Posted: Friday June 24, 2005 12:36PM; Updated: Friday June 24, 2005 1:06PM
Lou Piniella watches as the Yankees score 13 runs in the eighth inning of a 20-11 win over the Devil Rays on Tuesday.
Managers with 1,400 wins and 1,400 hits
* Active managers
Source: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
When I was 13, I made the jump from Little League to Babe Ruth baseball. It was a big step. The 90-foot basepaths seemed endless. The peg from shortstop required unimaginable effort -- think David Eckstein throwing into a stiff breeze. Keeping the ball low against hitters was no problem. My fastball needed a cutoff man to reach the plate from 60 feet, 6 inches.
We had a coach named Joe, a big, intimidating guy who liked to stomp and scowl and screech useless pearls of baseball wisdom like"Think mentally!" and "Score with authority!" Joe was at his best -- or worst -- when one of his pitchers had the audacity to miss the strike zone. Ball 1 would set him pacing in the dugout. Ball 2 would bring a bellowed, "Trow strikes." Ball 3 would be celebrated with a snap of the pencil he used to keep score. After Ball 4, Joe, in his steel-toed work boots, would lumber out to the mound to offer some encouragement -- usually something along the lines of, "Throw one more ball and you'll never pitch for this team again." Pitching under those conditions could be a terrifying experience for a 13-year-old. It's tough to let your natural talent take over when you're bracing yourself for the next dugout hurricane.
Replace the boots and the scorebook with an All-Star playing career, two Manager of the Year Awards, three World Series rings and a lifetime of baseball expertise, and Joe reminds me a little bit of Lou Piniella. You may have heard that the Devil Rays manager can also be impatient, particularly with young players and pitchers, whom he spent 18 years as a player cultivating a hatred for. Unfortunately Lou's in charge of a team full of young players and green pitchers. Little wonder, then, that watching Piniella's dugout Kabuki -- arms waving, spittle flying, coaches cowering -- during the Rays' 20-11 meltdown against the Yankees earlier this week was high entertainment. It looked like the spewing of three years' worth of frustration. In a career in which he's made being grumpy an art form, Piniella has never looked unhappier to be a major-league manager.
He's probably feeling a little better today, his Devil Rays having taken three out of four from the Yankees this week, but the past few years have been rough for Piniella. His Tampa homecoming has been a disaster. The team is still young and isn't much better than it was when he took over before the 2003 season. Watching one raw prospect after another struggle in the lineup or on the mound has pushed his frustration meter into the red. That's not entirely his fault: Lately Lou hasn't been shy about reminding people that he feels like he's been sold out by Tampa Bay's owners, who haven't spent for talent the way Piniella thought they would when he took the job.
I feel for Piniella, one of the brightest minds in the game, who rightfully feels like he's wasting precious years in a baseball backwater. But, his status as a hometown hero aside, he was a poor choice for the Devil Rays managing job -- and you have to wonder if he's only hindering the franchise's development. Piniella has many strengths as a manager, but developing young talent is not his forte. The Rays need a skipper who likes to teach and coddle, someone who doesn't need to win now to get satisfaction from the game.