Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Lou Piniella faced the questions on the first day of the winter meetings. He'll face them again on the first day of spring training. And again on Opening Day. Worse, he will face them any day the Cubs slip in the standings during the 2010 season.
For whatever reason, little distractions turn into huge obstacles for the Cubs more than any other team.
Imagine how many more games they would have won if Mark DeRosa hadn't been constantly beating himself up for 98 years of history that did not involve him in the slightest bit.
The expectations of finally delivering in the postseason weighed on them in 2009.
And now, Piniella's uncertain future will weigh on their fragile psyche in 2010.
I know if I was trying to hit a Johan Santana fastball, the first thing my mind would need to have settled is my manager's job situation in 2011.
Such angst. I don't know how someone hasn't made a movie about that involving Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson staring at each other yet.
This would be trouble if Lou gave a flying f--- what Cubs fans think about how the team is run. Luckily, he is the best manager the Cubs have had in my lifetime and he doesn't. I also highly doubt he is looking over his shoulder too hard at a guy who has never managed at the big league level and quit on his team when it turned out his first wife had a harder time keeping it in her pants than Tiger Woods.
Sandberg called the Iowa job a steppingstone, and we all know where he wants his next step to land. He has made it clear exactly what would be his dream job.
And it still belongs to Piniella.
So if I made it clear that I want Chris De Luca's job of making up issues, that might make it harder for him to make up issues? I want Chris De Luca's job.
I think it actually falls somewhere between having a shoe come untied and having to ask for help opening a pickle jar.
''It won't be a distraction at all,'' general manager Jim Hendry said Monday. ''We've got to worry about playing baseball.''
Jim Hendry gets it.
This is where things get dicey. Hendry seems to want Piniella back for more than a year. Piniella -- no matter how beat down he seemed last season -- clearly is open to an extension, suggesting he can operate on a handshake deal.
Nothing is "dicey." Having your immediate boss open to you returning beyond your original stated plans is GOOD.
But that handshake must come from someone higher than Hendry -- someone such as new owner Tom Ricketts.
Hendry is on a short leash because he has committed millions of dollars to players that have come nowhere close to earning those dollars. Why is Piniella on a short leash? The fact that the Cubs finished above .500 last year is mind-boggling. I'll put it into perspective for you.
Last week, my 82-year old grandfather arrived to his winter home in Florida so he could get it all ready for my grandmother's arrival a few days later. He went to light the pilot light of the stove and found out the hard way that there was a gas leak. The explosion blew out the windows, ripped the kitchen sink away from the wall, destroyed the cabinets, lifted the roof off the kitchen, and started a fire. My grandfather sustained a few cuts on his legs (because he was wearing shorts) and singed eyebrows. By the time the firemen got there, he had put out the fire with a fire extinguisher. They were all baffled as to how he survived, much less came out pretty much unharmed.
The Cubs record last year was only a slightly less impressive miracle than that.
Hendry and the Cubs have been down this lame-duck path before, and the results were worse than anyone could have imagined.
Usually when the Cubs have a lame-duck manager, it is because he sucks, everyone knows he sucks, and there is no reason at all that the current manager is relevant.
Dusty Baker entered the final year of his contract -- the same four-year span Piniella is on -- in 2006. Rumors at the Cubs Convention suggested he would have a new contract by spring training. When camp started, word was he would get a new deal before camp broke.
Case in point. Dusty lost control of that team and the only thing that prevented Hendry from slapping on another four or five years anyway is because the 2005 season was such a complete and utter disaster that they couldn't justify it without sounding like complete idiots (which they would have been).
Because the team started to suck all over again in 2006.
At the end of May -- after a 7-22 run through the month -- the vibe from the Cubs' front office was that Baker's extension would come down just as soon as the Cubs' record jumped up.
It never did.
All I can say to that is: Thank God! Because no one was listening to Dusty anymore. His "hey, dude" manner had worn out on the players and he enabled all of their bad habits preventing any improvement. It had nothing to do with his "lame-duck" status. It had to do with him being a shitty manager that passed the blame everywhere but to himself and his players.
Baker twisted in the wind that season, facing a steady diet of questions concerning his uncertain future. By July, it was clear he wasn't getting that extension, and he wasn't getting fired.
He was a lame duck in limbo.
It was pretty clear he was getting fired. He just wasn't getting fired in the middle of the year so that some interim manager could get crapped on for three months by the press and fans. Please explain to me how this situation is similar to that of Lou Piniella who has two division titles and three straight years of finishing over .500?
The cloud of questions would hover until the Cubs closed that season in last place, dragged there by 96 losses.
The cloud of questions surrounding how this story serves any purpose is dragging down my interest in reading it any further.
All the more reason why Piniella's lame-duck status will be a hot topic not only in Chicago next spring and summer, but just about every stop they make if the Cubs continue to struggle the way they did last season and the national media senses an easy story.
There's the reason for this story. It's easy.
Take Monday. The first time the subject was broached, Piniella seemed to have a prepared answer.
''Come on, I don't need to approach that anymore,'' he said while conducting the large group interview each manager does during the winter meetings. ''I've said what I have to say. I'll sign a 15-year extension and I'm going to go pull pitchers out with golf carts.''
Ha ha ha, oh Lou, you kidder. Though the golf cart idea has merit. He looked like he wanted to run Kevin Gregg down with one a few times last year.
During this session with reporters, Piniella answered 35 questions. Only two involved repeat topics. He was asked twice about improving the Cubs' shaky defense. And he was asked twice about entering the final year of his contract.
My God. He was asked a question TWICE?!! Oh the pressure! Where does he summon the strength to go on?
The second time he was asked, Piniella tried to move on as quickly as possible.
He has shown a pesky habit of trying to move on quickly from stupid questions.
''I told you I was going to sign a 15-year deal,'' Piniella said. ''What else can I say? Huh?''
Next time, try this, Lou: "How about you concern yourself with keeping your own job and not so much about me keeping mine. I have a successful track record in this business both with this team and other teams. I do not need to sit here day after day and justify myself to anyone who considers asking me this same dumb-shit question as a form of journalism. I'm here as long as Jim, Crane, and Tom want me here. Go worry about your own damn job and try to write something that doesn't make people think you are a chimpanzee with a typewriter."
Better come up with something soon because this topic won't disappear.
Oh holy hell. Somebody pass me the scissors.