Getty Images

Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: Lou Piniella

5 Comments

On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Lou Piniella

The case for his induction:

He notched 1,835 wins, made seven postseason appearances, a won a World Series as a manager. That win total is good for 14th all time. Of the 13 men ahead of him, 12 are already in the Hall. The only who isn’t is Gene Mauch, who was under .500 for his career. Connie Mack and Bucky Harris are in that crowd and they were under .500 too, but Mack is kind of a special case as the all-time wins leader and Harris, well, I dunno, he hung around forever and the Veterans Committee was a different beast back in the 1970s. Point is, if you have Piniella’s win total and you’re over .500, as Piniella is, you’re probably getting in, at least eventually.

A lot of those wins came in some good places and at some good times, adding some psychological weight to that record. Taking the 1990 Reds to the World Series and beating the heavily favored A’s was a great story and, as the Reds’ last title for 26 years and counting, stands as a more memorable accomplishment than doing it someplace else. Likewise, his next job, in Seattle, coincided with the franchise’s best seasons thanks to the emergence of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez under Piniella’s command. Mariners’ history fundamentally changed during the Piniella era and he will always be associated with that. Oh, and his 2001 team set the single season record for wins with 116. He made two playoff appearances with the Cubs too. That’s been eclipsed by the 2016 team’s exploits, but it was a pretty big deal at the time.

It’s also worth noting that Piniella likewise had a very fine playing career, with 18 seasons of 109 OPS+ hitting, a Rookie of the Year Award and a couple of World Series rings on his resume. That’s not enough by itself to get him in the Hall, but he presents a nice total package as a Baseball Man Supreme who has been thought highly of for close to 50 years now.

Oh, one other thing: he was colorful. He had a temper and a repuatation as kind of a red ass, with a good number of on-the-field incidents which stick in people’s minds. That sort of thing doesn’t necessarily make someone a good manager or a good person, but Piniella has been seen as a guy who mellowed with age and, at various times in his career, showed that he had a sense of humor about all of that stuff which makes it play a heck of a lot better. For Hall of Fame purposes, it certainly plays a heck of a lot more memorably.

The case against his induction:

His years in Tampa Bay weren’t all that great and, by the time his days in Chicago were over there was a sense that he was sort of running on fumes and padding that win total to get him into that top 14. In both places Joe Maddon eventually came along and did better things and, in some cases, undoing some bad things Piniella did. Some believe he should’ve won another pennant or two and, yes, some of those Mariners teams disappointed in the postseason. Some people look less amusingly on his temper tantrums over the years and, I suppose, one could characterize them a bit more sinisterly than I did above without being too dramatic.

Would I vote for him?

I think so. As I mentioned in the George Steinbrenner entry, when it comes to managers and executives, I put a lot of weight on whether one could tell the story of baseball in a guy’s era without mentioning his name. Piniella is no Joe Torre, Bobby Cox of Tony La Russa in that regard, but he’s pretty close to that group in terms of the figure he cut in the game and, as I mentioned, he’s critical to the story of a couple of franchises. Certainly the Mariners but also the 1970s Yankees as a player and, possibly, the 1990 Reds. I tend to be a softer Hall of Fame touch than a lot of people, so I get that people may disagree, but I’d put him in.

Will the Committee vote for him?

Hard to say. On the one hand, Piniella feels like the sort of baseball man that gets rewarded by the Veterans Committee. On the other hand, the Veterans Committee took ages to vote in some other notable managers such as Whitey Herzog, suggesting that maybe Piniella will have to wait. This is the first year for the new composition of the Veterans Committe, however, so it’s hard to say if they’ll be tougher or easier graders. He may be the hardest call of all of the guys on this year’s ballot.

Cubs, Marlins set to meet after bumpy paths to postseason

Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

CHICAGO (AP) Cubs manager David Ross had to remind himself Monday night that Chicago was still two days away from opening the playoffs against the Miami Marlins.

Game 1 of their best-of-three wild-card series is Wednesday at Wrigley Field. And Ross can’t wait.

“I was laying in bed last night, feeling like today was the day the games were starting,” he said Tuesday. “Having to kind of say over and over in your head, ‘The game’s not tomorrow, it’s not tomorrow.’ You’re anxious to get started.”

The Cubs won the NL Central at 34-26 in Ross’ first season, reaching the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.

It wasn’t exactly an easy ride, though.

Yu Darvish put himself in contention for the NL Cy Young Award, but Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras each struggled as the offense sputtered. Despite that, the club led the division almost wire to wire after missing the postseason last year.

“You get that excitement, that butterfly feeling just like you do every time – but just a little bit more because we’re back, we missed it last year,” slugger Kyle Schwarber said.

It’s been a much longer wait for the Marlins, in the playoffs for the first time since winning the 2003 World Series. They knocked off the Cubs in a memorable NLCS that year before taking out the New York Yankees. They won the World Series in their only other trip to the playoffs, beating Cleveland for the title in 1997.

After losing 105 games last year, the Marlins finished second in the NL East at 31-29 – their first winning record since 2009.

They overcame a coronavirus outbreak at the start of the season that sidelined more than half the team, and navigated a closing stretch that included 28 games in 24 days. The acquisition of center fielder Starling Marte from Arizona at the trade deadline and the emergence of rookie right-hander Sixto Sanchez gave them a big lift.

“We’ve played some unbelievable games, had the hardest schedule in the league,” outfielder Corey Dickerson said. “That can’t be overlooked. We’re a good ballclub top to bottom. If you look at us, I think we match up well with almost any team.”

Here are some things to know:

FOR STARTERS

The Cubs will go with Kyle Hendricks in the opener and Darvish on Thursday, with Jon Lester on Friday if necessary. The Marlins will counter with Sandy Alcantara in the opener, Sanchez in Game 2 and Pablo Lopez if there’s a Game 3.

Hendricks was third in the majors in innings and was particularly sharp down the stretch, with a 1.45 ERA in five outings in September. The Cubs could have gone with Darvish on his usual four days’ rest. But Ross chose Hendricks, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday.

“It’s a huge honor for me to get the nod from Rossy for Game 1, but at the end of the day, we all know what Yu’s done this year,” Hendricks said. “He’s our ace. He’s the guy. He’s been dominant all year long. If this was a one-game-playoff kind of thing, he would be the guy, obviously.”

FLASHBACK

The series is sure to stir memories of the 2003 NLCS.

The lasting image happened in Game 6 at Wrigley Field, with the Cubs leading 3-0 in the eighth. Just five outs from their first pennant since 1945, fan Steve Bartman deflected Luis Castillo‘s foul ball as Cubs left fielder Moises Alou tried to make a leaping catch.

Chicago gave up eight runs in the inning, hurt by shortstop Alex Gonzalez misplaying a potential inning-ending double play, in an 8-3 loss. The Cubs were eliminated in Game 7, extending a championship drought that stretched from 1908 to 2016.

“We talk about it a lot, obviously,” said Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill, who joined the front office in 2002. “I don’t think the ball was catchable myself. I think the bigger play was the Alex Gonzalez error on the Miguel Cabrera groundball. That was the huge difference-maker. … An eight-run eighth. A miraculous comeback. That propelled us into one of the most exciting Game 7s I can ever remember watching.”

BIG SWINGS

The Cubs ranked among the worst in the majors with a .220 average and had the fifth-highest strikeout total.

But they scored 25 runs in taking two of three from the playoff-bound Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field to finish the regular season, with Bryant hitting homers in the final two games. And they hope its carries into the playoffs.

LONGSHOT

At 33-1, no team is facing longer odds to win the World Series than the Marlins. They were outscored by 41 runs.

But with their young pitchers, strong farm system and manageable payroll, they think they are built to last.

CALLING ON KIMBREL

Though he struggled early and lost the closer job to Jeremy Jeffress, Craig Kimbrel could be called on in big spots after a strong September. The seven-time All-Star did not allow a run in eight appearances and struck out 13 without a walk in 7 1/3 innings.