Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Is Cooperstown next for Uncle Lou?
From Bill Madden, who probably isn't just making this up:
Lou Piniella is retiring as manager of the Chicago Cubs effective at the end of the season, the Daily News has learned.
The 67-year old Piniella, who led the Cubs to NL Central division titles in 2007 and 2008, is in the last year of his contract, but has endured a particularly stressful season in which the team is mired in fourth-place, 10 1/2 games out.I think this is probably the end of the line for Piniella's managerial career ... but I also think we should be clear about the terminology here. Is Piniella retiring ... or is he simply leaving the Cubs? There is a difference.
Granted, at 67 Piniella is old for a manager. But Bobby Cox is 69. Joe Torre was 67 when the Dodgers hired him. Jack McKeon managed the Reds until he was 69 ... and managed the Marlins until he was 74. So while 67, historically speaking, is old for a manager, in the 21st century it's not particularly old.
So I'm not sure that "retiring" is the right word, because I'm not sure that Piniella isn't going to manage again and I won't be sure until he's gone a few years without managing.
Once we're sure, Piniella will become a popular Hall of Fame candidate. He'll probably have to wait a while, though, because he'll inevitably be compared to his contemporaries, and those comparisons won't serve him well.
If Piniella doesn't manage after this season, for at least four years he'll rank 14th on the all-time list with something like 1,860 wins. But Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre currently rank third, fourth, and fifth on the all-time list. The Hall of Fame has elected a lot of managers, but it usually doesn't happen quickly. Cox will go in first, then Torre, and finally La Russa (assuming that he actually retires someday).
Then, probably, Lou Piniella.
With the exception of Gene Mauch, every manager with more wins than Piniella will be in the Hall of Fame. And Mauch finished his career with a losing record and never won a World Series; Piniella has a winning record and a World Series ring.
On the other hand, the manager in 15th place is Ralph Houk. Like Piniella, Houk played for and managed the Yankees. Like Piniella, Houk managed a number of teams. Piniella's and Houk's career winning percentages are practically identical. Where Piniella won one World Series, Houk won two.
But I think Piniella gets (and will continue to get) more credit for his team's successes than Houk has for his. Houk's first team was the '61 Yankees, coming off 10 American League championships in 12 years. There was definitely a sense then -- or is now, anyway -- that Houk was simply fortunate enough to take the helm of a powerhouse team that essentially couldn't be beat. Houk managed the Yankees to three straight pennants, was kicked upstairs so Yogi Berra could manage, returned to the dugout after two seasons ... and managed for most of the next 20 years without a single first-place finish.
Piniella's been successful in New York, in Cincinnati, in Seattle, and in Chicago. My guess is that it's the broad-based nature of his success, rather than the raw numbers, that will eventually get him in.