Monday, July 13, 2009

We Weren't Saying "Boo!," We Were Saying "Lou!" (for once)

There have been numerous rumblings through the first half of the season that Lou Piniella needs to be relieved of his managerial duties with the Cubs to shake the team up.

Kurt at GROTA was one of the first people I saw to start banging the Fire Lou drum, and it started a little mini-battle in the comments section of his initial post. The comments ranged from whole-hearted agreement to whether Lou could be held responsible for the players so under-performing compared to their career averages.

I came to the party a bit late, but my thoughts were:

"Submitted by Aisle 424 on June 17, 2009 - 11:27am.

We can go back and forth and debate whether Lou is the problem, a part of the problem, or a complete non-factor all day long. So let's concede Kurt's point and say that Lou should be fired.

OK - who is the new manager?

Alan Trammel? Bob Brenly? What's Jack McKeon doing?

Is there an out-of-work manager that we really think will turn this team around? I can not think of anyone that would be a magic elixir to a team that is so horribly under-performing.

This is not a team that will respond to new blood, so I don't think this is the time to start driving the the Ryne Sandberg or Jody Davis buses, and all of the available experienced guys range somewhere from mediocre to downright crappy.

If Joe Torre was sitting at home twiddling his thumbs, maybe I go ahead and quietly gauge his interest, but he's not.

Change for the sake of change doesn't make any difference, it just makes us all feel better for about a day."

Last night, in the second game, I saw first-hand evidence why Lou should definitely not be made into a scapegoat for this team's failures.

The top of the ninth inning involved one of the gutsiest, most innovative moves I have ever seen. It was a page out of the book of Zimmer that either would result in Lou being called a genius or senile.

Angel Guzman started the inning by giving up a single to Yadier Molina, and had a force out on a sacrifice attempt dropped by Ryan Theriot. Sean Marshall was summoned to face left-handed Chris Duncan, who was announced as the pinch hitter for the pitcher, Adam Wainwright.

Tony LaRussa, not one to let his team have a disadvantage if he can help it, pulled Duncan and sent up the righty, Nick Stavinoha to face Marshall. Marshall eventually ended up walking Stavinoha to load the bases with nobody out. Right-hander and Lollipop Guild member, Brendan Ryan came to the plate and Lou popped his head out of the dugout and started talking to the umpire and pointing to Soriano in left field.

At the time, I thought he was telling the ump that Soriano would be moving to second in a double switch, so that Lou could bring in Reed Johnson, but not lose Soriano's bat. Instead, Lou was more concerned with the left-handed Skip Schumaker and Colby Rasmus due to bat after Ryan.

Lou removed Soriano from the game (having batted in the bottom of the 8th), and sent Marshall out to left field to keep Marshall eligible to come back in to pitch to the two righties following Ryan. I loved the move. The Cubs were already losing by two, so any runs scored would add nails to the coffin. Why not roll the dice and try to get the best pitching matchups possible to try to get out of the inning unscathed and give the offense a chance in the bottom of the ninth? Marshall is his only lefty in the bullpen, so this is how you get multiple "appearances" by your lone lefty.

He brought in Aaron Heilman to pitch, who shocked the hell out of everyone by striking out Ryan for the first out. Then, Heilman sat back down and Marshall trotted back in from left and Reed Johnson headed out to man left field.

LaRussa, not one who is accustomed to being out-geniused, came out of the dugout, and had a discussion with the umpire that I am 99.9% certain revolved around whether Marshall was allowed to make more warm-up pitches since he was not freshly entering the game, nor was it between innings. This is pure speculation on my part, but his corresponding baseball move, pinch-hitting Jarret Hoffpauir for Skip Schumaker, did not require any additional conversation with the umpire. He may have been asking the umpire if he had ever seen anything so innovative, but I doubt it.

Marshall proceeded to strike out Hoffpauir and get Colby Rasmus to hit a slicing flyball into left. Reed Johnson sprinted after it, stumbled, dove/fell down, and proceeded to come up with the ball for what was ruled the third out of the inning. I say it was ruled the third out because there were many people who saw it on television who claimed that Johnson trapped it (mostly Cardinal fans).

I saw one replay, and while I will not definitively say that Johnson did catch it, it appeared to me that the webbing of his glove did get underneath the ball before it hit. I'll be the first to say when my team gets the benefit of a blown call, but I need to see it again to say for sure - because I thought he actually caught it.

My point in all of this, is that Lou made a managerial move that not many managers have the balls to make. Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, and the newly appointed manager of the Washington Nationals, Jim Riggleman, NEVER try that. Never in a million years would it even occur to them as an option.

Even LaRussa admitted to the Sun-Times that he was impressed:

"After the game, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa asked Cubs first-base coach Matt Sinatro to tell Piniella how impressed he was.

'I stopped Sinatro and said you tell Lou that was a classic,' La Russa said. ''It was fun to be a part of it no matter how it turns out. It takes creativity, and it takes guts. Lou showed both of them.'''

Lou has tried just about everything to try to kick-start this team into something resembling the 97 win team from last year, and I am hard-pressed to think how a different manager (particularly any manager that isn't already employed by someone) makes this team any better.

The game ended last night as the strike zone grew about 3 sizes in the bottom of the ninth inning when the umpires realized they had been at the ballpark for over 10 hours and really wanted to get to bed. So the move will likely not live on as legend, but more of a triviality like the time Don Zimmer moved Les Lancaster to left field in 1990. (Thanks to Andy Dolan at

But it should stand as proof that not only does Lou Piniella still have a fire and desire to win EVERY SINGLE GAME he manages, but that he still has the skills and acumen far above any other that could potentially replace him. Lou, we lost the game, but you won my undying loyalty. That move was frickin' sweet.


Seat 106 said...

This stuff about firing Lou has been garbage for some time. If changing the hitting coach doesn't shake these guys up, what makes anyone think that a change in manager is going to do something different.

Tim McGinnis said...

The argument is that Lou says stuff like, "I don't know what else we can do" and hasn't been "Old Fiery Lou" kicking guys butts for under-performing, and putting their names in the lineup every day after base-running blunders, fielding mistakes, and crappy approaches at the plate.

My argument in response is that is a lineup of Scales, Fuld, Fox, Hoff, Reed, Hill, Blanco, around Derrek Lee probably isn't going to win many games either.

Lou is the best manager this team has had in my lifetime, and I remain supremely confident that this team is more than capable of catching the mediocre schlock that is currently residing atop our division.

Derek said...

I suspect LaRussa was out there in the 9th after Lou put Marshall back on the mound to inquire about the rule that states that a pitcher entering the game MUST pitch to at least one batter; I'm fairly sure Tony was checking to see if Marshall was going to be forced to pitch and, upon hearing that he would, subbed Hoffpauir in to create a RHB/LHP matchup with no fear that Lou would then immediately counter by bringing in Marmol. 

Tim McGinnis said...

Ah yes, excellent point.  Your genius is exceeded only by LaRussa's.

Seat 106 said...

I agree and underscore my previous point. If putting the hitting coach out of work doesn't shake up the offense, I don't see how Lou's temper is going to make a difference. Besides, he already got himself kicked out of a game since this chorus began a few weeks ago and they still haven't played any better. I'm wondering if, as I think we talked about last night, he will have had enough of losing by the end of this year and retire to that consulting job with the Yankees.

524 said...

it was a great play. we were so surprised. people around us stayed to see how it played out.

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