Lou Piniella deserves more than mockery in Chicago

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Lou Piniella waves to fans before a Cubs game at Wrigley Field in 2008. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The Reds have hired Lou Piniella as a senior adviser to their baseball operations department, a move that’s certain to produce guffaws in Chicago.

Piniella has become a caricature in some corners here, a stumbling, sputtering, cap-kicking comedy routine who ultimately couldn’t hack it as Cubs manager.

But just remember that when the Cubs hired him in late 2006, it was as if they had hired a rock star. Here was a man who had won a World Series as manager of the Reds, had won two World Series as a player, had managed the Mariners to a 116-victory season (tying the major-league record) and had survived two and a half seasons as Yankees manager under George Steinbrenner. His arrival on the North Side was just as big a happening as Joe Maddon’s arrival would be in 2014.

People either forget that, refuse to acknowledge it or aren’t old enough to remember it.

In 2007 and 2008, with Piniella as manager (and Jim Hendry as general manager), the Cubs made back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in 100 years. People very much remember that those two teams lost in the first round.

Piniella’s new job is a consulting position, and he’ll spend time with the Reds in spring training. Sure, it’s probably ceremonial. But it’s nice that somebody is remembering Piniella for something other than his halting speaking style.

Look, I laugh every time someone does a good imitation of Piniella. He has been known to say funny, disjointed things. But I wince, too, because I know how much success he has had and how much baseball he knows. It’s a cynical world we live in, and, believe me, I’m on the dark side of the cynicism spectrum.

I just think a 72-year-old baseball lifer deserves a little more respect than he has gotten in Chicago. His pilot light as a manager went out when he was with the Cubs. His dignity didn’t.

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