Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Piniella Takes Heat for Looking to Books

I was driving to Madison on Monday to exhibit at the University of Wisconsin Dugout Club Banquet. This year's banquet featured talks from the Milwaukee Brewers front office and media, but my mind was on the Chicago Cubs. I was listening to the Boers and Bernstein sports talk show on the SCORE, AM 670, Chicago and B & B were raking Lou Piniella over the coals. Piniella had recently stated that this spring he was going to spend some time reading sports psychology books in attempt to improve the Cub's dismal post season record. On the B & B show, much was being made of the fact that Piniella was well paid and ought to know how to win in the post season without resorting to books. I was itching to call and suggest that Piniella's approach seemed perfectly rational and much improved over past attempts to get the Cub past their fabled curse and into the world series via goat ceremonies and chants. Reading a little Phil Jackson or John Wooden wouldn't do Lou or anyone else any harm.
I don't find fault in Piniella myself. The Cubs performance these past couple years has been stellar in regular season play. A good manager directs the day-to-day handling of the players and strategy that brings the team to the big game. The Cubs loss in post-season 2007 and 2008 was clearly understood by Piniella and articulated by him back in the fall of 2008. According to the Cub's Manager:
You can play postseason baseball for now to another hundred years, but if you score six runs in three games, it's going to be another hundred years before we win.

So I don't think B & B have to worry about Piniella's sanity. He understands why the Cubs lost in the post season. Yet, a good book won't hurt Piniella as long as he continues to manage the club the way he has the past two seasons. When Piniella says that he would want his players to hit better and his pitchers to throw more strikes, he gets some nasty criticism because people don't like to hear that it could be that simple -- but in a way it is. Fundamentals are critical. Piniella does a great deal to get the Cubs past their 100-year World Series draught -- he manages them into the post season. It seems to me that he deserves a lot of credit for getting the Cubs there.

Because, Lou is apparently in a mood for books, I am sending him a copy of The 10 Commandments of Baseball. I am hoping it will give him confidence in the face of criticism to keep stressing the fundamentals like Joe McCarthy did a long time ago. Like Piniella, McCarthy also managed the Yankees and the Cubs. But in McCarthy's case, the Cubs gave up on him and the Yankees showed more confidence in him. I am hoping in Piniella's case that the Cubs can keep him on for a long while. He didn't win the National League Manager of the Year award for 2008 for his good looks. And it is good to see Cub fans rejoice in the last two winning seasons even if they didn't win the World Series.

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