Pennant race still fires up mellower Piniella
Lou Piniella keeps track of his sleep habits when he's not monitoring the National League Central standings, and he can attest that he's woken up at 4 a.m. this season more often than in any of his previous 19 years as a manager.When infomercials don't cut it as an insomnia cure, Piniella has a surefire Plan B. He'll open his hotel room door, reach for the USA Today and do a crossword puzzle until he drifts back off to sleep. "When I started managing, they'd have a bottle of vodka in the room," Piniella said, laughing. "Now I'll eat a piece of fruit and have a bottle of water." Piniella, in his first season with the Cubs, will always be captive to his emotions to a degree. His temper is legendary, and he's a product of the 1960s and '70s, when men were men, takeout slides really hurt, and managers liked their ballplayers tough, gritty and pressure-resistant.
I have to guard against my competitive nature when I manage a team. I can't be more competitive than the team. I have to find their level and hover slightly above it. If not, you're always going to be upset.
--Cubs manager Lou Piniella
Forging bondsAfter three trying seasons in Tampa Bay, Piniella spent last season broadcasting games for Fox and cultivating a George Brett-caliber tan. The Cubs lured him from his sabbatical with a three-year, $10 million contract and a mandate to give fans a reason to visit Wrigley for something other than camaraderie and beer. It took a leap of faith for Piniella, 64, to commit to the Cubs, with their oppressive history and parade-free environment. And truth be told, some people in the Cubs' traveling party didn't know exactly what to expect from the new guy. Growing up on Florida's Gulf Coast in the 1960s, Hendry watched Piniella star in basketball for Tampa's Jesuit High School. But they barely knew each other until the job interview. Today, if you ask Hendry which Piniella character trait surprises him most, he'll talk about Piniella's super-sized compassion. When Hendry watches Piniella send a kid to Triple-A, he can tell how difficult it is for his manager to break the news. Last month, when Floyd's father died after a two-month battle with heart and kidney problems, few Cubs empathized more than Piniella, whose father, Louis, passed away in 2005. "Lou always had this aura where people think he's hard on players all the time -- the 'rule with an iron fist' thing," Hendry said. "But I don't find that. He genuinely cares about them on and off the field, probably more than they would ever know." Piniella is more inclined to delegate now than in his early years as a manager in New York and Cincinnati. He's content to think big picture and let pitching coach Larry Rothschild, bench coach Alan Trammell and the rest of his staff oversee their individual departments sans interference.
I didn't like Lou much the first two months. It was because I pitched bad, and that's completely wrong. He never quit on me, and I'll never forget that.
--Cubs reliever Scott Eyre
While no one would ever suggest that Piniella got himself suspended intentionally, the timing of his outburst was intriguing. It came a day after Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett made headlines by fighting in the Chicago dugout. Suddenly, the manager was the story and the battling batterymates were yesterday's news."If you don't think [Piniella] did that on purpose, you're crazy," Eyre said. "It put the heat on him, and he can handle it because of who he is."
Long, hard roadPiniella works with a personal trainer in the winter, but not during the baseball season, when the travel and long hours take their toll. The Cubs played four games in less than 48 hours against St. Louis last weekend, and Piniella, unshaven and fighting a head cold, looked about as fresh as an Iditarod contestant.
Managers: All-time wins
- 1. Connie Mack, 3,731
- 2. John McGraw, 2,763
- 3. Tony La Russa, 2,367
- 4. Bobby Cox, 2,248
- 5. Sparky Anderson, 2,194
- 6. Bucky Harris, 2,157
- 7. Joe McCarthy, 2,215
- 8. Joe Torre, 2,059
- 9. Walter Alson, 2,040
- 10. Leo Durocher, 2,008
- 11. Casey Stengel, 1,905
- 12. Gene Mauch, 1,902
- 13. Bill McKechnie, 1,896
- 14. Ralph Houk, 1,619
- 15. Fred Clarke, 1,602
- 16. Tommy Lasorda, 1,599
- 17. Lou Piniella, 1,598
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