Piniella has been credited with restoring Sabo to the hitting form he displayed early in the '88 season, before he fell off badly. Sabo is quick to credit hitting coach Tony Perez too, but says, "Lou is a hands-on manager. Pete could tell you what to look for at the plate, but he didn't mess with your swing. He didn't break it down. Lou does."
Now Sabo is a man with a mission. "The so-called experts said I couldn't play," he says angrily. "You know, the guys in the [preseason] publications. They can kiss my butt. I have their addresses. They'll all get a letter from me after the season. A certified letter—to make sure they get it."
Piniella is on a mission to prove that he can win as a manager. He did an admirable job with the Yankees in 1986 and '87, winning 90 and 89 games, respectively, but that wasn't enough for owner George Steinbrenner. Last year, as a special adviser to Steinbrenner and a Yankee broadcaster, Piniella turned down managing jobs with the Mariners, Astros and Blue Jays. However, when the Cincinnati job opened up last fall, he recognized the team's talent and jumped at the chance, signing a three-year deal after getting Steinbrenner's approval to leave.
"We had a pretty good Pete and Marge Show here for four years," says Schott. "But I think Lou is a godsend. Actually, he's a George-send. My players really respect Lou, and I listen to my players."
The rap on Piniella in New York was that he didn't know how to handle pitchers, to which he responds, "We didn't have pitching." He admits, though, that he learned some lessons with the Yankees. "When I first managed [in 1986], I had no experience," he says. "I was managing a lot of guys that I had played with, and I made mistakes. But I think Cincinnati has gotten an experienced, quality, major league manager."
And one free of the specter of Steinbrenner. However, is Schott really an improvement? "I have a good working relationship with the owner here," Piniella says. "I plan to sit down with Marge once a week and tell her what's going on." He smiles. "I didn't talk to George every day. When I did, I usually wasn't the one who did the calling."
Piniella hasn't been forgotten entirely by Steinbrenner. Before the home opener, against the Padres on April 17, Piniella got a good-luck telegram from his former boss: "We'll see you in October" was Steinbrenner's message. Piniella received another best-wishes telegram on Opening Night in Houston—from Rose.
While the Reds have spent the spring shedding the past, Rose is still fessing up to it (page 13). Last week he pleaded guilty in Cincinnati to two felony counts of filing false income tax returns. He has recently spent most of his time in Tampa, playing golf, watching the Reds on satellite and doing a Cincinnati radio talk show by phone. "I'm rooting for the Reds," he says. "It will be good for the radio show if the Reds win the West."
Rose continues to defend his performance as the Reds manager. "This is Lou's team, but I helped develop those guys," he told the Cincinnati Post. "This is something I took five years out of my life to build. You have to remember that when I took over the Reds, they were a Titanic. And I took them to second place four times. And you can't expect to win a division with 12 guys on the disabled list."
And you can't expect to win when your clubhouse is a media circus. Recalling last season, Rob Dibble, another Nasty Boy, says, "We had 30 or 40 cameras everywhere we went. They were there for one purpose—to dig up dirt on Pete Rose. He was a great manager, and he helped me, but when his personal life affected everyone's business, someone should have stepped in. I'm not saying they should have suspended him earlier, but something should have been done. We still had a chance to win the division."