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Reflections on Lou Piniella

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I thought I had better post this because it is good rant material, and it was on Baseball America two days ago. I wanted to post it before it became so outdated that it was completely irrelevant.

Anyways, BA did an interview with former Rays manager Lou Piniella in which he talked about a few topics, mostly concerning his new team, the Chicago Cubs, however it also touched a little bit on his time with the Rays. He also touched on a few concepts with the Cubs that have connections with the Rays, and the overall theme of the piece gave me a good platform from which to comment in retrospect on Lou's tenure. So I look for excuses to rip him dissect the article following the jump. I hope you will join me there!

First of all, Lou talks about the Alfonso Soriano signing for awhile. Although he does not directly address the Rays, he touches on how he manages his team on the basepaths. Says Lou:

We didn't talk about that specifically. What we talked about was the fact that he felt more comfortable at a corner position, and he liked hitting on top of the lineup. I think he liked the fact that the teams that I've managed in the big leagues are very aggressive. We've always been up there in stolen bases; I give people the green light. I like stealing third base--things he likes.

I will start off with a positive. He is right. One of the few things that I came away with from Lou's tenure in a positive light was how he used the stolen base. He was very effective at doing this, and the Rays benefited from it. He was fairly consistent in coaching baserunning well, and as such gave young players the opportunity to steal bases on a very consistent basis. A good example is Carl Crawford. His stolen base rates were consistently good in his three years under Lou. He slumped a little bit in 2004, but his rates were always at 80% or above, and they peaked in 2005 with an 85% success rate. He has continued this improvement, tallying an 87% success rate last year. This is probably due, in no small part, to Piniella. This is one area where he deserves kudos, he harnessed his teams' speed and used it to their advantage. With a much slower Chicago club, this factor's importance should be neutralized, but it will probably help Soriano.

Next, Lou talks about Kerry Wood, and what he intends to do to keep him healthy.

That's the way it seems, but that was not really our aim or our goal. With Kerry Wood, I talked to Kerry personally about the possibilities of moving into the bullpen. We felt he could stay healthier. We thought he could be more dominant. We told him we'd give him all the time in spring training he needed to make those adjustments. He was very pleased with that. So we're really not counting on Kerry as a starting pitcher.

Although a relatively small sample size to base an impression on, that statement seems remarkably different from the Lou Piniella that managed the Rays. In St. Pete, he consistently abused pitchers and drove them to the limit. He often worked some pitchers too hard, while leaving others on the bench for long periods at a time. This is the same man who wanted to give a stretched Scott Kazmir an additional start at the end of the season for no real reason at all, before being forced out of this option. This isn't to say that Piniella wouldn't drive Wood to more injury with his use in the bullpen, but the Lou I assumed would take over in Chicago would be one ignorant of prior failures and who would just try to "get his own first hand impression" of things before changing anything. Good to see that he seems to have a more open mind.

Next, BA interviewer Alan Schwarz attempts to relate the situation with Cubs pitchers Sean Marshall and Rich Hill to the Detroit Tigers' trio of Jeremy Bonderman, Joel Zumaya, and Justin Verlander. Here, we see the familiar Piniella come out of hiding.

Remember, Detroit brought in Rogers also. That experience. And they brought in the closer, Todd Jones, who had experience. They added some experience to their young mix. You can't just put it on young pitchers, the full load.

We've got some good arms over there, there's no question. You look at the Cubbies' pitching staff, they led the National League in strikeouts. That tells you they have good stuff. The problem is they led the National League in walks, too.

Ah yes, the senseless babbling of him talking about "experience". That takes me back. While what he says isn't incriminating in itself, we as Rays fans know exactly what he means. The presence of "experience" is overrated. One man's experience is another man's Trever Miller, with nothing to possibly glean from that person's "experience". Having veteran players, especially poor ones (which the Rays were filled with) does not automatically breed a good influence. And when you play those veterans over young players when it is painfully obvious that the young player would perform better, you are doing the team a disservice. Young pitchers don't always have the greatest control, true, but the only way that they will get better is through "experience", and when you sacrifice the opportunity for them to get any at the benefit of some dead end veterans, the concept is merely a bunch of crap. There is a big difference between Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones, and most of the veteran pitchers on the Cubs' roster, and if Lou fails to see this, he hasn't progressed any.

The bottom line is, the Cubs need to see more of their pitching prospects and less of the mediocre pitchers whose potential performance is pretty much already known. With young players, this is not so. It may sound good to preach "veteran experience", but there are only so many innings to go around, and if the bulk of them are devoted to mediocre dead end waiver pickups, the concept loses its luster.

The following exchange is the one I have the most issue with.

SCHWARZ: And we know how much Lou Piniella loves young guys going to ball four.

PINIELLA: No, no. If you look at my history as a manager, we give young kids opportunities. I like young kids. I like the enthusiasm they bring, the work habits they bring. I'll give guys a lot of chances. The problem is, if they're not ready to perform in that arena, you're almost doing them a disfavor.

Altogether now........BULLSHIT!!!!!!!!!

Seriously, is it possible to lie more directly? This is the same man who started Hideo Nomo for almost 2/3 of the season in the starting rotation. The same man who gave constant bullpen opportunities to John Halama and Trever Miller at the expense of young players. The same man who gave constant rotation opportunities to the likes of Jeremi Gonzalez, Paul Abbott, Rob Bell, Steve Parris, Jim Parque, Damian Moss, and Todd Ritchie. The same man who let Chad Gaudin, Mark Malaska, and Brandon Backe go to the wolves for horrible veteran player, or worse-nothing at all. The same guy who preferred to give bullpen PT to Joe Beimel and Mike Venafro, and who seriously limited the playing time of youngsters Chad Orvella, Bobby Seay, Tim Corcoran, John Switzer, and John Webb.

Want to expand this epedemic to the offense? Explain why so many at bats were given to Jose Cruz Jr. at the expense of Matt Diaz? Perhaps the team would have reaped some of the benefits of his performance with Atlanta had Lou actually given him a chance. Marlon Anderson, Damian Rolls, Alex Gonzalez, Geoff Blum, Nick Green, Damon Hollins, Rey Sanchez, Al Martin, Rob Fick, Rey Ordonez, Damion Easley, Terry Shumpert, Fred McGriff, Charles Johnson, Adam Piatt, George Lombard, Chris Truby, Kevin Cash, Jeff Liefer, Eric Munson, and Randall Simon are all examples of has-beens or never-will-bes getting numerous at bats with the team at the expense of young players at one juncture or another. This is the same man that signed Roberto Alomar to start at second base at the expense of Jorge Cantu, coming off a great 2004. The same man who characterized Danny Bautista's retirement as a "big blow" to the team. The same man who signed Alex Sanchez and Chris Singelton to take the lion's share of the at bats following his departure, instead of Joey Gathright, who in ten games at the beginning of 2005 hit incredibly well. He may not have panned out, but are you telling me that you would rather have seen Singelton or "milkshake" play center at the expense of the younger Gathright? This is the same man who held off on calling Jonny Gomes up in 2005, thus costing him a shot at the rookie of the year award, so he could play Reggie Taylor in center. The same man who often left B.J. Upton on the bench during his call-up in 2004 in favor of Damian Rolls and Geoff Blum. The same man who used any excuse, large or small, to lessen young players' playing time. The same man who shifted young players around to different positions constantly, uprooting the stability they sorely needed.

Lou would sacrifice the playing time that young players sorely needed at any time possible if it suited his interests of winning one or two more games. He became so short-sighted and destructive at the end it was almost incredible. He only gave young players playing time when there was no other crappy veteran available and had no other choice. He is right about not every young player being ready, but numerous ones were, and he elected to not let them play so he could see more of the horrible dead end veterans he had.

And he had enthusiasm for the energy young players brought? Please, this is the man that handed Jonny Gomes a draconian fine for sleeping in, and after that continued to dog him all year. At the faintest hint of praise from the press, he'd go off on a "temper your enthusiasm" rant. I'm sorry, don't even pretend like you are interested in giving young players opportunities. You don't, and the only reason you ever did is because you had no other choice.

But wait, there's more.....

SCHWARZ: You got a bit of an overdose of young kids in Tampa Bay. A friend of yours told the Chicago Tribune, "I've seen people in prison less depressed."

PINIELLA: That's not true. I enjoyed it there. I really did. But when I left Seattle to go there, I was told that there were resources and that the organization wanted to win. The intentions were good on both sides. The problem is the club was sold, and the new ownership group was interested in building from the bottom up. I'm too old to sit around and wait for that type of situation, one, and two, it's embarrassing managing in your hometown and getting your ass beat.

I'm probably about the only guy out there, of the guys who have had success and have been managing a long time, that would take on a challenge like Tampa Bay. I don't think Bobby Cox or Tony La Russa or any of these other guys--Joe Torre--would take that type of challenge. I did.

This is where some semblance of truth comes in. Let there be no doubt that Piniella was lied to by previous ownership. They looked him straight in the face and told him white-faced lies. However Piniella seems to put the blame on the new ownership group for his departure, which just isn't fair. The new ownership group has not changed direction from the Naimoli regime, this is still a building team just like it always has been. The difference is, the new ownership group wasn't going to stand for Lou's win at all costs personality. I can understand his desire to win, but he gladly took $2.1 million to sit out a year. If he really wanted to make a statement, he would have resigned. But my sympathy for him is tempered by the fact that his "will to win" was bought out for $2.1 million. The team didn't fail because you didn't manage well, but you sure didn't help matters, and the direction of the new ownership group is no different from that of the old one, aside from it being better-run.

Schwarz then asks if broadcasting for FOX last year had an effect on Lou's perception of the game.

It gave me a different perspective--it really did. It lightened it up a heck of a lot. As a manager and player you get in that dugout mentality all the time competing at the highest level. And sometimes you take it just a bit too seriously. I knew that if I got away from the game for a year, it would be good for me.

Well that's certainly a good thing, because he really became very stiff towards the end with the Rays. And again, $2.1 million on top of his salary with the FOX network couldn't hurt either. This still won't stop him from blabbering non-sensically, using wallet analogies and generally sounding intoxicated, but at least he won't be so damn serious.

And lastly, you can't have a Lou Piniella interview without the temper.

Laughs.) I hope people don't expect that part of me. I don't really like that part of me too much. It comes out once in a while. What's a little bit amusing but a little bit frustrating is when they show a Tony La Russa, for instance. Or a Joe Torre. They show them pensive and studious. When they show me it's animated. You know, you don't win 1,500-plus games in the big leagues because you're animated.

Of course people expect that part of you. That's what you're known for. What do people see most often? You kicking up infield dirt, throwing bases, going face to face with an umpire, or getting into a fight with Rob Dibble. Don't kid yourself, casual fans in every American city know Lou for that, and expect to see this element from him.

So in summary, while Lou didn't create the status quo losing that took place during his tenure, he did nothing to improve it, and the team is better off without him. His sense of direction simply did not parallel that of the team, and because of his impatience, a change had to be made. I don't dislike Lou, I hope he is successful in Chicago. However his refusal to take responsibility for his shortcomings with the Rays ultimately harmed the team. The Lou era began with so much hope, but ultimately it was never went to be, and both sides parted. For the better.

To read the entire Baseball America article, please click here.