If you watched the Chicago Cubs last year – and you did – you noticed a listless feel to the entire production. From top to bottom, “Year One” of the Ricketts family’s Cubs organization could be best summed up by a yawn. Not even a big yawn.
The biggest offender was manager Lou Piniella, who figuratively quit on the team before literally leaving for good in August. Piniella’s trademark fire was never present during his time in Chicago, and by the 2010 season, what embers he had left were completely burned out. We saw it anecdotally. When Lou left the dugout to argue a call (which was rare), he didn’t so much look like he was giving the umpire hell as he was asking the ump how to “do a e-mail.” And how many times did Lou throw up his hands during a post-game press conference and offer little except “I’m out of answers”?
Well, you can throw a couple more anecdotes onto the list.
“I didn’t get a chance to play with Lou, but I mean, there definitely was something missing,” [Kevin] Millar said on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “You have to have more organization and know who is going in the game that day.
“Listen, I played 12 years in the big leagues, and I sat there for nine innings in a spring training game and didn’t know if I was playing or not playing. There’s just common courtesy, to use an example personally. You know, ‘Hey listen you’re going in the fifth inning after Derrek Lee.’ OK perfect. So you know to go get loose in the fourth or whatever it is. It’s little things like that. The line-ups were a big issue.”
Efforts to reach Piniella, who currently is a special assistant to San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean, were unsuccessful.
The Cubs held a meeting last season to ask Piniella to post the lineups sooner.
“We like to know when we play,” Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano said Monday. “We asked him in Atlanta, ‘Let us know when we play, and when we have a day off.’ And he said, ‘Yes,’ but he never did it. That doesn’t make everybody comfortable.
“[Mike Quade] is different. If you’re off on Friday, he told me like two or three days before. So that makes me play more hard for him, because he has a lot of respect for me. And he knows what he wants, and he knows how to treat the players.” …
“Nothing against Lou Piniella,[" Millar continued, "]he managed a lot of years and you get to the point where you don’t think about those things, but it was a little frustrating from the player’s side — period. There were no line-ups, Lou didn’t know who was playing and who was going in, and it gets old. So then what happens … you get guys in bad moods, and then what happens is you’re kind of like, ‘Whatever.’ That’s the way the Cubs kind of played to an extent.” ESPN Chicago.
Of course, a small grain of salt is necessary, as the bulk of this particular indictment is coming from a guy who didn’t make Piniella’s team.
But that said, it just feels right, doesn’t it? Or, I suppose, better said: it doesn’t surprise you to hear, does it?
I have no doubt that Lou was as well intentioned as any former Cubs manager. He had already retired once, and came back to the game to bring a championship to Chicago. But like so many sports personalities who’ve retired and unretired in Chicago’s history (well, except that Jordan dude), Piniella simply didn’t have “it” anymore when he came back.
Even if Mike Quade is not a “name” manager (like his primary competition for the Cubs’ job – one of those previously-mentioned retired/unretired gentlemen), his passion is both vibrant and visible. We might well question some of his decisions as his first season goes on, but we will not question his level of engagement. Quade has been toiling away for more than two decades for this opportunity. There’s real value in that.
And unlike with the last few “name” managers, money can’t buy it.