Tag:Lou Piniella
Posted on: August 22, 2010 1:10 pm
Edited on: August 22, 2010 8:50 pm

Piniella was one of a kind, and so are the Cubs

Lou Piniella always did take to losses as he would third-degree burns. Never one blessed with patience as one of his baseball "tools", Piniella was a magnet for television cameras and a delight for fans when things weren't going well.

He would frown in the dugout, then fret, the slow-burn often reaching full-scale eruption sometime before game's end with an unfortunate umpire bearing the brunt of his wrath. Or in its immediate aftermath, with some unwitting reporter asking the wrong question -- or, even the right question using the wrong words. Bases would fly, caps would be launched, choice words would whistle through the air like missiles.

When I spent 30 minutes sitting with him in the Wrigley Field dugout on a sweltering Friday afternoon before a game in June, things definitely were not going well. The Cubs, nowhere near as brutal as they would become, were losing. Piniella was waist deep in his public spat with White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone.

Wrigleyville was not a happy place.

Yet Piniella that day vowed that the rabble that eventually always devours Cubs managers would not get him.

"They're not going to suck the life out of me," Piniella said that afternoon for what became this column. "I'm not going to get the life sucked out of me. That won't happen.

"I'm a little too competitive for that."

But managing the Cubs always is a one-way ticket to the Land of Dashed Dreams, whether your name is Jim Frey, Lee Elia, Whitey Lockman or, yes, in the end, Lou Piniella.

What started out a dazzling honeymoon filled with warm afternoons and vivid dreams ends for Piniella like it usually does when you're sitting in the Cubs' manager's chair, with the walls closing in and the wolves baying in the distance.

From the high of 97 wins in 2008 -- one of the three most memorable Cubs seasons, along with 2003 and 1984, in the past four decades -- to the pieces of another wreckage in an empty field, the blasted billy goats wandering freely throughout.

Though Piniella several weeks ago announced that he would retire at season's end, he pushed that up to Sunday because of family concerns. His ailing mother Margaret, 90, is not doing well and Piniella has taken two leaves of absences this season to tend to her.

Rare is the person who gets to write his or her own ending, and this isn't exactly the way Piniella envisioned leaving. But it surely fits well within the Cubs parameters: No Cubs manager has lasted five seasons since Leo Durocher, from 1966-1972 (this was Piniella's fourth season).

The worst thing about it is that 2010 has become such a crash-and-burn season for the Cubs that people may have a hard time putting Piniella's run on Chicago's North Side into the context in which it should be viewed. Which is, far more good than bad.

Though last season was disappointing as an encore to the 97 wins the year before, Piniella became the first manager to guide the Cubs to three consecutive winning seasons in more than three decades. Not since Durocher's North Siders finished on the north side of .500 from 1967-1972 have the Cubs had such a sustained run of success.

And granted, we're living in the age of the expanded playoffs ... but Piniella in '07 and '08 became the first Cubs manager to lead the team to the post-season in more than 100 years.

Piniella was 316-292 with the Cubs when he announced his retirement Sunday morning, his 316 wins ranking eighth among all-time Cubs' managers and his .520 winning percentage checking in as the best for a Cubs' skipper since the .547 turned in by Charlie Grimm (1932-1938, 1944).

Piniella's 1,835 wins managing in New York (Yankees), Cincinnati, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Chicago rank 14th on the all-time managerial list, which will make him a candidate for the Hall of Fame.

Never boring, Piniella should settle into retirement content with the mark he left on the game. But for a man as competitive as him, it surely will take a long time to wash away the bitter taste of 2010, his closing act.

As for the Cubs, who last won a World Series in 1908, the long, hard slog continues. As it will for whomever manages them next -- Ryne Sandberg, Bobby Valentine, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa ... take your pick.

As Dusty Baker, another ex-Cubs' skipper, told me earlier this summer, when you take the Cubs job, people "don't see that you've been there three years, four years, five years. They see the 100 years. Which wasn't part of your account."

But you sign on to manage that account.

And given more than a century's worth of baggage, it's become the most difficult, thankless job in the game.


Posted on: June 19, 2010 3:43 pm
Edited on: June 19, 2010 4:14 pm

Cubs hope Ramirez returns Wednesday

CHICAGO -- As the slumping Cubs continue waiting for the hot midseason run that gets them back into contention in the NL Central -- a run that's looking less and less realistic, especially after two sloppy losses to the Angels, the latest 12-0 on Saturday -- there is some movement this weekend.

Injured third baseman Aramis Ramirez (thumb) is scheduled to play for Class A Peoria Saturday and Sunday and, if all goes well, assistant general manager Randy Bush said he should be activated when eligible to return from the disabled list on Wednesday.

Ramirez has been out since June 8 with a sprained left thumb that has been aggravated each time he's tried to swing the bat. His swing is violent, and the pressure the bat handle puts on his hands has made the thumb even more uncomfortable.

Though he's taken batting practice most of this week, the Cubs will not know for sure whether he's ready until he tests it in games. As he headed to Peoria, they remained optimistic.

With next week's trip to Seattle and then across town to play the White Sox, manager Lou Piniella has six designated-hitter opportunities and indicated he may use Ramirez in that slot beginning on Wednesday.

"We have an opportunity to DH him, play him at third or a combination of both," Piniella was saying the other day. "The other guys have been playing, the weather's getting hot. We need to rest them, too."

Jeff Baker and Chad Tracy have been playing third in Ramirez's absence. Baker has been called on most and had been doing fine until committing two crucial errors in the seventh inning Friday led to a 7-6 loss.

"If he's fine, we'll get him back on the [active] list and, hopefully, he's nice and productive for us," Piniella said.

Which would be a nice change, not to mention entirely crucial if the Cubs are going to make a move: In 47 games this season, Ramirez is batting just .168 with five homers and 22 RBI.

Likes: Watched Steven Strasburg's third start while having dinner at the bar at Chicago's Gino's East on Friday night. The kid is a phenomenon, not just because of the 32 strikeouts over his first three starts, but also because of the reactions he elicits. He was pitching against the White Sox, so that was an added element in Chicago, of course. But there were people on both sides of me who knew a lot about him, and they were marveling. Watching them was nearly as much fun as watching Strasburg. ... Happy to report, by the way, that Gino's East hasn't lost a step. Delicious deep-dish sausage and mushroom pizza Friday night, just before another thunderstorm hit Chicago. ... Michigan Ave. in the summer. One thing that makes it terrific is so many families strolling up and down the avenue. Easy to tell people are on vacation, a weekend trip or whatever, and so many people are happy. ... Graeter's Black Raspberry Chip in Cincinnati. Now that's ice cream. ... Have seen about four tremendous thunderstorms during this week's swing through the Midwest. ... Seeing former Minnesota Twin Scott Stahoviak, who now is teaching grade school and coaching high school baseball in northwest suburbs of Chicago. Stahoviak, who played under Cubs general manager Jim Hendry at Creighton (Hendry was coaching back then), was visiting Wrigley Field on Saturday.

Dislikes: Can we be done with interleague play yet?

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Got what I got the hard way
"And I’ll make it better
"Each and every day
"So honey don’t you fret
"Cos you ain’t seen nothing yet

-- Sam and Dave, Soul Man

Posted on: April 22, 2010 11:59 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2010 6:06 pm

Short Hops: Bullpens reaching critical mass

Short hops, quick pops and backhand stops:

 Where legendary manager/raconteur Casey Stengel once groused, "Can't anybody here play this game?", Dave Trembley (Baltimore), A.J. Hinch (Arizona), Trey Hillman (Kansas City), Ron Washington (Texas), Lou Piniella (Cubs) and Fredi Gonzalez (Florida) are among the skippers anguishing through today's modern translation: "Can't anybody here pitch in the late innings?"

Nearly three weeks in, and bullpens in each of those places range from blown up to still-smoldering. While the issues and problems are disparate, there are a couple of things in play here.

One, as Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher suggests, some relievers are still attempting to settle into the regular season's erratic workload after pitching regularly scheduled stints throughout spring training.

Two, the spectacular number of blown saves in Baltimore (two conversions in six opportunities), Texas (two in five) and Kansas City (four in nine) add grist to the argument against rigidly locking your closer into the ninth innings. Sometimes, the eighth inning is the game-changer. Sometimes it's the seventh.

"The way the bullpen sets up today, you've got a closer for the seventh inning, a closer for the eighth inning and a closer for the ninth inning," Butcher says.

So, given the nature of specialty bullpens, in an era when there are no Goose Gossage-style closers who can get seven or eight outs, maybe what's needed is less managing-by-the-book and more imagination. Maybe if the Royals, for example, summoned Joakim Soria sooner rather than later, they wouldn't have suffered four of their first five losses in games in which they led in the seventh inning.

In Texas, Frank Francisco has been removed as closer in favor of Neftali Feliz. In Baltimore, Mike Gonzalez, who blew save opportunities on both opening day and in the Orioles' home opener, went to the disabled list with a shoulder strain (and in his place, Jim Johnson has blown two of three save opportunities).

The 2-14 Orioles have lost five games in which they've led in the eighth inning or later. Texas has lost four such games. Kansas City starters already have been cost five wins because of blown saves (including two each for Zack Greinke and Brian Bannister), while Arizona, Milwaukee, Florida and Cubs' starters have lost four victories to blown saves.

The Diamondbacks suffered back-to-back walk-off losses on April 15 (Blaine Boyer, at Los Angeles) and April 16 (Juan Rodriguez, at San Diego). Then, Arizona's pen was hammered for five ninth-inning St. Louis runs Wednesday in what at the time was a tied game.

The Cubs' plight caused Lou Piniella to move erstwhile ace Carlos Zambrano from the rotation to eighth-inning set-up man for closer Carlos Marmol in an absolutely stunning move of desperation. Through Tuesday, the Cubs had surrendered 16 eighth-inning runs, a major-league high. They also had allowed 32 runs in the seventh and eighth innings combined, also the most in the majors.

"A vast majority of these games are decided in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings," Piniella explained -- as opposed to, say, the first-through-sixth innings, when Zambrano (and Greinke and Dan Haren and Kevin Millwood) usually is on the mound.

This continues, some brave manager -- Washington with Feliz? Gonzalez with Leo Nunez? -- is going to call on his closer to protect a one-run lead in the eighth instead of the ninth, out of self-defense if nothing else. And maybe that will be the start of a new -- and welcome -- trend.
 Biggest culprits in blowing up opposing bullpens? Detroit this season has caused a whopping seven blown saves, while the Dodgers have caused six. Though, as manager Jim Leyland noted Thursday in Anaheim, it would make life far easier for the Tigers if they'd start scoring on starting pitchers.

 Regarding the scorched-earth pen in Texas, the Rangers already have lost five games they've led in the seventh inning or later this year. Last year, they lost only six of those games over their 162-game schedule.

 Baltimore hitters with runners in scoring position: A big-league worst .155 (17-for-110). And .103 (6-for-58) with RISP and two out.

 Chad Billingsley has a 7.07 ERA lodged in his throat after surrendering seven runs and seven hits to Cincinnati on Tuesday, Dodgers manager Joe Torre says it looks like the pitcher has confidence issues and Billingsley says his confidence is fine. Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Billingsley had command issues, Billingsley said he didn't. And in other news, the Dodgers say the earth is round and Billingsley says it's flat. This all had better get worked out, pronto.

 The suddenly reeling Giants, who went from 7-2 to getting swept by the Padres, face contenders St. Louis, Philadelphia and Colorado in a homestand beginning Friday and are perfectly set up for the Cards: Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain are lined up to start.

 The Twins, according to sources, had what they viewed as a workable deal to acquire Padres closer Heath Bell after Joe Nathan was hurt this spring but veered away because they were nervous over character issues. Bell's outspoken manner at times can grate on teammates.

 When is this guy going to get some work? Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton has converted his only save opportunity this season, and though he's only appeared in six of 15 games, one scout who has watched him this year and in spring training raves about him. "Mariano Rivera still sets the bar, but Jonathan Broxton right now is every bit as good," the scout says. "I saw him this spring and I've seen him this year, and je just comes in pumping strikes at 96 miles an hour."

 Glad to see baseball came to grips with Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon's hoodie. Now let's move on to the maple bat issue before somebody gets decapitated.

 Sure wish Milton Bradley would quit giving everybody so much material. Now the Chicago landlord who sued Bradley for $44,000 in unpaid rent over the winter alleges that Bradley also caused $13,900 in damage to the condo with wine, food, juice and coffee stains as well as paint stains.

 One thing I neglected to mention last week while reviewing the Twins' superb new Target Field: The excellent touches extend all the way to the crew responsible for the in-game music, especially the inspired choices of playing clips of The Hold Steady's Stay Positive during key moments for the Twins in the late innings and Bruce Springsteen's Long Walk Home after losses.

 Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker may have a crack pinch-running candidate in-house and not even know it: Congratulations to Reds media relations guru Rob Butcher, who sets the bar in his day job, for not only completing the Boston Marathon on Monday but for doing so in 3:24:59. That's 7:49 per mile!

Posted on: March 15, 2010 10:51 am

Masterson master of destiny with Cleveland

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Justin Masterson is off the yo-yo string. His days of bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and rotation in Boston are over.

Now, all he has to do is prove he can start in Cleveland.

The Indians have plenty of questions as they turn things over to the kids, and how Masterson fares is high atop the list. Acquired as part of the Victor Martinez trade last July, the 25-year-old right-hander is hoping to complete his first full season as a starter this summer since 2007.

Boston's second-round pick in the 2006 draft, Masterson made his major-league debut just two years later, appearing in 36 games and starting nine for the Red Sox. That fall, in '08, he became the seventh-youngest pitcher ever to win a postseason game for the Red Sox (23 years and 208 days).

With the Red Sox loaded with pitchers, he broke camp with the team in 2009 as a reliever but moved into the rotation after only four relief appearances when Daisuke Matsuzaka was disabled. Masterson wound up appearing in 31 games for the '09 Sox, starting six of them.

He was traded to Cleveland on July 31, whereupon he made one relief appearance before finishing the season with 10 consecutive starts. He went 1-7 with a 4.55 ERA for the Indians, putting him in a classic spring position now: Happy to be given a clean slate in a new place, where the sky is the limit

"It's a real fun place," Masterson says. "What's also interesting is that there's a lot of energy here, but not the nervousness that comes with it. These guys believe they can play."

Sunblock Day? It's into the 70s and predicted to be into the 80s by week's end. Better late than never.

Likes: Cubs manager Lou Piniella, in describing pitcher Ted Lilly's low-key rehabilitation from arthroscopic shoulder surgery over the winter: "We want to keep him under the radar gun and not talk about it much." Not sure if Lou wants to keep him low profile this spring or keep Lilly's velocity down. ... Gotta love that spring training team bonding. There was a signup sheet on the door to the Indians' clubhouse the other day entitled "Bull Riding Event" at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale. And there were 17 Indians' players signed up to attend. ... Arizona manager A.J. Hinch says that Conor Jackson, who missed almost all of last season with Valley Fever, is swinging to well this spring that he wishes he could put Jackson "on ice" until opening day. I don't think he meant that literally, but you get the drift. ... Cool that actress Betty White will host Saturday Night Live's Mother's Day show in May. ... New discovery: Frank & Lupe's Mexican joint in Old Scottsdale. Outstanding fish tacos there the other night. ... Exactly how Bob Dylan came to record the old children's song This Old Man, I don't know. But it's here, and it's highly entertaining.

Dislikes: RIP Merlin Olsen, who seemed like one of the nicest men on the planet.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"He's going back to New York, pack it up and let everyone know
"It was something that he should have done such a long time ago
"Still time to start a new life in the palm trees
"Ah, Billy Clyde wasn't insane
"And if it doesn't work out
"There'll never be any doubt
"That the pleasure was worth all the pain"

-- Jimmy Buffett, The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful


Posted on: November 25, 2009 1:56 pm
Edited on: November 25, 2009 2:29 pm


This long weekend, we give thanks. For all sorts of things. ...

 For turkey and dressing. Because after a 162-game season, man needs something other than hot dogs and beer.

 For loving (and understanding) family and friends. Because, really, you can only cuddle up to the Rally Monkey or your authentic Derek Jeter jersey for so long.

 For the Yankees' 27th World Series title. Because their long-suffering fans have been so patient and understanding during such a drastic drought.

 For wall-to-wall football on the big-screen TV during Thanksgiving weekend. Because as much fun as it is to watch football, it also reminds us of how much we're missing when the baseball season goes dark.

 For childhood memories at the holidays that continue to keep you warm all those decades later. Playing football with your brother in a soft snowfall in the vacant yard next door that seemed so big then and looks so small now. Watching the Lions lose again (yes, even back then) while mom -- every bit the artist in the Thanksgiving kitchen that Picasso was with a brush -- put the finishing touches on dinner. Nighttime dominoes and pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream. No school, wide-open days and Christmas around the corner.

 For CC Sabathia. Because even the Yankees are likeable behind his smile.

 For Cy Young races as close as the NL this year with the Tim Lincecum-Chris Carpenter-Adam Wainwright finish. Because it is things like this that give us something to argue about all winter, which sure beats discussing your wife's plans for the kitchen remodel or your daughter's unlimited texting plan!

 For the game No. 163 that the Twins and Tigers gave us in October. We knew then that there was no way any other postseason game was going to match that one in terms of drama and emotion, and we were right. For anybody with a pulse, it was one of the great moments of the season. Or, as Orlando Cabrera called it, the "most unbelievable game I've ever played or seen."

 For the Angels' Torii Hunter, the Twins' Joe Mauer, free agent Jason Bay, Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, the Tigers' Curtis Granderson, the Brewers' Trevor Hoffman and the many other good people in the game who have given back to their community over and over again, reminding us why a big league club can be so valuable to a community.

 For the Web site The Sports Pickle, which keeps us howling at times throughout the year with "stories" like this one: MLB to Complete Long-Awaited 1994 Season.

 For crazy folks like the guy who voted Detroit's Miguel Cabrera first on his AL MVP ballot, the only one of 28 voters who didn't have Mauer first. Because it is mistakes like this that make us realize that when we do bone-headed things on our own, we're not alone. The only explanation I can think of is that Keizo Konishi of Kyodo News in Japan -- he's based in Seattle and covers the Mariners -- turned in his ballot before the final weekend of the season, when Cabrera pulled an all-nighter and police were summoned to his home to quell a domestic disturbance with the Tigers battling to hang onto their AL Central lead. Because given that stunt, Cabrera not only didn't deserve a first-place vote, he didn't deserve to be on the 10-deep ballot.

 For two years' worth of touring from Bruce Springsteen and the E St. Band, whose odyssey just closed on Sunday night in Buffalo, N.Y., leaving many of us to ponder when we'll ever attend another concert that matches that level.

 For Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Because we all need living museums.

 For the two wacky managers in Chicago, Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen. Because they're so passionate, and so entertaining.

 For Christmas being just around the corner. Because you know several cool surprises are just around the corner. And look, here's one now. You've got to check out this crazy Bob Dylan video from his new Christmas album. It'll put a smile on your face for the rest of the day, I promise.

 For good health, good cheer and good friends.

 To all who come around here regularly, whether to cheer or to boo, thanks. And a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Likes: A hearty shout-out to the Falcons of Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, who clipped Constantine 23-17 in a Michigan state football semifinal on Saturday and will play for the state title on Friday against No. 1-ranked Montague at Detroit's Ford Field. Congratulations to the Falcons and old classmate and friend Coach Jack Giarmo, whose work with a proud program continues to be top-shelf. Go get 'em on Friday, fellas. Go green! Scouting report is here (from the good guys' perspective, of course).

Dislikes: Still looking for a reasonable last-minute airfare to get to Friday's title game. Still looking. ... Still looking. ...

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Catholic Central hats off to thee
"To your colors true we will ever be
"Firm and strong, united are we
"Rah, rah, rah, rah
"Rah, rah, rah, rah
"Rah for the Falcon team"

-- Monroe (Mich.) St. Mary Catholic Central High School fight song

Hey, the state title game is this week. We gotta go with this one.


Posted on: September 20, 2009 10:27 pm

Survivor: Milton Bradley

The next baseball team that takes a chance with Milton Bradley is, unquestionably, the stupidest team in the game.

There comes a day when a guy has to look in the mirror.

For Bradley, that day should have been, oh, like sometime back in 2002 or 2003.

The list of teams that now has chased him away numbers five: Cleveland, the Dodgers, Oakland, San Diego and the Cubs.

Five down, 25 to go.

He got into it with manager Eric Wedge in Cleveland. Engaged in a bitter public spat with Jeff Kent in Los Angeles. Turned on Oakland general manager Billy Beane. Ripped up his knee when Padres manager Bud Black tried to keep him away from an umpire (in that one, the umpire, Mike Winters, crossed the line in baiting him).

He behaved so badly in Chicago that manager Lou Piniella chased him into the clubhouse and called him a "piece of s---" earlier this summer. Then Cubs general manager Jim Hendry suspended him for the season on Sunday after his me-against-the-world comments to a suburban Chicago newspaper.

"You understand why they haven't won in 100 years here," Bradley told the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights in what should be his farewell comments to the game. "It's just not a positive environment. I need a stable, healthy, enjoyable environment ... It's just negativity."

The next time anybody attaches the words "stable" and "healthy" to Bradley will be a first.

He is an intelligent, articulate man.

But on good days he needs professional help, and on bad days he is a reprehensible human being.

He's out of excuses. Those chips on his shoulder? At times in the past he's expressed bitterness that he's always having to prove himself.

Well, the Cubs took that last excuse away when they signed him to the three-year, $30 million deal. It was his first multi-year contract. No more proving himself. He was valued and loved. What he owed them was hard work and gratitude.

But he couldn't even do that. And now another team is burned.

No way the Cubs can bring him back now. He's embarrassed the organization, made enemies in the clubhouse, backstabbed teammates who had his back for far too long and essentially flipped Chicago fans the middle finger.

Worst free agent contract of the year.

Now the Cubs are going to have to eat all or part of the $23 million remaining ($9 million in 2010, $13 million in 2011).

Part of it if they can find another team stupid enough to welcome a toxic player into their clubhouse.

All of it if they can't.

Good luck with that.

Likes: Playoffs starting, two weeks from Tuesday.

Dislikes: Looks like the last part of Tiger Stadium is going to be torn down on Monday. Man, that and Ernie Harwell's illness is almost too much to bear.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"You see the world through your cynical eyes
"You're a troubled young man I can tell
"You've got it all in the palm of your hand
"But your hand's wet with sweat and your head needs a rest
"You're foolin' yourself if you don't believe it
"You're kidding yourself if you don't believe"

-- Styx, Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)

Posted on: March 29, 2009 2:48 pm

Cubs name Gregg as closer

 MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago manager Lou Piniella said Sunday that Kevin Gregg has won the Cubs' closer job, with Carlos Marmol being relegated to the set-up duties he performed last season for Kerry Wood.

"We said we'd let both pitchers compete in the spring, and both have pitched very well," Piniella said Sunday morning after informing Gregg and Marmol of the decision. "I'm fortunate that I have two pitchers I have confidence in."

Piniella was being generous to Marmol in his assessment of the spring. While Gregg hasn't allowed a run in 8 1/3 innings this spring (four hits, 10 strikeouts, one walk), Marmol has allowed four runs in eight innings and, most noticeably, has had difficulty with his command. Marmol has hit five batters during his eight innings.

"I think, leaving spring training, we're a better team the way we put this together," said Piniella, whose Cubs open next Monday in Houston. "Now, what we have to do with Marmol in the set-up role is find a couple of pitchers who can help him so we can get to where we don't have to used him as much as we did (early) last year."

Veteran Aaron Heilman, who should see a lot of work in the seventh innings, figures prominently in that mix. Piniella also mentioned Luis Vizcaino and lefty Neal Cotts. Right-handers Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija are two others who could factor in, but the Cubs aren't certain how the last spot or two in their bullpen will shake out.

Gregg, 30, compiled 61 saves over the past two seasons combined for the Florida Marlins. Marmol, 26, has eight career saves -- seven last year. Though Piniella did not mention the World Baseball Classic as factoring into the decision, Marmol spent part of this spring away from Cubs camp, pitching for the Dominican Republic. He struggled there as well, blowing a save opportunity in the Dominican Republic's 2-1 loss to The Netherlands.

"I told him the better he does his job, the better we'll be as a team," Piniella said of his message to Marmol. "I told him not to be disappointed, that there will be plenty of opportunities down the road for him for him to close. I told him to improve and maintain, and a lot of good things will happen for him in his career."

Besides, in a perfect Cubs world, if they win as often as they hope, Marmol may still get a chance to close at times because Piniella hopes to refrain from using Gregg more than two or three days in a row.

Of course, worse-case scenario is that Gregg stumbles early and a full-blown controversy develops.

"We're not going to tiptoe through the tulips with this thing," Piniella said. "We've made our decision. We're going to give (Gregg) every chance to succeed, and I'm sure he will."

Piniella added: "I couldn't go wrong either way, I really couldn't. I thought about this for a long time. It's tough to bring a young man into this office like that (and tell Marmol he lost the job), especially someone who's played such a big role in our success."

Likes: How can you beat this upcoming week: Bruce Springsteen's new tour kicking off on Wednesday night, the Final Four games on Saturday, Braves at Phillies in the season opener on Sunday, 28 major-league clubs opening on Monday and then the NCAA championship hoops game on Monday night. If you can't find some things to smile about in there, you may as well give it up. ... Aaron Boone continuing to do well following open-heart surgery last week. ... Clubs like the Cubs making final roster decisions. ... Jordan Zimmerman in the Washington Nationals' April rotation. Why not? What, they've got somebody both more experienced AND better. ... Villanova. What a great, gutsy team.

Dislikes: Watching Pittsburgh (and so much of the Big East, for that matter) play basketball. Grab, push, shove, hip-check ... it's all brawn, little artistry. But the Panthers sure do have onions, as television commentator Bill Raftery would say.

Sunblock day? Partly cloudy on Sunday in the desert, actually. I suppose it sunblock wouldn't hurt, but it's been on the cool side.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Hey Frank, won't you pack your bags
"And meet me tonight down at Liberty Hall
"Just one kiss from you my brother
"And we'll ride until we fall
"We'll sleep in the fields
"We'll sleep by the rivers
"And in the morning we'll make a plan
"Well, if you can't make it
"Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive
"If you can
"And meet me in a dream of this hard land"

-- Bruce Springsteen, This Hard Land




Posted on: March 17, 2009 7:48 pm

The Go-Go Cubs? Not quite yet

So Chicago manager Lou Piniella was discussing whether the Cubs can become more of a running team given the makeup of this year's club.

Piniella acknowledged that new right fielder Milton Bradley can run some but "we've got to be careful with him" given some of the leg injuries in Bradley's past.

"(Ryan) Theriot can run, and (Mike) Fontenot and (Kosuke) Fukudome can steal the occasional base," said Piniella, whose Cubs ranked eighth in the NL in steals in 2008. "But we're probably more of a first-to-third team than a stolen-base team, to me. That was one reason we added Joey Gathright.

"Are we going to lead the National League in stolen bases? I hardly think so. Unless we steal them before and after games."

Likes: Lou Piniella's sense of humor. ... Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and assistant Randy Bush, on their first trip to the Dodgers' new complex here Tuesday, unknowingly walking into the wrong dugout about 30 minutes before game-time (the teams were both back in the clubhouses) and helping themselves to the spray bottles of sunblock on a very hot day. Dani Holmes, the Cubs' media relations assistant, had to cross the field and re-direct them. "Stole some of the Dodgers' sunblock," Hendry quipped, his face all lathered up in SPF-something. ... Mixed reaction to the Camelback Ranch facility the Dodgers and White Sox are sharing. Very plush, cool architecture, good-looking copper and tan and brown buildings but just not the cozy spring training atmosphere.

Dislikes: Phoenix traffic never seems to improve.

Sunblock Day? Most definitely. Gettin' hot here in the desert. Must have been pretty darn close to 90 today.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Is it much to demand
"I want a full house and a rock and roll band
"Pens that won't run out of ink
"And cool quiet and time to think"

-- Lucinda Williams, Passionate Kisses



The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com