Fire Sale Series: Lou Piniella

As the Chicago Cubs continue to find ways to give away ballgames, and to fall further in the standings, some fans are beginning to call for a total house cleaning. All across Cubbie-Nation, you will hear some fans demanding that Manager Lou Piniella be fired, and for a majority of the team to be traded away. My goal at the end of this series, is to explain why a total and complete house cleaning is highly unlikely to happen, no mater how much fans beg, plead or demand. While they may get a few names off the roster by seasons end, getting rid of everyone they want gone, is just not a possibility. There are far too many obstacles which are standing in the way of fans getting their ultimate wish of a total fire sale.

While I was originally planning on starting off this series with Cubs Left Fielder Alfonso Soriano, something took place yesterday afternoon to make me decide to push him back a day. Today, in place of Soriano, I am going to focus on the veteran manager of the ball club. That’s right “Sweet Lou” is on the hot seat now. I have been defending him all season for a number of reasons, which I will get into today, but yesterday afternoon he lost me.

I have always been of the mind that managers in baseball, and practically all sports, that managers always get too much of the blame when teams lose, and too much credit when they win. While they put the pieces in place, the players are the ones who are ultimately responsible for the outcomes of the games. The manager can only do so much to help a team win, or in some cases lose. The same goes with hitting and pitching coaches, there is only so much they can do to help players. This is why I have never been an advocate of firing a manager in order to “jump start a team” and see if a shake up like that will motivate a team to play better.

While I was against the firing of Piniella, all the way through yesterday’s game, what he said in the post game press conference made me quickly change my tune. There is a vast difference between the fans of a team and a manager, besides the obvious difference of control over a ball club. While fans are allowed to throw in the towel and give up hope, a manager should never utter the words Piniella did.

As quoted in the Chicago Sun-times, Piniella said We’ve tried everything we have. We’ve pitched everybody. We’ve played everybody. We’ve changed the lineup. We’ve done everything I can humanly do to get this thing turned around. That’s all I can do.”

This is something a manager should never say. Words like this show weakness and resignation. When Piniella said this, he might as well have been telling General Manager Jim Hendry that he was ready to be fired, because he sounds like a broken man. You never come out in public and say that you are out of ideas, that there is nothing left that you can do to try and turn around the season.

I do not want the manager of my ball club to throw in the towel, even if all hope is lost, in the middle of June. There are still three months left to play in the baseball season, and three months for Piniella to show that he still gives a damn about what happens on the field. While things look remarkably bleak for the outcome of the season, anything can happen with three months left to play. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez can find their swings, Carlos Zambrano can remember how to pitch, and Fukudome can pretend that he is still playing in the first half of the season. While these things may not fall under the category of things that are likely to happen, they are possible.

Fans are supposed to be able to look to the manager to talk them off the ledge when things look their darkest. They are supposed to be able to depend on the manager to give them insight into what is going wrong with the club so we do not make up our own minds, even though everyone does regardless of what the manager says. When a manager comes out and says he is out of ideas, he gives off the signal that he is out of hope. He is not giving the fans any reason to believe the team can turn things around. If he truly believes that there is no hope, and there is nothing he can do to even attempt to turn things around, then the time has come for him to either be fired, or for him to gracefully retire and ride off into the sunset.

This would be the easiest move to make for the Cubs, especially because Piniella’s contract is up at years end, and his services will not be retained. What’s more, the removal of Piniella would give a clear indication to the players on the team, as well as the fans, that the Cubs management is serious about winning. They would send the message that changes are coming. If Piniella has truly given up on the team and the season, whether or not the team has any realistic chance of competing or not, he must be the first person to go.

There is no longer a question of if, but when, Piniella leaves the Cubs, they have several well qualified people to take his place. On the list, are: Alan Trammel, Bob Brenly and of course Ryne Sandberg are all on the list of people who I would rather see managing the team over a broken, beaten and resigned Piniella. Both Trammel and Brenly have seen this team day in and day out for several years now, and they can see what Piniella can not. They may be able to get the players to play the game the right way, while not showing signs of quit.

While Hendry continues to say that he has no intention of firing Piniella, you can never be too sure. The dreaded vote of confidence usually comes before the fall. If Piniella finishes the season, I would be very surprised. Personally, I predict his departure will come during the All Star break, unless he quits before then.

If a fire sale is even possible, Piniella must be the first log tossed onto the fiery inferno.

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