Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"I announce to you a great joy! We have a Pope!"

OK, it's not a new Pope. It's a new manager for the Chicago Cubs. But in Cubdom, the anointment of a new sucker, er, field boss is a big deal, an almost holy event. Of course, that's because the event often resembles a human sacrifice. But this time may be different, because Lou Piniella has come to town, and he has not been a guy who suffers fools or crappy players lightly during his managerial career, which has included stints with the Yankees (and George Steinbrenner), Reds, Mariners and Devil Rays. The fact that he actually has a World Series ring (he won with Cincinnati in 1990) is a very big deal. So is the fact that he is no wallflower, that he has a reputation as a take-charge manager who's not above getting into the face of a slacking player or a irascible umpire.

But can Piniella do what no manager has been able to in nearly a century - bring a World Championship to the North Side of Chicago. Lou thinks he can, and so do I. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb - the kind of limb that long-suffering Cubs fans often fall off of, but what the hell.

The Chicago Cubs will be World Series champions by 2008.

Ha!, you exclaim as milk or soup or some liquid shoots out of your nose while you laugh uncontrollably. And, sure, I could be wrong - again - about this. But I say this for two reasons.

1) Piniella, knowing the Tribune Company's reputation for stinginess, made the big bosses swear on their portfolios that they would give him carte blanche when it came to pursuing the players he deems necessary to pursue the National League pennant and beyond. And if he's not satisfied, he'll walk in New York minute. Because Piniella doesn't need the Cubs. His legacy as one of the top managers of the past 20 years is secure. Bringing a world title to the Cubs would be the perfect icing, but it isn't his end-all be-all.

2) There's very recent precedent for a manager joining a team in a rut or one that just blows and turning things around in short fashion. In fact, the last three World Series champs had just that situation:

2003: Florida Marlins, managed by Jack McKeon, who joined the team that May after a sub-.500 start.

2004: Boston Red Sox, managed by Terry Francona, his first year with the club.

2005: Chicago White Sox, managed by Ozzie Guillen, his second year with the club.

Throw in this year's World Series-bound Detroit Tigers, run by Jim Leyland (his first year there), and you have a trend. So, I say, why not Lou Piniella and the Cubs?

One thing is clear: Anyone who's involved with a World Series champion Cubs team will be a god in the Windy City for life. And if you stop believing, you stop living. So I will stick with my prediction, and you can throw it in my face if I'm wrong.

If I'm wrong.

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