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July 20, 2010

BP Unfiltered

Lou Piniella: Hall of Fame Manager

by John Perrotto

It certainly came as no surprise, at least to me, that Cubs manager Lou Piniella announced his retirement on Tuesday. Whether he stays retired remains to be seen but that's another matter for another day.

The reason I was not surprised is that I saw a marked difference in Piniella in the span of five weeks during the first half of the season. I caught up with him on June 1 and he looked every bit of his 66 years with dark circles under his eyes and gray stubble on his chin. He had clearly been beaten down by the Cubs' disappointing season that will almost certainly mark the franchise's 102ndconsecutive year without a World Series championship.

Yet Piniella was a different man a week ago Saturday after the Cubs beat the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in the penultimate game before the All-Star break. Perhaps it was that his Cubs had won that day but whatever the reason, Piniella looked refreshed and relaxed. I couldn't help but wonder when I walked out of the visitors' clubhouse that day that perhaps Piniella had peace of mind because he knew this was going to his last season. He is in the final year of his contract and it was becoming obvious he wouldn't be asked back for 2011 by Tom Ricketts, the Cubs' new owner, but now Piniella can go out on his own terms.

Piniella's announcement leads to the logical question of whether he deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Managers are considered only by the Veterans Committee.

Piniella has two very notable achievements on his managerial resume. He led the Reds to a wire-to-wire National League West title in 1990 and they went on to stun the heavily favored and defending champion Athletics with a sweep in the World Series. Piniella also guided the 2001 Mariners to a 116-46 mark, tying the major-league record for most victories in a season, though the year ended in disappointment as they lost to the Yankees in the ALCS.

His body of work as a manager is quite impressive as he has gone 1,823-1,691 in 23 seasons. He will finish 14thall-time in victories and 12thin games managed, and has won three Manager of the Year awards.

Piniella's playing career can also be considered by the Veterans Committee. While Piniella was not a star, he was a solid hitter as he had a .291/.333/.409 line with 102 home runs in 18 seasons from 1964-84, the final 11 spent with the Yankees. He was also the American League Rookie of the Year with the expansion 1969 Royals and was selected to one All-Star Game.

Piniella has never been considered the game's top manager as he has had the misfortune of being peers with such legendary skippers as Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, who rank third, fourth and fifth on the all-time wins list. Piniella's infamous temper also caused him to look almost like a caricature at times, which detracted from his managerial acumen. However, of the 13 managers who have won more games than Piniella and are no longer active, only Gene Mauch has failed to get to Cooperstown but he also lost 135 more games than he won.

Piniella did not win as a neophyte manager with the Yankees and his three seasons with the Rays were a disaster, though it did bring attention to Vince Naimoli's poor ownership. However, Piniella is the only manager ever to take the Mariners to the postseason, led a Reds team that had gone 75-87 and endured the Pete Rose lifetime ban the season before to a World Series title and won NL Central titles in his first two season with the Cubs in 2007 and 2008.

It seems that it's going to be difficult to keep Sweet Lou out of the Hall, though he will likely have to wait until after Cox, Torre and La Russa are inducted before getting his due.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  Lou Piniella

3 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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the body of work...rests on attributing that list of events to the manager. this is, let's be honest, a product of tradition, or if you prefer, the narrative of the manager as a helmsman and representative for the team. this is a nice story, but is it really reality?

and the better question is not whether it is reality, it is how much we should care about managers, or how should we care about managers. it seems to me that the better way of appreciating managers is to them as personalities, rather than as a list of accomplishments, tenuously connected. we all like stories of lou the person in baseball, and there should be a way to preserve his value to the annals of baseball without treating it as a statement of wins and losses gained.

Jul 21, 2010 00:57 AM
rating: 0

As a lifelong Cubs fan whose spent the last 18 years in Seattle I've gotten to follow Piniella on a daily basis. While he's well respected in baseball circles and generally liked by fans and upper management for his fiery attitude, I've never seen him do anything to suggest he's a good manager much less a Hall of Fame manager. That is, aside from getting hired by teams loaded with talent.

Sweet Lou is horrible at managing a bullpen which should be obvious to any fan who's had Piniella at the helm of his team. His lineup and batting order construction is terrible. This is a guy who after 20 seasons as manager replaced an all-star in Soto with a replacement level hitter because he "calls a better game" and this is typical of the way he's managed his career. You're quick to dismiss the Tampa years as the owner's fault but the simple truth is Lou can win (sometimes) when he has a lot of talent and can't win without it. The one thing Lou does well is light a fire under some of his players.

As a pitcher it's impossible to accumulate a lot of wins, low ERAs, etc over a career because you have a great defense and powerful offense behind you. But for the most part successful managers are in the right place at the right time.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Piniella get in because the veterans committee has no clue, but it would be a shame if he did.

Jul 21, 2010 10:37 AM
rating: 0

I wouldn't call his years with the Rays a success, but it's not a black mark on his record either. The team's record improved 7.5 games when Lou arrived and declined by 6 games when he left.

Jul 27, 2010 11:53 AM
rating: 0
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