There’s nothing like starting the day with a good cup of coffee. Today, it was coffee in one hand and the phone in the other. On the line, or the cell, was former Cubs manager Lou Piniella. Lou is doing a media tour for Pepsi MAX and Major League Baseball for some new commercials that are a takeoff on the movie “Field of Dreams.” Look for Lou wearing a Cubs uniform and apologizing to an umpire.
Lou, now a consultant for the San Francisco Giants, said he wanted to wear the Cubs uniform. We also get Lou’s thoughts about the Cubs and the timing of his retirement right here in this blog.
“I had a choice,” he said of the uniform. “First of all, there was nobody represented from the Chicago area, so it was natural. I would have chosen my last uniform, the Cubs. It was mutual.
“They asked me to be involved in this thing. A lot of great players. A lot of great current players: Randy Johnson and Dennis Eckersley and Carlton Fisk and Jim Thome and CC Sabathia and Rickey Henderson. I’m the manager, and I have my Cubs uniform on. We shot here in the Tampa Bay area about the middle of March. It took about two days to do all this.”
Of course, no conversation with Lou would be complete without asking him about his time with the Cubs. Lou retired last August to tend to his ailing mother. There had been some speculation that Lou should have gone home sooner than he did last season. He conceded that maybe he should have done that, but overall, he said he had few regrets overall.
“I wanted to see it through, I really did,” he said. “It just didn’t work out. Baseball is a tough profession. Managing a baseball team is a tough profession. You’ve got to give 100 percent undivided attention to your job. I know that when you’re getting tugged at from a lot of places, it makes it a little more difficult. Maybe I should have gone home a little earlier. I tried to see it through. It just didn’t work out.
“You want to see your team go into the postseason every year, and you want to see your team do well in postseason. Look, we drew quite well. We had three winning seasons in a row, and I don’t think that’s been done with the Cubs in quite awhile. I did the best I could. That’s all I can say.”
The Cubs won division titles under Lou in 2007 and 2008 but couldn’t capture a single playoff game.
“You’re good people there,” Lou said of Chicago. “Wonderful city. Wonderful people. It’s a storied franchise. The fans. I’m sorry that my last year there, things didn’t work out. Look, we had three winning seasons in a row, something that they hadn’t done. Sure, I’m disappointed that we couldn’t do a little better in the postseason. But we won two divisions. One of the things that was difficult, believe it or not, was that we had three different ownership groups. That’s hard. They’ve got the right people there now. The Ricketts family is going to do a really, really nice job. I’m really impressed with Tom and his two brothers and his sister. They’re going to do a fine job. They’re learning the business of baseball. It doesn’t come overnight.
“If I had to do it all over again, yeah, I would do the same things all over again except finish a little better than I did.”
Last season, the Cubs got off to a 13-13 start but never saw .500 again.
“I thought what hurt us last year more than anything else, early in the year, we couldn’t hold on to leads, our bullpen,” he said. “We had looked for a reliever all winter and through spring training. No one was available who could help us. We had to rely on too many young kids, and they weren’t quite ready for it. We lost games we really should have hung on to. When that starts happening, whether it’s the Cubs or the Yankees or any team, it sort of saps the confidence out of you a little bit.
“Then I had the problems with my family down here. It sort of sidetracked me some, too. I came home. It was time. I managed for 23 years. I played 17. I had 40 years in a row in the big leagues. Let somebody else carry the torch. I’m just disappointed in my last year. Outside of that, look, I couldn’t have picked a better place to go to work in.”
Lou says he still catches the Cubs on TV at his Tampa home. While not doing that, he says he’s “been doing a little bit of fishing and playing just a little bit of golf.” He also gets to quite a few Tampa Bay Rays games but said San Francisco GM Brian Sabean wants him to see the Giants soon.
One thing Lou says he won’t do is manage again.
“No, no,” he said with a laugh. “I said when I went to Chicago it was going to be my last job, and it was my last job. I’m going to miss the competition, but I don’t miss the heartaches of it, I can tell you that. I had a good run. I finished 14th all time in wins. Who in the heck would have thought that when I started?”
I did mention to Lou that if he were to come to Chicago, we’d have to have one more session in the dungeon of an interview room.
“For old time’s sake,” he said. “If I go to Chicago, you all can get me right in that interview room this summer.”