We'll be honest. We're young-ish. 23. So we probably don't have the same institutional brain in regards to former baseball players and managers that some do. Often times, we're forced to construct history from a mixture of Baseball Reference pages, Wikipedia, and faint glimmering memories of the television, and more often than not, when a sports figure has a particular reputation we can't refute directly, we let it slide. Such is the nature of time, we suppose.
So when Lou Piniella came to the Chicago Cubs two years ago, we -- as well as the media and a legion of Cubs fans sick of Dusty Baker's silliness -- had a few expectations. We expected Piniella to be a wise old sage of the game, to dispense baseball knowledge like so many Werther's to his adoring contemporaries. We expected him to be a good manager, if occasionally unbridled. And above all, we expected him to be Sweet Lou Piniella, which is in fact the very opposite of sweet; we expected him to flip out all the time. Whether fair or not, those were our ideas of the man.
Two years, two playoff appearances, and one NL manager of the year award later? Nah. Not so much.
As he has met and exceeded on-field expectations, Piniella has defied them off the field. His doddering press conferences are rarely interesting or educational; most of the time, Piniella sates reporters with vague notions about the game -- playing together, "learning" how to play, working on this, working on that. Only rarely does he allow some his wiley self into an interview; usually, when he wants Jim Hendry to do something but doesn't want to say so directly.
Likewise, those expecting fire and brimstone in the dugout -- expecting him to throw bases and anger umpires at will -- have seen none of it. Only once in those two years, has Piniella had a blowup of worthy proportions, and even then some said it was less temper than coaching theatrics. Instead, he's been ... calm.
Above all, he's been steady. His lineups are always changing but they never reflect inter-squad upheaval. His decisions are occasionally suspect, and his performance in the Cubs' two playoff series in his tenure have been lukewarm at best. (He should have taken Ryan Dempster out. We'll never let that one slide.) But overall, his temprament, decisions, and demeanor have been a net positive for the Cubs.
It's hard to quantify a manager's effect on teams. More often than not, good teams will be good, and bad teams bad, regardless of who writes their names on the scoresheet that day. But even then, you can do a lot worse than Piniella. Rarely could you do better.