The two managers I covered the longest in my career were Dusty Baker (four years with the Giants) and Lou Piniella (seven years with the Mariners) and both were highly popular, practically folk heroes, when they left those teams.
And it looks like managing the Cubs in Chicago is going to bring both of them down. Dusty’s reputation certainly crashed and burned during his four seasons at Wrigley, which began in 2003 with him five outs away from the World Series, and a potential championship that would have ensured his legend forever in Cubs Nation. “In Dusty We Trusty” was the motto of Cubs fans. But then Bartman happened. By the time he was fired after the 2006 season, having lost 96 games, Baker was being heaped with criticism for his over-use of pitchers and old-school theories. The fans couldn’t be happier to see him go.
In came Sweet Lou, and he owned the town for awhile, too. Piniella, in fact, has won division titles his first two years — but he hasn’t won a playoff game yet, which has caused increasing grumbling. This year he’s got a team that was widely picked to contend for a World Series title, and they’ve under-achieved all year. The Cubs are 59-55, four games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, and had lost seven out of eight before ripping Pittsburgh on Friday, 17-2. They’re four games behind Colorado in the wild-card race.
As this Chicago Tribune article points out, the heat on Piniella is starting to increase.
I’ve heard speculation that Piniella, who turns 66 on Aug. 28, might walk away if the Cubs continue to flounder this year and don’t make the playoffs. The Cubs have already picked up his option for 2010, but don’t forgot — Piniella successfully got out of the final year of his contract in both Seattle and Tampa Bay.
I suspect Piniella harbors hopes of making the Hall of Fame as a manager (he’s 14th on the all-time wins list) and one more World Series title, especially one with the Cubs, might well put him over the top.
But once Cubs Nation turns on you, Wrigley is not a pleasant place to be. Just ask Dusty Baker.