

This was about 40 games earlier than planned, and (at risk of being overly brutal) about 120 games too late. But these Cubs — overpaid, oversensitive and emphatically unproductive — may be impossible to manage anyway. Pity the fool who lands this supposedly plum job for 2011.

The general consensus on Piniella's managerial career is that it's Hall of Fame worthy. I'm not so sure about that. Yes, he's 14th on the career wins list, he guided the 1990 Reds to a surprising World Series win and even his record with the Cubs is probably better than I give him credit for.

But I suspect that too many of his teams were working against him and his decisions. His Seattle Mariners teams may have done less with more than any club in history. Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez were all together at one point, all at the top (or close to it) of their games, and they added up to what?

But then, he may be managing's Richie Ashburn. Ashburn's star was dimmed by being a 1950s center fielder, which means he was a peer of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. Piniella's managerial career may simply appear to be less impressive to me because it coincides with those of Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.

It appears to me that the irony of the Cubs over the past decade is that when they had a stable of power pitchers, they had a manager (Dusty Baker) who handled the staff as if it were comprised of the sinker-slider types he succeeded with in San Francisco. And after the big fastballs vanished in the inevitable injuries, the Cubs hired Piniella, who loves power pitchers and ended with with rotations featuring pitch-to-contact guys.

If Wrigley was the right place for Sweet Lou, he got there at the wrong time.

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