Lou Piniella announced that he will retire at the end of the year. The fiery manager known for his blow-ups over the years managed the Cubs for the past four seasons, in which the team won two division titles but failed to win a postseason game. The playoff failures overshadowed the team’s great years and the losing stigma of the Cubs only grew. This year has been a classic Cubs season during their century of futility. The big names aren’t producing, but they’re still collecting hefty pay checks. Piniella has seemed exhausted during the frustration of the past two seasons and he will step down and leave baseball, possibly for good. He’s had a brilliant career in baseball from his days as a great hitter for the Yankees to managing the Reds to a World Series and the Mariners and Cubs to winning campaigns. Sweet Lou was a character and he always made baseball fun.
With his retirement, the Cubs are searching for a new manager. The organization has fallen back into the doldrums and the new skipper needs to bring a spark. There is a sense of urgency with this hiring that hasn’t existed in the past. The Ricketts have to prove they are serious about bringing a winner to Wrigley Field and this manager will be the first under their direction.
Ryne Sandberg has been managing in the Cubs minor leagues for four years and has shown a fiery side that even Sweet Lou would like. Sandberg was mild-mannered as a player, but he has let loose since his famous Hall of Fame induction speech in 2005. He has worked hard and remained humble to earn a chance to make the big leagues again and it seems he has done an outstanding job.
But the Cubs aren’t jumping at the chance to reward Sandberg yet. Remember, they need to make a splash and change the lovable loser culture. Sandberg is inexperienced when it comes to the majors, so the Cubs are hesitant to pledge their trust in him. I think he would be exactly what the club needs. He would bring a fresh outlook to a team that has been recycling “experienced” managers like Dusty Baker and Piniella and still haven’t found the formula for playoff success. Sandberg would be the spark, trying to prove himself and chasing after the World Series he never got as a player. He would bring a disciplined style of play to the team and demand respect from the players who have gotten too comfortable in Chicago.
But the experience tag always wins out.
And who has experience that may need a job or want a new challenge?
Tony La Russa.
La Russa has emerged as a candidate less than 24 hours after Piniella’s announcement. I guess that’s sports these days. Rumors and speculation rule the world. And La Russa has been a favorite name tossed around by the so-called experts.
Yes, the same Tony La Russa that currently manages the St. Louis Cardinals, who happen to be the Cubs arch-rival. And the same Tony La Russa that already managed the Chicago White Sox, the Cubs crosstown rivals (more based on a popularity struggle than on-field play, but the Sox don’t exactly see eye-to-eye with their neighbors). La Russa’s contract with St. Louis is up after this year and he has hinted he may be done with the Cardinals after this season. La Russa likes to have some freedom so he only signed a one-year deal.
So, could La Russa jump ship and join the Cubs next season?
The challenge is certainly there. Many managers are probably hypnotized by the chance to become a legend in Chicago if they can win just one World Series. After 100 years of waiting, the guy who takes Chicago to the Promised Land will be a god forever. Just the thought is enough to tempt someone. Even if that someone is currently the manager of the Cardinals.
St. Louis is a far better team and a far better organization. The Cardinals have Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright, perhaps the best hitter and best pitcher in the game today. The Cubs have Alfonso Soriano and his huge contract and Carlos Zambrano and his mental problems. That pretty much sums up the difference in experience. The Cubs are a mess with few signs pointing to improvement. The farm system is mediocre at best and the big league club is stacked with veteran players on a downward spiral still getting paid the big bucks.
I can’t see La Russa taking the job if offered. He should have some loyalty to the White Sox and Cardinals and he would have to be crazy to leave the best team in the division for a perennial loser. If St. Louis will have him back, he should stay as long as he can. The Cubs don’t fit into his legacy.
And Cubs fans, Joe Torre is just another recyclable waiting to fail. He’s exhausted like Lou and he can’t seem to figure out the Dodgers. Torre would be a disaster in Chicago.
La Russa knows Chicago is a disaster. And if he betrayed the Redbirds it would only make it worse. There is no way the Cards skipper trades his office in Busch for one in Wrigley.