Daily Herald
Piniella did more good than bad with Cubs
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 7/20/2010 9:51 PM

Like Don Baylor and Dusty Baker before him, Lou Piniella rode into Chicago nearly four years ago with hopes of being the manager who would lead the Cubs to the World Series.

Barring a miracle finish this year, Piniella will become the third high-profile manager to fall short.

Baylor was going to bring a no-nonsense approach to the Cubs for the 2000 season, but he immediately was derailed by Sammy Sosa, a Sosa-enabling management and a lack of talent.

Baker had to temper expectations so much that he cautioned the media that his name wasn't "Messiah."

For his part, Piniella was going to establish a "Cubbie swagger."

This year, it looks more like a Cubbie stagger as they struggle to remain within 10 games of the .500 mark while trying to climb out of fourth place.

That's not all on Piniella. The Cubs organization recently was called the "least efficient" by Forbes, and that's on a front office that has spent lavishly (with the help of the Tribune Co., the previous Cubs owners) with little to show.

As far as Piniella goes, he did way more good than bad here.

When he arrived in Arizona for his first spring training in 2007, he quickly determined who could play and who couldn't. After a rough start to that season, the Cubs rid themselves of catcher Michael Barrett and shortstop Cesar Izturis.

The Cubs rallied to win the National League Central that year before posting the NL's best record in 2008.

But in each year, the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs, and Piniella's moves and ideas in general came into question.

In the '07 division series, he was second-guessed about taking starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano out of Game 1 early and Carlos Marmol giving up the lead to the Diamondbacks. Piniella said he was planning for a Game 4 that never took place.

The next year, he lamented a lack of "left-hand hitting" as the reason his team lost to the Dodgers. Over the winter, the Cubs obtained switch-hitting Milton Bradley, with disastrous results.

But if Piniella did one good thing in his four years as Cubs manager, it was playing young players, starting with Ryan Theriot and Geovany Soto in '07.

This year, it has been rookies Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro along with young bullpen pitchers.

"It was a great experience," Soto said. "I told him, 'Thanks for giving me the confidence to come out here and play and giving me the opportunity to see what I could do in the big leagues.'

"That was the first manager to actually give me the opportunity. He said, 'You know what? You deserved it.' "

When Piniella interviewed with GM Jim Hendry and then-president John McDonough, he sold the Cubs on a stated willingness to play young players.

"He was great about that right at a time when he realized as much anyone that we were not just running a major-league baseball team, we're running an organization," Hendry said. "He did a great job of incorporating an entire organization and the young coaches and players. He also helped develop a lot of players.

"Lou did that the first two years immediately, which was very good to see. When a kid came up from Iowa, he trusted Oneri (farm director Fleita) and I that we brought the players that were doing the best at the time, not necessarily the highest-ranked prospect, and within 48 hours, Lou Piniella usually got them in a ballgame."

Piniella won't take a world championship home with him from Wrigley Field this fall. But if the Cubs finally do win one in the next few years, a player who developed under Piniella might be the reason.

If that's the case, I'm sure Lou wouldn't mind that being his legacy in Chicago.