A more than 40 year career in major league baseball that began with a brief appearance as a member of the Baltimore Orioles in 1964 will evidently end following the 2010 season as current Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella has announced his retirement.
In a week that will culminate with former major league manager Whitey Herzog (also a former Oriole) receiving a plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame, an interesting question is whether Piniella will someday join Herzog at the Hall of Fame.
The similarities between the managerial careers of Herzog and Piniella are actually much greater than you might initially anticipate.
Both were among the best managers of their era and won multiple division titles. However, they each were able to claim the World Series title only once during their managerial tenures.
In 18 seasons as a manager (14 full seasons and four partial seasons), Herzog won six division titles (three with the Kansas City Royals and three with the St. Louis Cardinals), three pennants and the 1982 World Series title. He posted an overall record of 1281-1125(.532 winning percentage) while guiding his squads to a winning record in 10 of his 14 full seasons as a skipper.
Unless something unexpected occurs in the next few weeks, Piniella will complete his 22nd full season and 23rd overall as a manager. His teams have also won six division titles, but Piniella has managed only in one World Series. That was in 1990 when his first season with the Cincinnati Reds ended with a surprising four game sweep over the mighty Oakland A’s in the World Series.
Piniella’s overall winning percentage as a manager of .519 is somewhat deceiving because it includes three seasons guiding the then hapless Tampa Bay Rays. In those three seasons, Tampa lost an average of 95 games per campaign.
With an overall career record of 1827-1691, Piniella ranks 14th all-time in victories as a major league manager. His teams have posted winning seasons 14 times, including a record 116 victories by the Seattle Mariners in 2001.
However, that magical 2001 season, which came after the Mariners had traded away three all-time greats (Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez) did not end with a World Series appearance as the Mariners lost in the AL Championship Series to the Yankees.
That, in a nutshell is the rub against Piniella. He was a very good manager who was able to take average teams and make them good, but with the exception of 1990, his teams didn’t rise to the top. While some have questioned whether Herzog deserves a spot in the Hall, at least he won three NL Pennants and both of the World Series he lost were seven game affairs that could have easily gone his way.
Piniella is a baseball lifer and was a solid player during his 18 seasons in the majors. Originally drafted out of the University of Tampa by the Cleveland Indians, he made his Major League debut with the Orioles in 1964 appearing in four games. It took five additional years in the minors, but he finally got a full-time chance in the majors with the Kansas City Royals in 1969 and he made the most of it, playing in the majors through 1984.
Though not blessed with the greatest talent, he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1969 and was a starter on two World Series Championship teams for the Yankees. He hit .291 for his career and was a .305 hitter in 10 post season series.
But the question remains as to whether Piniella’s overall body of work deserves a spot among the baseball immortals.
One fair comparison from a managerial standpoint is former Mets, Orioles, Dodgers and Reds manager Davey Johnson.
In 12 full seasons as a manager, Johnson had only one losing campaign and a .564 winning percentage. He won five division titles and led the 1986 New York Mets to the World Series title. Johnson led the Orioles to the playoffs in his two seasons managing in Baltimore.
Yet, while Johnson was a very successful manager and his overall winning percentage dwarfs both Herzog and Piniella, he is rarely mentioned in discussions about the Hall of Fame.
Piniella ‘s candidacy could also be hampered by the fact that he it looks like he will be exiting the game at the same time as longtime Atlanta Braves skipper Bobby Cox.
Like Piniella, Cox claimed only one World Series title as a manager, but his 2,465 victories ranks fourth all-time and his .556 winning percentage ranks fifth among the 20 managers with the most victories in baseball history.
There is little question that Cox will have a spot in Cooperstown, but will his greatness help or hurt the case for Piniella?
Given his general popularity and that he did have a solid career as a manager and player, it is possible that Piniella could one day receive a call from the Baseball Hall of Fame, but my advice is that he not wait by the phone because it could be a while.