Everyone makes fun of it. It happens multiple times per game (especially lately) and it takes forever. What is it? Lou Piniella's walk to the mound.
I pride myself on a pretty good imitation of the Lou strut, where his hips remain completely motionless and just his legs move forward, like a rooster. And when he jogs? Oh man, that's physical comedy. Lou just doesn't want to exert himself, and at his age, I don't blame him.
I'm not going to call Lou out on his "fire" or bring up any of that June talk, but fact of the matter is Lou's old and he was brought in with the intention of the Cubs winning the World Series sometime during the duration of his contract, which only lasts through next season following last year's extension.
But this season has been a nightmare. Lou's had injury problems, guys completely underperforming and players that he has to play regardless of performance because of their contracts and how much money they're getting paid. His hands have been tied and if you look at next season, nothing appears to look up. If the Cubs miss the playoffs, Lou's staring down the same barrel he's been looking at all this season in 2010.
As the Cubs hit the road again for a week's worth of games out on the west coast in San Diego and L.A. -- the same exact test as the Cardinals minus a fourth game in San Diego not L.A -- we'll have pretty good sense of who's better. Although the upcoming home stand with Washington, New York and Houston coming to town looks promising, repeatedly poor play on the road against good teams is no sign for October, or at least progress from the last two seasons. If no progress is made, then there's no point for an aging manager to stick it out another season of below-expectation baseball and hounding from the Chicago media about stuff he can't control.
If and when that last excuse of "we have ___ games left and I'm confident we can turn it around" fizzles out and there's no more hiding behind what the Cubs might do in the coming weeks to take control of the division, it won't be a good time to be in that club house. The Cubs will have to answer to their concrete failure and changes, not excuses, will be expected. Hendry and Piniella will have to guarantee improvement and they'll have little to offer.
With Piniella at retirement age and having shown he's pretty good from the broadcast side of things, it strikes me that the only way to develop a buzz for the 2010 Cubs should 2009 end on the note it's currently on, would be for Sweet Lou to walk away.
If you look at the Cubs contracts (a post I'll be writing later or after this season), this roster is more or less set in stone for next season. Look at how long the Cubs are committed to Derrek Lee (1B), Aramis Ramirez (3B) Milton Bradley (RF), Kosuke Fukudome (CF), Alfonso Soriano (LF) and starting pitchers Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly. That's just three position players and two pitchers without a big contract, and in the case of those outfielders, contracts that no sane GM would trade for. Unless new ownership gives the Cubs more capital to work with, they are stuck putting the same product on the field as this year and just praying it works out better this time. The only other option is to make a personnel and/or coaching change.
The only way I can conceive of actively trying to make the same team that played poorly one season better the next is to changing the chemistry and the attitude in the club house. It's about new perspective and the Cubs might need it. Thats not to say Piniella and his staff are to blame for the Cubs problems, but if you're stuck with the same players, it's the only way to go. Piniella would be doing the Cubs a service by leaving early. It would give the fans and season ticket holders a reason to be excited about renewing for 2010. I can't imagine any fan wants to see all this again next season. I know I wouldn't spend that kind of money on what amounts to a "do-over."
This of course is all contingent on the Cubs missing the playoffs this season and the story lines not changing, which does have favorable odds at the moment. If the likelihood is that he'd call it quits after 2010 anyway, what's the point? The Cubs and Lou, barring a failure this year, would not be in the same place. With Lou looking toward retirement and the Cubs needing to make big changes to be contenders again that they can't make until 2011, there's no way Lou could be the one to lead this team to the World Series it so desperately needs. Lou's early departure would help set the Cubs up so they can have an extra year to organize another 4-year window to make a World Series push from 2011-2014.