Two managers, two paths to success
Piniella, Melvin have taken different roads to the NLDS
PHOENIX -- The arrival of the Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks in a National League Division Series proves that there is no blueprint for the personality of a successful manager. The two gentlemen involved here may not be quite as different as day and night, but they are at least as different as April and August.
Lou Piniella, manager of the Chicago Cubs, comes to this postseason moment with a much higher public profile and a much longer managerial history than his counterpart, Bob Melvin of the Arizona Diamondbacks. But that is not the striking difference between the two.
Piniella, 64, has been a highly successful manager, proving that you can succeed in this business while kicking dirt on the occasional umpire, tossing the occasional base, and giving voice to the occasional world-class vent.
Melvin, 46, is in his second managerial job, and he has done, by all reasonable accounts, a praiseworthy job with the 2007 Diamondbacks. His direct connection to Piniella is that he succeeded him as manager of the Seattle Mariners in 2003. What everybody noticed at this point was that Piniella and Melvin did the same job from opposite ends of the personality spectrum.
Piniella is often referred to as fiery, although he is often no more flammable than the next guy. It is just that the public perception of Piniella, fed by some highly publicized bouts of outrage, includes the full range of possible emotions. This is part of who he is and he has made it work for him. He is a more noticeable manager than Melvin, and not just because he has much greater name recognition.
Melvin is often described as "low-key," which is not totally inaccurate, but misses the intense competitor within the man. He is highly-organized, diligent and painstaking in his work, and his public pronouncements are frequently those of an intelligent man wishing to avoid controversy.
Lou Piniella, by the very act of showing up, is a prominent managerial figure, because of both his history and his personality. You get the impression from Melvin that, as long as his team succeeds, he would be OK with being nothing more than a footnote to the entire process.
Some people credit the Cubs' turnaround this season to Piniella having an extreme display of temper with an umpire in June.
"I think it's overrated," Piniella says of that episode.
What may be more telling is that Piniella was more than willing to make fundamental changes to his team after the Cubs stumbled early in the season.
"We basically changed just about our whole middle; center field, shortstop, catcher," Piniella said. "That's pretty hard to do in one year. We had to make some changes, because it wasn't working."
When Piniella says, "I'm pretty easy to play for," that is true for players who are on the same page with him as far performance and approach. But he can also be a my-way-or-the-highway type of guy. He has the kind of presence that makes that work.
What Melvin has done with the D-backs this year is, typically, more subtle than that. The job he has done with a very talented, but exceptionally young team makes him a legitimate Manager of the Year candidate. And it is not, for Melvin, a matter of a manager making his mark on a team. It is a matter of accommodating his work to the roster on hand.
"A lot of people ask me, 'What style of manager are you? How do you like to play?'" Melvin says. "And I think it's more about the group that you have. They don't have to come in and acclimate to how I want to do things. I have to acclimate to the group.
"And we do have a lot of inexperience this year, yet we felt as a staff we could probably influence this group more so than other groups, you know, where once you get to the big league level, you have a few years in, you do things a certain way. It's one of the most rewarding things we have as a staff; we feel like we've gotten better as the season has gone along and we've had some influence over these guys."
This approach has worked for Melvin, and not only with the youngsters. Augie Ojeda, the veteran utility man who took over the second base position after Orlando Hudson was hurt, says of Melvin:
"He's the top. He's always got your back. He's a total players' manager. We've got a lot of young kids here, but he's doing it the right way."
In the end, while Piniella has a sometimes volcanic public image, and Melvin isn't even looking for a public image, success in the 2007 postseason would bring both of them considerable and justifiable acclaim. Piniella has won elsewhere, but it has been 99 years since anybody has won everything with the Cubs. Melvin's young club has already exceeded expectations, but an October run would give him wider recognition, not that he needs it, as one of the best baseball minds in the game.
There may not be a world of similarities between these two managers, but the common denominator this season has been winning division titles in the face of many doubts. There is more than one way to succeed at the unique task of being a Major League manager.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.