I could not wait for Dusty Baker to leave town. I remember speeding home while listening to his swan song press conference because merely hearing his beaten voice was not enough; I had to see it. Not only that, but Lou Piniella was essentially my dream replacement for the job. Initially I wanted Joe Girardi, and would have been happy with Cub announcer Bob Brenly, but that was before I thought Lou would even be tempted to start managing again; after his stint with Tampa Bay, I figured he might just cozy up in the broadcast booth and ride out his fun there.
Hindsight is always 20-20, especially in Cub nation. Now we find ourselves in a very similar situation, and I find myself with very similar emotions.
I clapped and cheered in the car yesterday when news broke that Lou was retiring. For a minute or two, I even let myself believe in a world where he was packing it all up immediately and heading home before last night's game against the Astros. As reality settled back in, and I coped with his being around till the end of this season, I immediately began to worry about Jim Hendry.
Two straight managing decisions on Hendry's part have seen the Cubs experience 1-2 years of arguable success, followed by two years of increasing disappointment. The most important thing now is that Hendry does not have control over the new hire, which likely will be debated for the foreseeable future. Considering we have oodles of time to discuss new directions and rumors- which oddly enough have us looking once again at Bob Brenly, Joe Girardi, and an aging ex-Yank in Joe Torre- let's take this time to look into the past.
Dusty Baker earned quite the despicable reputation for himself by the time he left town. His annoyances ran from demanding sympathy for hatemail, flaunting his child in front of all available cameras, to refusing to answer simple questions, not to mention two consecutive losing seasons to wrap it all up.
The situation now with Lou is much of the same. Lou has complained frequently about having no further options, and his "waddaya want me ta do?" phrase was overused the second time he went to it. While Dusty wouldn't answer simple questions, Lou simply cannot, and, assuming the Cubs finish under .500 this year, Lou will have gone out on a similar low note as Dusty.
The best that can be said about Lou is that he won back-to-back Division "Championships" and recorded three consecutive winning seasons while in Chicago, although I'm not sure last year's 83-78 record should really be counted. Dusty's "achievements" were fewer, but he came closer to the ultimate goal than essentially any coach since 1908. Dusty was five outs away from getting the Cubs to the World Series, and while he did completely meltdown and lead the crumbling of the Cubs in games six and seven against Florida, he still came much closer than Lou ever did.
The '08 Cubs won 97 regular season games. That's nine more than the '03 Cubs that came so close under Dusty. Lou's 97 win team may have been the best Cub team that any fan has seen, but that's what makes the sweep at the hands of Manny and the Dodgers that much worse. The same can be said about Dusty getting the team so close before they ultimately failed as well. My point here is that us rabid Cub fans will have the luxury of debating over these two disappointing tenures for a long long time... probably until they finally win the World Series and we can forget about all the losing teams.
The key for me is winning the World Series. That was all the buzz from Cub camp when Lou was hired in the first place. "The Cubs want to win the World Series," we were told. "That is the only acceptable goal;" they reassured fans that they were aware of the World Series and did in fact yearn to win it. What are we left with after this dedicated effort? An overflowing payroll, an aging and possibly untradeable core of declining veteran talent, a lame duck coach (and GM) for (at least) another two and a half months, an 0-6 playoff record, and a bleak future.
If I could travel back in time and warn myself of the Lou pains that are to come, I would urge myself not to be so excited about Dusty's departure because it really hasn't gotten any better than that. Of course, the me from three and a half years ago would lay down a righteous ass-stomping to the present me for being so thickheaded and forgetting how terrible things were under Dusty. Even considering that ominous ass-stomping, I'll take Dusty's five outs away from the World Series over Lou's two Division "Championships" and 0-6 playoff record any day.
Dusty Baker was a better Cub coach than Lou Piniella. When it comes right down to it, Lou made us all believe in the regular season but Dusty actually gave us, albeit brief, hope in the playoffs- which was something very special for a Cub fan to feel.