Sweetness And Light

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Can Sweet Lou's Cubs Save Sour Sports Year?

Closeup photo of a smiling Lou Piniella. i

Lou Piniella was "one happy fella" as he was introduced as the Cubs' new skipper in October 2006. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Closeup photo of a smiling Lou Piniella.

Lou Piniella was "one happy fella" as he was introduced as the Cubs' new skipper in October 2006.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Lou Piniella face to face with umpire Mike Everitt. i

Piniella has proved over the course of the season that he is still willing to go face to face with the umpires, despite his pre-season promise to rein in his temper. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Lou Piniella face to face with umpire Mike Everitt.

Piniella has proved over the course of the season that he is still willing to go face to face with the umpires, despite his pre-season promise to rein in his temper.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Lou Piniella signs an autograph for a small girl. i

Here's more of Sweet Lou, signing an autograph for a young fan in Milwaukee, two days after he was suspended for a June 2 tantrum that may have turned the Cubs' season around. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Lou Piniella signs an autograph for a small girl.

Here's more of Sweet Lou, signing an autograph for a young fan in Milwaukee, two days after he was suspended for a June 2 tantrum that may have turned the Cubs' season around.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Oh, woe is sport. The summer of our disgrace, the month the fun went out of fun and games. Has ever sports been so unhappy?

A referee accused of fixing NBA games. One of the few NFL players who isn't suffering from concussion is indicted for running dogfights and killing dogs. And hanging over it all like our disgruntled man in the moon, looms the gigantic round noggin of Barry Bonds.

Is there no end to this national misery?

Well, hush, hark ye. Yes, yes...

"Oh somewhere in this favored land,
The sun is shining bright
The band is playing somewhere,
And somewhere hearts are light
And somewhere men are laughing,
And somewhere children shout"
For now the Cubbies of Chicago
Are what joy is all about.

Of course, of course. Now it's so obvious. The Cubbies would be destined to finally win only when everything else in sports went sour. The Cubbies were just waiting 99 years for their chance to bring the rapture to a sad and disillusioned sports world.

And I know how this all came to pass. You remember the old lyrics. "I saw a man who danced with his wife. In Chicago, Chicago, my home town." Well, I saw a man who lied to his wife. OK, he meant well, as husbands so often do, but if he hadn't gone back on his word, the Cubbies would still be stumbling around, as the Cubbies always have.

This was in February, and I was interviewing Lou Piniella, the new Chicago manager, for HBO's RealSports with Bryant Gumbel. Now Piniella is a bifurcated man. He's a most happy fella, actually celebrated as "Sweet Lou," but he's known for his tantrums against umpires. This is a man who has literally ripped bases out of the ground and hurled them in anger. And as Anita, Lou's beautiful wife of 40 years, listened in, he declared that there would be no more of that — promise. He was a grown man of 63, finished forever embarrassing Anita and his children with his puerile hijinks. He had won a World Series in Cincinnati, he had set the American League record of 116 wins with Seattle, but too many people only knew him as this wild man.

And as Sweet Lou made these vows, Anita, off camera, smiled the smile of a wife whose dream was finally coming true.

And he tried. He really did. Only, under the new, restrained Piniella, the Cubs went 22 and 30, an unmitigated flop. And so it was that on June 2, Sweet Lou ended his enforced gentility. He screamed at umpire Mark Wegner, he hollered, he threw his hat, he kicked dirt on the umpire. Piniella, you're outta here!

And what happened? The Cubs immediately started winning. They've been the best team in baseball since Sweet Lou broke his promise. They're breathing hard for a playoff spot, ready to bring joy at last to the North Side Mudville.

Sorry, Anita. A manager's gotta do what a manager's gotta do.

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Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford