09/29/08 6:02 PM ET
In it to win it: Victory drives Piniella
Cubs manager second in history to total 90 wins with four clubs
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Imagine starting a new job and all you know about your boss is what you've seen on video highlights, and the images show him screaming, flailing his arms and kicking dirt.
That was all Kosuke Fukudome knew about his new manager, Lou Piniella.
And now, after spending nearly eight months with Piniella, what does the Japanese outfielder think of the Cubs' 65-year-old manager?
"He seems more patient than what I've seen on TV in the past," Fukudome said.
Rookie Jeff Samardzija had seen the same video clips but he's had experience with powerful, successful bosses, having been tutored by Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis.
"[Piniella] is not out for anything but to win," Samardzija said. "He doesn't need to prove himself. The only thing he's concerned about is winning."
So, forget about his occasional gyrations and gestures. Winning is what matters to Piniella, who will lead the National League Central champs into the postseason for the second straight year. He's the first Cubs manager to do that since Frank Chance, who also is the last Cubs manager to win a World Series. Piniella is more patient. Sometimes. It often depends on the question being asked.
This season, Piniella's Cubs totaled 97 wins, the second-highest total for one of his teams, trailing only the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won 116 games.
He is the second manager in Major League history to total 90 wins with four different clubs, doing so with the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, Mariners and now the Cubs. Dick Williams, recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, also has accomplished the feat.
This will be Piniella's 12th trip to the postseason, and seventh as a manager. He has championship rings with the Yankees in 1977 and '78 as a player and as a skipper with the 1990 Reds. But if he can lead the Cubs to the World Series and end the 100-year drought since the franchise last won the championship, the city of Chicago will likely re-name Michigan Avenue as "Piniella Parkway."
"It's not fair to put all the expectations of all the past failures here and all the past successes here on the 2008 team," Piniella said. "You let this team stand on its own merit, and you let them do what they can do as well as they can do and let them go as far as they can.
"This team has played hard all year, they've treated the people of Chicago to a [darn] good season of baseball and, believe me, they all want to win as much as I do, but the problem is there's only one team that can win. For people to say that this team is built for the World Series and if it doesn't win the World Series, it's not a successful year, I just don't buy that."
One of the main reasons the Cubs signed Piniella to a three-year deal in October 2006 was to end the 100 years of frustration.
|"You let this team stand on its own merit, and you let them do what they can do as well as they can do and let them go as far as they can."|
|-- Lou Piniella|
Perhaps the 100-year anniversary of the last Cubs championship is fueling the high expectations?
"One hundred years from now," Piniella said, "they won't know I managed here, so what's the difference?"
Oh, yes they will. Piniella has left an imprint unlike any other manager in the history of the franchise. This Cubs team has developed a swagger. A close friend had called Piniella and told him that.
"I got choked up when he told me that," Piniella said in mid-August. "That's what you want. 'Your team has a little swagger.' I didn't bring it up -- [his friend] just noticed it by watching our games."
Whether that's enough to get the Cubs further into the postseason remains to be seen. Last year, they rallied to win the Central and were swept in the NLDS by Arizona. This year, the Cubs have been in first place most of the season and have the largest run differential in the Major Leagues.
Samardzija, who has tested Piniella's patience with his longish hair, spends most of the game in the bullpen, so he doesn't have a front-row seat during games.
"I've heard stories here and there," Samardzija said of the Cubs manager. "When you've been in the game for as long as he has, stories get out. Nothing negative."
Anything he can repeat?
"Probably not," Samardzija said.
There is one part of Piniella's nature that outsiders may not know.
"He's portrayed a lot as a rock and not having too much emotion -- although, obviously, there's the emotion on the field if he's angry at players or the umpires," Samardzija said. "It's the same as at Notre Dame. There's a side that people don't get to see and that the players get to see. [Piniella] is someone who cares and cares not only about winning but cares about the players as people.
"I don't think it sells things for people to write about that," Samardzija said. "The other part is more exciting, they want to see him going."
Behind the scenes, Piniella is a crossword puzzle devotee, although he does occasionally mangle a word or two -- he has called the ivy at Wrigley Field the "ivory." He likes a 15-minute power nap before games and a cold beer after.
Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly often talks to Piniella in the dugout both during his start and on days when he's not pitching. The Cubs manager tends to think out loud, and Lilly said he's learned about the game that way.
"[Being a big league manager] is a life," Lilly said. "Lou's pretty much committed his life to it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.