The Piniella Era Begins


Photo: AP

First, as we did with the Dusty Baker press conference two weeks ago, I ask that you keep all the Piniella-hiring commentary here, rather than start a dozen different diaries on this topic.

The press conference announcing the hiring of Lou Piniella as the 56th manager (including the College of Coaches and a number of interim guys) in the history of the Chicago Cubs begins at noon CT today. I assume it'll be streamed somewhere, likely at cubs.com.

Will we see more scenes like the one in the photo above? Or has Piniella's year off of managing -- the only year he's spent out of a dugout in 43 years -- mellowed him?

This blog didn't exist in October 1999 or November 2002 (I started my old blog in January 2003), but if it had, I would have been singing the praises of Don Baylor and Dusty Baker when they were hired.

Both were "proven winners" -- Baylor had brought the Rockies to the playoffs in their third season, and had three winning seasons in his six years at Colorado, unprecedented for an expansion team. Baker had just finished bringing the Giants to the World Series (though in the minds of some, blowing it by his moves and non-moves), and had had six consecutive winning seasons.

As you know, neither of those hires worked out very well, and Baylor hasn't managed since he left the Cubs, and I suspect Baker won't, either.

Piniella arrives here with a similar reputation, though a longer career (nineteen managerial seasons, compared to six for Baylor and ten for Baker when they were hired by the Cubs), and a similar record -- four playoff appearances, one World Series, but one thing that no Cub manager (save Joe Altobelli, who had one interim game in between Don Zimmer and Jim Essian in 1991) has had since Leo Durocher -- a World Championship. As I wrote yesterday, Durocher and Piniella have similar reputations -- the hothead, tough guy manager. Does that sort of thing work in 2006 the way it did in 1966? Durocher said, memorably, when hired, "I am not the manager of an eighth-place team" (where the Cubs finished in 1965). The joke, of course, was that he was right -- they finished tenth in 1966. But that team had three future Hall of Famers. The 2006 Cubs, well, didn't.

Piniella, as has been discussed at length here, is a very, very similar manager to Dusty Baker in terms of how he approaches lineup construction, use of young players, and use and abuse of starting pitchers and bullpens. I'm also taken aback by the rumors that have already begun, the rumors that as many as three of the coaches we loathed so much in 2006 (Larry Rothschild, Gene Clines and Gary Matthews) may be retained by Piniella.

This is the old-crony network at its very worst. I don't have to tell you that a good portion of the Cubs' failures were due to the failures of those three men to do good jobs. I'd like to think that Piniella would bring along some of the people who have helped him to his success, or some up-and-coming younger men like Pat Listach.

So color me very, very skeptical about Piniella. I don't see him as a savior, and I don't care that he's likely going to give us a good TV show with his occasional on-field tirades. Those don't make you a winner.

The bottom line is, Jim Hendry has to go out and improve the National League's worst team by getting better players. It was said that players wanted to come to Chicago to play for Dusty Baker. That proved not to be true. If, as has been speculated and rumored, Piniella could be an influence in getting Alex Rodriguez to waive his no-trade clause and agree to a trade to the Cubs, AND Aramis Ramirez could be retained, AND the payroll expanded to $120 million -- well, then maybe we'd be talking.

I'm not going to start out bashing Piniella -- what's the point of that? I'm willing to give the guy a chance. Show me, Lou. Show me that YOU are the guy who can do what all the others since 1945 have failed to do -- bring the Cubs to the World Series. Show me that YOU are the guy who can do what all the others since 1908 have failed to do -- get the Cubs to WIN the World Series.

If you can do that, they'll be building statues to you here in Chicago.

UPDATE [2006-10-17 10:15:15 by Al]: The press conference should be available streamed live here, and also here, beginning at noon CT.

Discuss amongst yourselves!

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