Monday, June 13, 2005

Be Careful What You DON'T Wish For, Lou -- The Owners May Keep You Rooted As D-Rays Manager

Piniella's bubble seems ready to burst

Seems like there may be a game of chicken going on in Tampa Bay.

Lou Piniella is acting very much like a man who would very much like to be fired as manager of the Devil Rays. He has taken a page from the Billy Martin book of self-destruction, calling out ownership publicly, saying in essence that there is not the desire to win -- at least not now.

"They're not interested in the present, only the future," Piniella said the other day of the New York-based group that's held controlling share of the ballclub for about a year. "But when other teams are getting better presently, you're going to get your butts beat."

But Piniella wasn't done -- not even close.

"I'm not going to take responsibility for this," he said. "If I had been given a $40-45 million payroll, I'd stand up like a man and say it's my fault. Well, I'm not going to do it. So if you want answers about what's going on here, you call the new ownership group and let them give them to you."

The D-Rays have indeed been getting their butts beat -- allowing 10 or more runs six times since May 29. They were pelted 25-4 in the first two games of their weekend series with the -- gulp -- Pittsburgh Pirates. And the payroll numbers are real -- Piniella didn't make them up. But for Lou to say "I'm not going to take responsibility for this", is wrong. A manager publicly stating that the buck doesn't stop here is not the right message to send to his players. Why should his players now give 100% if their manager shrugs his shoulders and says, "Look what I'm up against, guys"?

Alan Trammell not once complained during the 43-119 sham that was the 2003 season for the Tigers about the big league impostors that he was given to manage. He didn't whine about payroll and say "Ask Mike Ilitch" when pressed about his ballclub's travails. Granted, Trammell was a managerial rookie in '03, and Piniella has been around the block a few times. Doesn't matter. It's bad behavior, no matter how lengthy or impressive your resume may be.

Anyhow, I mentioned "game of chicken" at the top because I doubt the D-Ray owners will axe Piniella, even after his outburst. And maybe they won't simply because that's probably what Lou wants. He knows he can find a job elsewhere, so why not do it all except leave a suicide note? The worst thing that can happen to him now is to remain manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

His worst nightmare just may come true, at least for the remainder of this season.

Oh, by the way, Piniella is proving what Sparky Anderson always maintained: good players make managers good, not the other way around. It always has, and always will be, true.

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