"I knew I wanted to get back [to managing]," he says. "I was broadcasting last year, and I liked it. It was the most relaxed I've been in my life. But there wasn't any zip. I was itchy. So when this came up, I was interested."
He is dealing with another noisy, publicity-conscious owner in Marge Schott, but she lets him work on his own. She sends Piniella hair from her pet Saint Bernard for luck on the road, but she lets him work. His predecessor was Pete Rose, but Rose has not been a presence in the background—as Billy Martin, the former manager, always was in New York.
The season has been a grand, hard-work success. The Reds started 21-7 and hit .303 and ran away from the field. The rest has been a season of holding on to the lead. Hanging. Piniella has run through about a billion lineups trying to arrange his streaky hitters in proper sequence. He has worked with a patched-up pitching staff. He has ridden the Reds' strengths—a strong bullpen, good defense and overall team speed—as far as possible. The season has been one of experimentation. He has worked with 25 different psyches, learning what clicks with which head under which batting helmet. He has worked with the 26th psyche, his own. He has driven himself into the baseball night. He has driven everyone else with him.
"I told my wife, just the other day, to make reservations for somewhere warm," he says. "When this thing is over, we're going away for a week. Just lie there with some sun, a rum punch, a pi�a colada and some beach."
He sits in his little office at Riverfront Stadium. A cigarette burns in his right hand. The room is decorated as Rose left it. A poster on one wall shows the 1976 Big Red Machine, Rose's team. A picture on another wall shows Ty Cobb, the man Rose chased for all of those hits. The desk is still where Rose had it. The chair. A plastic cup on the desk holds felt-tipped pens and No. 2 pencils. A piece of tape on the cup has ROSE written across it. Presumably, there has not been time to redecorate. Piniella has been here for only six months. He has been busy.
"You're only going to go away for a week at the end?" a sportswriter asks. "Why not longer?"
"Oh, one week's enough," the man with carbonated blood replies from first place. "Then I'll be ready for something else."