Heat Week: Managerial Mishaps
A question I've been pondering lately: how many screw-ups can you get away with at your job before you're finally escorted from the building? At 1060 West, the answer is many. Hell, Dusty Baker couldn't get himself fired. He could have streaked the field, punched out the third base umpire, dry humped the left field foul pole, and finally be taken down with both middle fingers extended and it seems as if he would have been destined to finish out his contract.
I'd say we'll all agree that Lou Piniella has done a damn sight better than Dusty. For one thing he's only rarely started Aaron Miles. If Baker was running the team, the Suckiest Switch Hitter in Baseball would've been playing every single day. But this is like comparing your job performance with the guy you replaced, who happened to get fired after he got caught taking a crap in the boss's chair. It's a pointless comparrison. Terry Schivo could have outmanaged Dusty Baker; that wouldn't have made her a good manager. So maybe we should stop with the comparrisons and instead consider the following:
Lou Piniella bats Alfonso Soriano lead-off. Is the Fonz a prima-donna? If he is, then he's the oddest I've ever seen. He doesn't pout, he doesn't complain, he simply stops producing when a change is forced upon him. Except does he? Really? In baseball we are taught not to obsess over the small sample size. What evidence do we have that Soriano "stops producing" when he bats other than lead-off? A .153 AVG in the #3 spot in 72 at bats in 2006? That's it?
The crime isn't Soriano's imaginary attitude, the crime is that Piniella lets him bat leadoff despite the fact that he's better suited to bat cleanup or 5th. The crime isn't that Soriano isn't able to change his approach to be a more traditional leadoff man, the crime is that Lou has left him there this year despite his .216 AVG in the month of May and .220 AVG so far in June. For God's sake, drop him in the lineup already! You wonder why the Cubs have had an anemic offense in May, maybe it has something to do with Piniella trotting out a guy with an absolutely crappy-since-the-end-of-April OBP as the first batter every game! C'mon already!
Lou Piniella is at least partially responsible for the mental fundamentals and bad attitudes we've seen. Don't get me wrong. I don't really think a good manager can guide a bad team into the playoffs, but he does make some significant differences on a team. Much as Dusty drove a talented Cubs team into the dirt in 2004, we have seen zero evidence that Lou is taking steps -- aside perhaps from dishing out half-hearted scoldings -- to shore up this team's defensive problems. Nor have we seen Lou take control of his clubhouse. How many violent, idiotic outbursts do the Cubs need to have before Piniella lays down the law?
Lou needs to do something! Make these dopes take extra fielding practice if they can't put their gloves on the ball! Make Soriano use both hands when he handles a fly ball, ban that ridiculous hop, and for gawd's sake prep the pitchers for base stealers and the hitters for breaking balls! How hard is it to do this?
Lou Piniella and Larry Rothschild are killing the Cubs' bullpen. If you think Lou Piniella has any idea how to manage a bullpen then you are half way toward being diagnosed as crazy. He doesn't have the patience to force his relievers to work their way through their problems. Instead he runs out and yanks them the first time they fail to do their job. How hard would your job be if you knew that you'd get yanked after the first mistake? And on top of that, if a pitcher actually does a good job Lou will ride him into the dirt. You will never convince me that Carlos Marmol hasn't been damaged by his excessive use from Piniella in '07 and especially '08.
Not to mention that either the entire bullpen has lost the ability to throw strikes or Lou and Larry have some kind of stupid approach toward pitching in the late innings. I'm not sure if every single Cubs reliever is being told to pitch around their opponents, but even if they're not maybe Lou and Larry can step up and emphasize throwing strikes and challenging hitters a little more.
Lou Piniella can't manage in the playoffs. I won't blame Lou for past seasons that I didn't see. But it is true that since his first trip to the playoffs -- when he won the World Series with the Reds -- Lou's playoff record is 15-25. He even managed to not win the World Series -- or even get there! -- with a 116 win team! But forget all that.
Instead I defer to the choices we saw him make in 2007 and 2008. Maybe the players were "tight." Maybe the fans were too tough on the team. Or maybe Lou made blundering pitching decisions and stupid roster choices the last two Octobers. Maybe it's not just the players who over-think the playoffs, but Lou as well.
Lou Piniella is not Moses either. Fine. We'll revisit the first thing I wrote. He's better than Dusty Baker. But I truly believe that if the Cubs reach the World Series and win it it will have little-to-nothing to do with Lou Piniella. And if this year is another one of those failures, if the Cubs -- as talented as they are -- cannot even reach the playoffs, then Lou needs to go. I don't care if they win 98 games and miss the playoffs or 68 games, the Cubs need to be a little tougher on their managers. After all, as another Cubs manager once said ... nice guys finish last. And maybe Lou's not a "nice guy" but he may be too old and too tired to finish first.