Let me tell you a little story from recent Cubs managerial history. On June 27, 2002, with the Cubs floundering at 32-43, 9.5 games out of first place and calls for the dismissal of Don Baylor growing louder, Corey Patterson led off the bottom of the first inning at Wrigley Field -- coincidentally, against the Reds -- with a double.
Baylor ordered Chris Stynes, the next hitter, to lay down a bunt. (Which he did, successfully.)
A sacrifice bunt? With the leadoff man on second base in the first inning of a scoreless game? It was almost as if Baylor was saying to management, "Here. Fire me."
Which, a week later, they did -- and Andy MacPhail, the GM who fired Baylor, stepped down at the same time, promoting Jim Hendry to general manager.
It was this same feeling that came over me during today's 5-3 Cubs loss to the Reds, when Lou Piniella came out to get Ryan Dempster with two on and two out in the seventh inning and the Cubs clinging to a 3-2 lead. Dempster's thrown 112 pitches, Sean Marshall is all set to go to face Cub-killer Joey Votto. It's a no-brainer, right? Even if Dempster says, "I can get this guy", it's the manager's job to say, "Thanks -- but I'm going with Marshall."
Instead, Lou simply turned around and let Dempster throw a fat one to Votto, who hit a three-run homer on the first pitch, essentially ending the game. It's as if Lou wants to be fired, or maybe has just had enough.
I've never been an anti-Lou guy, although he wasn't my first choice as manager after 2006. He's done a pretty good job here, despite winning zero playoff games and looking sleepy through much of last year. But if Lou's going to do this kind of thing -- well then, maybe it's time for him to go.
And if that does happen, none of this "interim" stuff. The "obvious" thing to do would be to promote bench coach Alan Trammell, who would then be dismissed at the end of the season to move Ryne Sandberg, or someone else, into the manager's chair. Trammell's a good baseball man, smart, knowledgeable -- and from what I understand, far too nice a guy to manage. Bench coach? Great. Love it. He can help Starlin Castro understand what it's like to be a 20-year-old shortstop in the major leagues, because he was one himself.
There have been, as we have discussed here many times, several managerial changes in recent years that have resulted in floundering teams suddenly turning it on and making the playoffs -- you need only look back one year when Jim Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle in Colorado to see a dramatic example of that. The 2004 Astros did it too (Phil Garner for Jimy Williams, and mostly at the Cubs' expense). And then there's the 2003 Marlins, about whom nuff said.
So if Lou's going to be fired, or allowed to quit (more likely), don't do the obvious thing and just slot Trammell in the job. That would be dooming this season on May 9, and although the team looks awful now, there is too much talent on this team to keep playing this way indefinitely. Promote Ryne Sandberg, who's been talked about as the heir apparent for a couple of years now. Let him inject some new views, some new blood, into the manager's chair.
Or, think outside the box a little bit, and let Greg Maddux manage this team.
Why not? Maddux is already working for the club, already knows the players and the organization, and has one of the best baseball minds, if not the best, of his generation. If Maddux had been in the chair today, I can guarantee you Ryan Dempster would not have faced Joey Votto in the seventh inning -- and there'd be a lot more changes in the pitching staff, especially the bullpen, which for the last couple of years has been mismanaged by Lou. Managing relief pitchers has never been Lou's strong suit, and never is for a manager who wasn't a pitcher or catcher.
Only one current manager -- Bud Black -- is a former major league pitcher. He's actually done a pretty good job with the talent he's been given, particularly with a young pitching staff. I think Greg Maddux would be a terrific manager. If the Cubs are desperate enough to still try to pull a playoff season out of the current morass, some bold moves are necessary.
They've already made one, calling up Starlin Castro. Make another one. Name Greg Maddux manager. Keep Alan Trammell, who has managerial experience, around as a bench coach. (There's a poll on the right sidebar asking what you think about Lou's future as manager. Please vote.)
It can't be any worse than this and it just might be better. And one more thing: GO BLACKHAWKS!