2009 Recap: Lou Piniella
(graphic to come)
And now, that we've discussed all the King's Men, let's critique the King, just in time for Pitchers and Catchers report.
Because, if Lou Piniella was judged solely by his performance alone in 2009, he would not be Sweet Lou anymore. He would be gone; banished from these hallowed halls, and we'd all be up in arms here about whether Ryno or Joe Girardi or Alan Trammel or the moldy corpse of Leo Durocher should be sitting in the corner of the dugout in 2010. Because Lou basically didn't do dog dick last year.
First of all, his analysis of our 2008 playoff exit was short-sighted and insufficient. His assertion that a left-handed bat was all we needed led to the worst Cubs signing since Turd Hundley. During spring training,he failed to address the fact that Geo Soto was miserably unprepared, and he ran Soto's fat ass out there to the great detriment of the season. In fact, all of the lineups he ran out there, of which there were many, were not productive. There were many injuries, but we were unprepared, partly due to the makeup of our original roster, which included Joey Gathright and Aaron Miles, and didn't include anyone that could fill in for Aramis Ramirez. He stuck with Alfonso Soriano in the leadoff spot far too long. His handling of Ryan Dempster was curious; bestowing the closer's role on Kevin Gregg was injurious; and he needed to come down hard on Zambrano before his embarrassing yet hilarious on field meltdown, but certainly after that. But Zambrano stomped around and stormed to his heart's content.
I won't even mention his total inability to relate, on any level, with his hand-chosen right fielder. Yes, Milton Bradley proved himself to be a spoilt, churlish phallus, but for the money Lou is paid, that is his job to rein Bradley in, and what happened, instead? Lou ignored him for two months; called him a piece of shit, kept running him in the lineup although is production with runners on base was worse than abysmal, and finally threw up his arms and gave up, utterly undercutting whatever meager trade value Bradley retained after a 40 RBI season.
So yeah, Lou sucked last year. His press conferences were the epitome of discouraging. Lou sat there, befuddled and confused, and many of us were legitimately alarmed that we may very well be seeing the medical mental unravelling of a 66 year old man who retains extra weight around his abdomen. Were there clogged arteries to Lou's brain? Is that why he stands here, a mere muttering of a man?
Nah, as it turns out fortunately, Lou's health feels good. He had just never dealt with anything quite like the 2009 season before. There were injuries, both physical and mental, that left him, a long-time advocate of a 'versatile' roster, with an extremely non-versatile one. A man with three fingers playing third? A man who was banished to the outfield playing second? Two men who epitomize 'good-hit, no-field', logging big-time innings counts in right, left, and third? Ryan Freel?
Lou was simply overwhelmed. So why not replace him? Well, simply put, he would have to be replaced by his superior,and his superior, budding underwear model and current Sloth doppelganger Jim Hendry, has spent the past two Zellian years laying low, trying not to attract attention to himself after saddling the Cubs with over 100 million dollars on annual salary committments for this year, next, and hefty numbers spreading out all the way until the end of 2014, when Soriano slips seamlessly from the Cubs employ into Social Security.
If Hendry fires Lou, that sends a sign to Hendry's new employer that he made a mistake in bringing him in to begin with. And that isn't going to happen. So regardless of how listless and disinterested Lou appeared in 2009, there was no chance that he wouldn't be back here this year. In fact, as long as Hendry has his job, so does Lou, if he so chooses.
Since Hendry is nothing if not a survivor, the quintessential company man, and since the Ricketts group initially seem to be taking a P. K. Wrigley-esque direction of firming up the physical plant first, taking profits and buying down some very creative debt used to purchase the club in the first place, it appears the on-field product is in Hendry's hands for at least another year after this one. Even with the Great Ryne Sandberg putting in his apprenticeship, and other fan favorite Joe Girardi perhaps setting himself up for the biggest fall in sports, the 2011 job is Lou's, if he wants it.
What will Lou do this year? Same thing he did in 2007 and 2008, if all stay healthy. He will observe, make a key adjustment around the first of June, and hopefully ride the wave all the way to the NL Central crown, where we will probably get beat, again, because this team is not even as good as 2008, as constructed. Unless some minor-leaguers can come up and surprise (Castro actually being as good at SS as advertised; ditto Tyler Colvin and Jeff Samardzija), there are no other avenues to improvement. And that isn't Lou's fault, conveniently enough.