A long time ago, Jim Hendry, knowing that the World Series window for a team that had not represented the National League in the Series since 1945 was very short, went on a spending spree. Among other signings, he gave Kosuke Fukudome a big deal, (4-years, $48 million) locked up Carlos Zambrano (5 years, $91 million) and Aramis Ramirez (5 years, $75 million) and, of course, the most reviled contract in Cubs history, the 8-year, $136 million dollar behemoth handed out to streak hitter and strikeout machine Alfonso Soriano. These were all contracts handed out to players who were supposed to lead the Cubs to the promised land of AT LEAST getting to the World Series. That isn't quite what happened. After losing a series to the Diamondbacks that basically involved no offense at all, the 2008 Chicago Cubs won 97 games and had their best chance to make it back to the Series since 03. But, the Dodger pitching staff made sure that pipe dream had no chance of happening, as the Cub offense failed for the second straight postseason to make an appearance. Even worse, the window has slammed shut with such force that Ryan Theriot's hair lost a few inches, as the no-trade clauses will help pay declining superstars full value for below-prime production.
Strangely, Lou Piniella started to look like Dusty Baker after that season. First, he went from being "Sweet Lou" to a facsimile of the man he had been in Cincy, especially during his war of anger with Milton Bradley. Secondly, he suddenly lost all interest in the kids, suddenly having no use for Geo Soto, among others. Third, Lou, never being a fan of the media throughout his career, suddenly developed an adversarial relationship with the generally adoring Chicago press. Just....like...Dusty.
This season hasn't been much fun. No, strike that. This season has made me understand why Primal Scream therapy works. After a 16-5 clubbing at the hands of the Atlanta Braves in which Carlos Zambrano was pounded and ROTY candidate Jason Heyward demonstrated he did belong in the bigs, the season was off to a horrendous start. Of course,the Cubs wouldn't be the Cubs without having a losing record against half the teams in the National League, without getting killed by Albert Pujols a couple weeks ago, and without going 0-6 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But, then, recently, Lou Piniella committed the most egregious sin in dealings with the media: He called out an analyst who criticized him for not playing Tyler Colvin. (Who should, like, totally be playing, man.)
The analyst? Beloved Chicago icon Steve Stone. Not the best target for Mr.Piniella, as he chooses a man who was a pretty good player and a damn good color guy. Piniella opens his mouth and says the following:
"We've got a lot of people here that haven't managed and won any games in the big leagues, but they know everything, you know? They really do. I think they should really try and put the uniform on and try this job and see how they like it when they get criticized unjustly, you know? That's all I got to say about that issue."
Sounds innocuous, right? No big deal, it's a man venting. Then comes this gem that opened the floodgates:
"And Steve Stone, he's got enough problems doing what he does with the White Sox," Piniella said in the home dugout, his voice raising. "What job has he had in baseball besides talking on television or radio? What has he done? Why isn't he a farm director and bring some kids around? Why isn't he a general manager? Why hasn't he ever put the uniform on and be a pitching coach? Why hasn't he been a field manager? There are 30 teams out there that could use a guy's expertise like that."
Reading that quote still makes the veins pop out in my neck, and I've been a Cubs fan for 15 years. I sat through some of the worst baseball imaginable (and that's just on the North Side, I find it's not a good idea to bring up Terry Bevington, who proved that as a manager, he was a great third base coach.)
See, what Lou fails to understand is that hiring a manager is completely at the discretion of a general manager. The pitching coach is usually at the choice of the manager. ALSO, as Bevington proved all those years ago, being a manager doesn't mean a blasted thing as far as intelligence goes.
There are plenty of stupid people that were managers, on a repeated basis. Bevington disproves Lou's dumb theory immediately, as do other mangerial dummies. (The name Vern Rapp mean anything to Reds or Cardinals fans?) Also, Stone has been in baseball just as long as Piniella, as both men have been part of five decades of baseball. But the difference between the two is this: One is managing the sinking ship of the 2010 Chicago Cubs, and probably will be quitting following this season. The other has seen thousands of ballplayers and is widely regarded as one of the gems of baseball analysis, who sat at the side of one of the greatest play-by-play men to ever broadcast a game, who watched this damned wretched team for at least a decade. As this season progresses, and my displeasure at the deteriorating skills of a guy once widely regarded as an amazing manager grows, I'll look back at this with an expression much like the one Tony Soprano has when he finds out about Vito Spatafore.
To close this article, Stone's reply is a classic:
"Lou's probably grumpy, because he only went 3-for-11 against me with no RBIs."