By Brady Stiff
I’ve been meaning to get back to writing now for awhile. Today’s a perfect day to do it I suppose.
Earlier this afternoon, Lou Piniella announced that he’ll be retiring at the end of this baseball season. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it should put an end to any sort of speculation that Ryne Sandberg or someone else might be taking over for Sweet Lou in midseason.
I would have totally disagreed with firing Piniella during the season. Yes, the Cubs have underperformed to date, but Lou may be the least responsible party for those struggles. I’ve said it time and time again, baseball is the most individual team sport there is. While you can win and lose as a team, so many times games come down to one at-bat. Pitcher versus hitter. If that guy doesn’t get the job done, on either end of the equation, his teammates can’t do anything about it.
We’ve seen good things lately from the Cubs, as they’ve started to score a few more runs. Why? Aramis Ramirez. His numbers have skyrocketed with the temperature at Wrigley, and it shows with the Cubs’ newfound offensive production. To win, you must have your middle-of-the-order guys hitting, and Lee and Ramirez have struggled all year. If you add their batting averages together, you wouldn’t even get .500.
Speaking of Lee, he’s had a fine July as well, hitting just under .300 and raising his overall average to .244.
Back to Piniella, he’s done plenty of things to try to get this thing turned around. He’s shaken up the lineup, played the kids, tried to be aggressive…everything but the kitchen sink. The team always ends up shooting themselves in the foot with bad defense or a lack of clutch hitting. It’s not Piniella’s fault.
Making the announcement now gives the Cubs plenty of time to figure out who his replacement might be. Will it be Ryne Sandberg? Bob Brenly? Joe Girardi? Your guess is as good as mine right now, but I do have a preference.
Some might say that making Ryne Sandberg the manager would be just a PR move, but I think it would be the wise thing to do. Yes, that means letting Joe Girardi, the former Cub and World Series-winning manager sign with someone else. Yes, that means letting Tony LaRussa re-sign with the Cardinals or someone else. Ryne Sandberg is the right man for the job.
But he has no Major League experience, you say? You would be correct. But he’s been managing in the Cubs’ farm system for four years now. He spent 2007-2008 at Single A Peoria, spent ’09 at the helm of the Cubs’ AA affiliate, and is currently at Triple A Iowa. He took Peoria to the Championship Game in his first season there, and he’s currently got the Iowa Cubs tied for first in their division.
He’s managed several of the young Cubs, like Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner, along with more guys who could come up and play with the big club in September.
My biggest reason for saying the Cubs need Ryne Sandberg is this: They’re not ready to win now, and neither is Ryne Sandberg. The Cubs are a team full of veterans and a few young kids. The veterans’ contracts are expiring (at least some of them are), and I think they’ll let the free agents (Lilly and Lee) walk, rather than spend more money to keep them. The Cubs’ farm system keeps improving, and I think Ryne Sandberg’s knowledge of the players would serve him well.
As a Cubs fan, I’d be content to let Sandberg take control, even if it means the team isn’t a legitimate contender for two or three years. He’s going to get a Major League managerial job anyways, so it might as well be with the Cubs. Give him time to grow with the young players on the roster, and help him turn the Cubs into a perennial contender that the fans deserve.
I’m resigned to the fact that the Cubs probably won’t win this year, though it would be nice to send Lou out as a winner. I think it’s the right call to let him finish the season, and I think they have a chance to get it right if they hire Ryne Sandberg.