"With a left-handed hitter up, you want me to bunt?"
That was the rhetorical question posed by Lou Piniella to a freelance reporter following Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals. The reporter, having inquired about Piniella's strategy in the late innings, initiated what would be considered Piniella's first official tirade of the 2010 season. Referring to an eighth inning situation in which Marlon Byrd led off with a double before being stranded at second base, the reporter has simply inquired as to why Piniella chose not to have second baseman Mike Fontenot bunt Byrd to third base with no outs in the inning. Piniella's response, though rather abrasive, insinuated that the Cubs' manager had not considered bunting because of a supposed lefty vs. righty advantage the Cubs had with Fontenot at the plate.
In short, Piniella's reasoning is why the Cubs have not been successful over the past two seasons.
Piniella's reasoning that Mike Fontenot had any sort of advantage over the Nationals' Brian Brunney is simply ludicrous. Piniella's assumption that his team -- which has exemplified numerous times its' inability to manufacture runs -- would perform in a clutch situation, requiring situational hitting, is simply a testament to his inadequacy as a manager.
Yesterday's eighth inning scenario is largely indicative of Piniella's performance as manager of the Cubs. For starters, Piniella's decision to not bunt with Mike Fontenot at the plate confirms any belief that Piniella has nary an idea of how to best utilize his club's talent.
Mike Fontenot is a role player. He is not the type of player who will deliver clutch hits, and he is not the type of player who will consistently drive the ball into gaps. Fontenot is not a major run-producer for the Cubs, and by all conventional baseball standards, he is the Cubs' best suited positional player to lay down sacrifice bunts. The current list of active leaders in sacrifice hits is littered with players similar to Fontenot -- Omar Vizquel, David Eckstein, Jack Wilson, Alex Cora, Juan Uribe, and Craig Counsell, just to name a few. Fontenot, in four seasons with the Cubs, has four sacrifices -- two less than Counsell had in just 2009.
In addition to not knowing how to utilize his players, Piniella also demonstrated in yesterday's eighth inning that he is either not aware of his team's trends, or he simply refuses to take a different approach when needed. In 2010, the Cubs are ranked 23rd in Major League Baseball in percentage of runners scored from third base with less than two outs, and 25th in percentage of base runners scored. In addition, Kosuke Fukudome is the only regular Cubs starter with a sacrifice bunt. Knowing these tendencies, Piniella has continually expressed an inability to adapt.
Albert Einstein's definition of insanity is as follows: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
According to Einstein's definition, Piniella, over the course of his four seasons in Chicago, has managed insanely.
Piniella's outburst following Wednesday's game may be regarded as a bit of insanity by anyone who witnessed it. As Piniella aggressively attacked one reporter's inquiry about his strategies, Piniella exemplified the qualities of what would generally be considered insanity. Over the course of Piniella's managerial career, he has been regarded as having a combustible, often insane, personality. Numerous instances of umpire feuding and media outbursts have further solidified the perception of Piniella being, if anything, a little insane. For the most part, his insanity has been welcomed and often viewed as an effective managerial tactic throughout his career.
Wednesday's game and subsequent press conference should bring a new enlightenment in regard to the perceptions of Lou Piniella. As the dust settles from Piniella's outburst, fans, experts, and baseball analysts should take note of the question posed to Piniella by the unnamed reporter. Rather than viewing Piniella's tirade as entertainment or simply another instance of Piniella's endearing temper, questions should begin to arise regarding Piniella's inability to successfully manage the Chicago Cubs.
Are Piniella's insane outbursts truly insane, or are they simply a form of masking the definitive insanity that is often overlooked in his managerial style?
For the benefit of Cubs fans, general manager Jim Hendry should begin to ask himself similar questions. And for the sake of changing the seemingly insane tendencies the Cubs have had over the last century, Cubs fans should hope that Cubs' management and ownership finally realize there may be more need for a change now than ever before.
Thus far in 2010, this officially-dubbed "Year One" is growing increasingly similar to the previous hundred-plus years -- nothing more than another example of true insanity.