Monday, August 23, 2010

Take Care, Lou

One longtime, faithful reader of this site accused this writer of being biased against Lou Piniella which colored the thinking that went into the writing here. The truth couldn't be further from the comment. Piniella has been loved in this corner. As a product of New Jersey, Lou Piniella was a hero. Not the graceful Don Mattingly kind of hero. But the Joe Everyman kind. He looked more like a beer league softball player than he did a ball player and yet his passion and his effort made him an effective player on teams this Fan rooted for. He then managed the home town team and his antics as a manager were similar to his playing days and we ate it up. He was cheered when he won in Cincinnati and he was rooted against when he went to Seattle. He was pitied in Tampa and then rooted for in Chicago. And he came really close in Chicago. So there is no joy here in his retirement. There is no joy that his managerial career went out with a terrible team playing terrible baseball. There is relief.

The experience was similar to the recent Ken Griffey situation in Seattle. It was obvious that the game had passed Griffey by. We all wanted to see one last hurrah. But there were no hurrahs left in his body. It was a relief when he was finished at last. The very same thing is felt in Piniella's situation. He was simply a tired old manager in charge of a tired old team and saddled with a tired old front office. It was obvious in the Cubs listlessness. They slept walked through half the season. They looked beaten down and demoralized. Sometimes emotional problems in the clubhouse energize a team. In the Cubs case, it sapped the life out of the Cubs as surely as morphine saps the life out of a poor and tired cancer patient. There is no blaming Piniella from this side of the keyboard. There was just the knowledge that the satiation was beyond him and there was nothing he could do to turn it around. He no longer had the emotional fire. You can't blame a guy for that. You just wish it wasn't so.

The real blame here goes to his general manager. Piniella should have had a deal worked out at the end of last year's season for him to bow out gracefully. Hendry should have insisted on it. If it all blew up, the results would have been the same. Fresh blood would have been in the dugout and Piniella would have had hard feelings. A person in leadership situations like Hendry has to know. A leader has a finger on the pulse. But the Fan has to admit that as a former leader himself, sometimes situations get away from you and you are too slow to act. Hendry was way too slow in this case. And call the Fan a  cynic if you want to, but Hendry did finally act. Piniella and Hendry surely had conversations and Hendry told Piniella that the team was going in a different direction next year. That's how the whole retirement thing started in the first place. Today's decision was just as surely based on Piniella's concern for his mother, but if Piniella was still in the plans for the future, Hendry would have worked out something with Piniella so he could go take care of his mom. Right?

This also had to be a case of Piniella knowing he was done. When the fire is gone, the proud always know. Because it's the pride that fuels the fire in the first place. Piniella knew as simply as this Fan knew and just as certain as most Cubs' fans in the stands each night knew. It was time. Piniella was no longer the right man for that job and at least he got to go out with his dignity intact.

But don't believe the retirement statements. Piniella just needs some time away. Or he needs a different situation. In many ways, Piniella is a younger Don Zimmer. He's a lifer and he'll find a job somewhere in the game he loves. He may never manage again, or he may. But he'll be around. Joe Everymen don't ride off into the sunset. They just sit in their recliner a while until that becomes unbearable too.

The Fan has been hard on the Cubs this season. But rightly so. The players mailed it in. Piniella was tired and couldn't rise to the occasion and the front office put together one of the worst mishmashes of a team in the history of the South Side. A bloated payroll of non-winners kept on beyond their primes and bad move after bad move heaped on top of each other. Finally having the right end to the Piniella story is a step in the right direction. The Fan will leave it in the Cubs ownership's hands on what should be done with Hendry. The Fan has his opinion but without access, it's all nearsighted and can hardly be adequately judged. It sure hasn't looked good. Let's just put it that way.

As for Lou, this Fan is highly relieved. The Fan thought he was finished in Tampa Bay, but he mustered enough mojo for a couple of years in Chicago and came real close to pulling off a miracle. But the mojo was gone and it was like watching Mohamed Ali boxing in his last days. It was sad and distressing. But thank goodness, it's over. Take care, Mr. Piniella. Take care of your family and try to enjoy yourself for a while. And thanks for the memories.

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