Commentary

Brenly as manager has nice ring to it

World Series title experience and motivational abilities could work for North Siders

Updated: July 21, 2010, 9:48 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Jim Hendry had a typical pow-wow with a small group of reporters on Wednesday, which went something like this:

Sportswriters: Why won't you talk about your managerial search?

Hendry: Why should I?

Of course, that wasn't verbatim, and the rest was off-the-record secret stuff that was further elaboration on the above theme. The truth is, the Cubs' GM does not have to talk about candidates and sees it as a positive that he has so much time to do his proverbial due diligence and pick the right man for the job.

The question is, does he really need roughly three or four months to find his next manager? Or could he be using that time to warm up the new guy?

No one wants to see Lou Piniella shuffled off. Well, OK, maybe some people do, but that's not entirely fair. However, now that he has officially announced his retirement, the club could certainly stage his farewell with some dignity. Just a lot quicker.

If Piniella had his way, the news of his departure would not have leaked out in midseason because there is no advantage to it, other than perhaps to head off all the speculation. On the speculation meter, however, Piniella exit gossip falls far short of new manager gossip.

[+] EnlargeBob Brenly
Damen Jackson/Icon SMIBob Brenly won a World Series managing the Diamondbacks in 2001.

If there was some tangible evidence that Lou's players were going to rally behind the news, then OK. But they are far more likely to rally behind the new guy, and there is more wisdom in getting the new manager started.

There has been talk that if Ryne Sandberg were hired, you wouldn't want him to begin his big league managing career with the negative mojo of this season's team. But if he's that fragile, perhaps he's not ready for a major-market, manager-eating job like the Cubs'.

Scratch Joe Girardi and Tony La Russa off your wish lists if they're still there. The Yankees won't let Girardi go, and there is no chance that La Russa will come, according to someone who knows.

As he was the past two times the Cubs' job was open, team broadcaster Bob Brenly remains a great candidate. One question with Brenly has been why, if he's so qualified, has he not been offered other jobs? But even if he were offered jobs in small markets such as Cincinnati or Milwaukee, why walk away from one of the best broadcasting jobs in the business?

Brenly would walk into the Cubs' interview more prepared than anyone, including Sandberg. With a World Series ring he won as manager of the Diamondbacks in 2001 still weighing down his right hand, Brenly said in an interview before Piniella was hired by the Cubs that winning in Arizona allowed him to be picky for the rest of his life.

It gave him contentment.

But after winning a second straight division title, the D-Backs were swept in the second round of the '02 playoffs. And the following season, beset by injuries to Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, they didn't reach the postseason.

Then before the '04 season, the team cut its payroll by 25 percent and gave up six players to the Brewers in exchange for Richie Sexson, a move that led in part to Major League Baseball changing its rules regarding deferred salaries. Sexson ended up playing just 23 games that year due to injury, and Brenly (303-262 as a manager) was fired midway through the season.

Brenly's players, such as former Cub Luis Gonzalez, said he always knew what buttons to push and was a great motivator.

Brenly's edginess could work well taking over the Cubs now, since Piniella seems to have lost his influence sometime in April (some might put it closer to 2008). And motivational abilities are greatly needed and wanted, according to Ryan Theriot.

"At this level, for sure," said the Cubs shortstop, a non-tender candidate who might not be here for the new manager. "You can always learn, obviously, but the season is so long, motivation and encouragement is always really important. To some extent, even more so [than actual coaching ability]."

Perhaps the only negative is that some Cubs' veterans might be resistant to the outspoken and candid Brenly. But really, does that even matter at this point?

Brenly is not a fan of just opening up the checkbook and gobbling up free agents, but rather building up the farm system, which is something the Cubs are doing now.

And he definitely knows the attraction of the job, once referring to it as "the top of the list."

Brenly's presence alone is not likely to elevate the same tired Cubs' team to greatness, though he is likely to put more fannies in the seats for the remainder of the season. On Wednesday, another gorgeous, albeit hot summer day, the bleachers were practically emptied and Wrigley half-full by 4:30, which coincided with the top of 12th inning. It also coincided with the 14th Cubs' runner left on base, 11 of those in scoring position.

Twenty minutes later, Cubs relievers surrendered three runs, the seagulls descended like vultures and the place had that familiar feel of a deserted amusement park.

It's a tough job. One man's idea of great can be gruesome by any other standard.

Anyone who wants it gets points.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.