Cuddly Lou

If there is one thing that unites the modern-day sports fan, it is the belief that modern-day coaches and managers aren’t tough enough on modern-day athletes.

Fans just love when gruff old guys with paunches or even gruff middle-aged guys with six-packs — but preferably all former hard-nosed players themselves — put the shoe to a player’s hind end, rip them in the press and really get after the lazy, overpaid good-for-nothings.

That is, unless, that particular tactic does not result directly in a world championship, preferably within 30 days.

Then the gruff coach or manager is vilified as being out of touch, his players quit on him and he is summarily fired.

The rumblings are starting up again about Cubs manager Lou Piniella.

I started hearing it last season, this Lou-is-old, Lou-has-lost-it, Lou-is-soft routine. These are the same people who believe Lou should pull second base out of its mooring once a month just to get his team jacked up and really show his players he means business.

Even when this seemed to work for him, it never really did.

His family was embarrassed, the effect on his teams was short-lived if it did anything at all, and occasionally he’d pull a hamstring or worse.

And at 65, you no longer pull hamstrings. You herniate discs and give yourself cardiac arrhythmias.

Tonight, in a radio show on WGN promoting my biography of Lou Piniella, former White Sox, then Cubs and now Sox broadcast analyst Steve Stone brought up the subject. I told him that Piniella has spoken about the concept of “old-school managers” and that he doesn’t think they can survive in today’s game with today’s players if they refuse to adjust.

Stone said that he doesn’t believe in that and told the story about how successful managers Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox scoffed at that notion.

It sounded familiar because I had actually quoted Stone telling the same story in my book.

“I don’t think Lou today is the same manager he was when he was tackling Rob Dibble,” Stone said in my interview with him last summer, referring to Piniella’s infamous 1992 wrestling match Dibble, then his player on the Cincinnati Reds. “I don’t think he’s mellowed in terms of intensity. I think he realizes there are ways to do things now maybe he couldn’t before. And there are things he did before he can’t do now. But one thing I disagree with, he said you can’t handle players today the way you did in 1990. I posed that same scenario to [Atlanta Braves manager] Bobby Cox and he said that’s a bunch of horseshit. He said you make a set of rules, they apply to everybody and you live with that set of rules. Players will get used to whatever set of rules you implement. And I do know there are certain things Lou tolerates that most likely Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa wouldn’t.

“Can you imagine a guy in leftfield walking after the ball in the corner [as Sorianao did in ‘08] for Tony La Russa?” Stone continued. “Bobby Cox was a guy who stopped a game in the sixth inning, got up out of the dugout and pointed out to centerfield and then-rookie Andruw Jones, who dogged it after a fly ball that dropped in front of him. And [Cox] said, ‘Come on in,’ in the middle of the inning and only when Jones got in did he take somebody from the dugout and run him out to centerfield. Then he told Jones, ‘Go in and sit down in the lockerroom. You obviously don’t want to play. . . ’ ”

When Piniella was first hired as the Cubs’ manager, he was asked about his style and replied, “You appeal to people’s pride. That’s where it starts. You can’t be a hard-ass as a manager, and I’m not a hard-ass. . . .

“When I came up to the big leagues . . . boy, you had to respect the manager because if you don’t, you’re not going to play on that team. Now the manager basically has to earn the respect of the players, and that’s my job – earn their respect, so I can expect respect back at the same time.

“That’s really the way I operate. These are the guys with the longer-term contracts. And they’re the ones who are the most important cogs because they’re the talent.”

In other words, don’t upset the high-priced, veteran talent.

Is that wrong? Perhaps in theory, but not in practice.

If a person is capable of evolving after the age of 60, Piniella has. He was still maturing at the age of 63, the last time he kicked dirt on an umpire’s shoes.

“After that, he was embarrassed, he was,” Trammell in an interview for the book last year.  “[The umpire, Mark] Wegner said he felt it was degrading and Lou said, ‘You know what? I’ve done that a half a dozen times in my career and nobody ever said that to me. I never realized it.’ And he told me, ‘I’ll never do that again.’ “

So call him soft.

Or call him a horse’s you-know-what.

If he doesn’t win here, that’ll hurt a lot more.

4 Responses to “Cuddly Lou”

  1. Kevin

    Stoney’s getting a little Hawk in him these days. I think the Cardinals and Braves organizations also stock their rosters with guys they know are going to be able to play for a hard-nose manager, like Cox and LaRussa are. And you can’t argue with the success those two have experienced. By the same token, you can’t deny the success that Lou has had with Cincinnati, Seattle and the Cubs, rosters filled with your “modern day” types.

    Oh yeah, two more things:
    – can someone delineate “modern day”? It’s a time frame that seems to get smaller every year. You hear Sutcliffe and Sandberg talk about “in my day” and “modern day kids”, isn’t it more related to generation than years? Are the players any more “modern” than they were in 1990?

    – Stoney flamed the Cubs on Chicago Tribune Live, so he is firmly on the “other side” now. But he’s been grinding that ax ever since the Baker/Mercker incident and continues to do so every time Hendry is the subject of the conversation. Leave it alone, Steve, boost your own team and forget the past. It’s unbecoming of a man with so much baseball savvy to act that way.

  2. Hevan

    Ms Isaacson
    you do not know how happy I am to trip over this website. When you could no longer be found on the Trib sport page or website, I felt a deep loss. your insightful writing made sports a better thing to enjoy. you bring a humanity to sports that is there in the real world but too often overlooked by the writers and editors. Please keep up the good work and thank Kaplan for having you on the radio to plug your book and tangently this wonderful site.

  3. Frank

    Melissa – Again very good reading and many memories brought back of the Earl Weavers, Ralph Houcks, Herman Franks, and yes Lou. I think things have just changed. Kids cannot be corrected with any strong discipline, people have been more or less more tolerant of others mistakes, and many of these players today have been brought up with this, I can do no wrong idea, so they would find the Lou of old out of tune, and he might find himself out the door.

    There are many around who remember the managers stirring excitement with the umpires and players, but it just does not go anymore. Maybe Basketball does as you may have seen Stan Van Gundy in all of his animation trying to get his team going in the playoffs. Nice to hear of the recognition for your book on WGN and with Steve Stone. Keep writing Melissa, we look forward to your articles everyday.


  4. Johnny

    I don’t think the times have changed, it’s just that we’ve just gotten older and we’re on the other side of it. Leo Durocher’s book basically said the same thing about Cesar Cedeno and others when he was at the end of his managing career 35 years ago. In general, though not always, it’s going to be more difficult for a 65-year-old to relate to those in their 20s and early 30s.


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