I’m a fan of Lou Piniella. I’ve been a fan of Sweet Lou and his hiring from day one. That fiery attitude, Santa Clause gut, and his sometimes dreadfully honest assessments about his teams level of play bring a smile to my face.
I don’t feel like Lou would feed me a line of Bull. Sometimes when I am frustrated with the current state of affairs I think of Lou’s predecessors like Dusty Baker or Don Baylor. I think about the BS and the finger pointing or excuses they gave for downfalls or mishaps. During postgame news conferences, I used to wonder if every reporter in that room was wearing boots up to their knees so they can trek through the cow dung that Dusty was peddling.
I have to say, we have come a long way since then. However, with the realtive success of the 2007 & 2008 seasons well in the rearview mirrors of Cub fans, we are starting to wonder what has gone amiss. We have started to throw blame in new directions. The manager has come under fire recently. I sense that hipshot reaction of the typical sports fan, especially us Cubs fans, and our hankering for the silver bullet cure….Fire the manager! But would that even make a difference?
I know, I know…..
Yes, I know what you are thinking…..sometimes, when a reporter asks that inevitable question after a loss regarding the teams inability to score runs or hit when the game is on the line, Lou gives that blank “I don’t know, I just don’t know” response and we are left to gnaw on that explanation. But what other answer would you expect? First of all, they ask that same question after every loss and most of our losses are essentially for the same reason….run production. Lou has tried a billion different lineups and recently has benched veterans making millions to start rookies making much less. He has the horses, they just aren’t pulling the apple cart (remember that old Dustyism, “If you get me the horses I will win, I just don’t have the horses”……how annoying was he!!!).
At any rate, no team will win when their big hitters are stinking up the stage. You could bring in Casey Stengel as manager and he won’t change this team’s fortune. A manager can’t play a position on the field. When your team is losing 2-0, 1-0, 3-1 as this team has done all year, it has less to do with the decisions being made in the dugout and more to do with the play on the field, which in many cases is a result of the decisions that have been made in the front office.
“I don’t want the best players Craig, I want the right ones!”
-Herb Brooks (from the movie Miracle about the 1980 Gold Medal USA Hockey Team)
Now, I don’t want to rail on Mr. Hendry anymore. It is well documented and understood that he has made some good deals and some bad ones. My major concern overall is that we seem to lack the right players to get over the hump. I see a lot of auto-pilot lights on in the cockpit. We seem to have a lot of guys waiting for their contract to end. We seem to have a lot of guys fed up with being a Cub. A lot of blasé attitudes with performance.
As the manager, what can you do about this? You have to build the house with the tools provided. You could bench Lee and A-Ram until they start hitting, but if you bench them, where will they get at bats in order to get back on track? Will they take some hacks at Grant Park on their off days or the batting cages at Sluggers? No, they need to keep plugging away at major league pitching. They need to work with Rudy Jaramillo (AKA The Swing Jesus) to get back on track.
But there’s one problem….. Actually not just one…..
Until recently, Aramis Ramirez has stated that he’s his own best hitting coach. Finally, now that he has made two trips to the DL in this young season to “heal” a bad thumb, he says he will succumb to working with Rudy. There is nothing like paying a player millions and then watching them throw away a third of the season only to finally come to this decision. Is this the type of player that is good for this team? Wouldn’t you go a little crazy if you were Lou? Standing there watching your only viable option at third base act like a reluctant child who won’t ask for help when the going gets bad. It sounds like Aramis is perfecting the definition of stupid.
The bad part is you can say ditto for Derrek Lee too. He has the same reluctance to getting tips from somebody who has helped many. He feels his way is best, even when it hurts the team. Once again I ask, Is this a team player or just a good one who selfishly goes through massive slumps and would rather hurt the team while he “works” out of it?
So your three and four hitters are reluctant to ask for help from one of the best hitting coaches in the game and they are also your cornerstone veteran infielders and making millions. Do you bench them and hope that the hitting woes pass like the flu, not to mention alienate them in the process and possibly damage the relationship, or ride it out with them and hope they come around before it is too late?
The point I am trying to make is this, what is Lou going to do when the heart of his order has all of the sudden started playing without heart. Add in the streaky but not quite reliable Soriano and you have a recipe for a headache.
Oh and for those of you complaining because Baker or Nady get too much playing time, I feel your pain. The only problem is these guys were brought in to do a job and that job is to “fill in” where needed and pinch hit. They are paid to do this and it is their job. It behooves Lou to use them and try to get some sort of production out of them seeing as the Cubs already put down the money. The typical fan won’t see this but this is as much a business decision as it is a professional one.
While Lou’s decision making has not been unflawed, I highly doubt we can accuse him of losing us more then a game or two since the start of the season. When it comes down to it, the manager fills out a lineup card and makes pitching changes. It is up to the players to play the game. Lou has to use the players he is given when making these decisions……I am just wondering if he has the right players.
Everything being what it is, has Lou really been given a fair rap this season? Has he been given the right tools to build a champion?