The purpose of this column is two-fold; to make a point, as well as to pay tribute to a potential future hall-of-famer. The Orioles fired Dave Trembley way back in June, and in the time between then and August 3rd Andy MacPhail searched for a manager. Many names popped up, including Bob Brenly and Bobby Valentine. However as we well know by now, MacPhail hired Buck Showalter on August 3rd. Throughout the interim stint of Juan Samuel (which I don’t feel should be forgotten, as he served a very important role for this team now and for the future), I felt that it would benefit the Orioles to hire a long-term manager to finish out this year. It would give the new guy a chance to get to know his team in regular season games, which would give him a better opprotunity to guid the franchise in the right direction on the field.
In the past, we’ve seen the Orioles stay with an interim manager for the remainder of the season when they’ve relieved a skipper of his duties mid-year. This time around was different for the reason that I laid out above, as well as for another reason: a sense of urgency. After every season we always see a few managerial changes; had the Orioles stayed with Juan Samuel until the end of the season, who’s to say that Buck Showalter would have stll been available or even interested in the job? Based upon Showalter’s comments it sounds as if he wants to be here in Baltimore and leading this team, however ultimately waiting until the end of the season would have at the very least given the Orioles some competiton for Showalter.
Case in point, Lou Piniella of the Chicago Cubs announced at the end of June that he was stepping down at the end of the season. So by default, we knew of at least one other franchise that needed a manager. Again, Showalter seemed to want to come to Baltimore, but had another franchise thrown a ton of money at him and perhaps had a better situation to “win now,” who knows how things would have broken? Unfortunately for the Cubs, Piniella dropped a bombshell yesterday in that he abruptly announced that he was stepping down after yesterday’s game. Piniella cited wanting to spend more time with his family as his reason for leaving early; his mother is apparently in the hospital and in ailing health, so she certainly needs him moreso than do the Chicago Cubs. Piniella coached five different teams in his career as a manager (Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, Cubs), has an all-time win percentage of .517, won manager of the year awards (1995, 2001, and 2008), and one world series title with the Reds in 1990.
I always liked Lou Piniella. Much like Buck Showalter, he always had tough teams that hustled and left everything out on the field. I also saw a lot of Earl Weaver when I saw Piniella managing games in that he mercilessly would go after umpires and try to make his point. It seemed like whenever Piniella got a new job the fan base that was getting him as their manager would wonder how long it would take before the first big blowup on the field. We’ve seen Lou Piniella countless numbers of times in plenty of different sports and situations. When you look at the likes of Bobby Knight, Woody Hayes, Billy Martin, Mike Ditka, and perhaps our very own Gary Williams (and of course Earl). My point is not to name sports “bad boys,” but what you would call “type A’s.” Some would call them control freaks or perhaps even lunatics, but while those guys and many others are tough on their players and expect the most out of their players, they’ll also stand by their players through thick and thin. I’ll be honest in that I don’t remember the specific situation or even the player, but I remember seeing an interview with a guy that played basketball for Indiana University in the 1980′s. His father passed away in an untimely manner just before practices were supposed to start one season; this guy said he’d never forget how good Bobby Knight was to him during that time, and how he made sure that the kid was able to travel home to be with his family. On the day of his father’s funeral, this kid was shocked and honored to see Bobby Knight walk into the church to attend the services.
This is certainly not a “love fest” for Lou Piniella or Bobby Knight. However my point is that while guys like that are tough to deal with at times, they’ll also fiercely loyal to their players and to people they care about. Many of the trips Lou Piniella made out to the field to get tossed were arguing on behalf of a player. However, the fact is that Lou Piniella was a great manager and an entertainer. When he came on the field, people watched (you never knew what would happen). We’ll long remember his tantrums that included kicking dirt on umpires and home plate, as well as throwing bases. My personal hope is that Lou Piniella enters the hall of fame in the first year he’s eligible, however that remains to be seen. However he definitely made his contribution to the game over his time in it, and baseball and baseball fans of all different ilks owe him a debt of gratitude.