Can Sweet Lou's Cubs Save Sour Sports Year? After a rocky start and a promise — since broken — to behave with the umps, fiery manager Lou Piniella has long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans dreaming post-season dreams. It's an upbeat story in a time when front-page scandals have spoiled the fun for the fun-and-games crowd.
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Can Sweet Lou's Cubs Save Sour Sports Year?

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Can Sweet Lou's Cubs Save Sour Sports Year?

Can Sweet Lou's Cubs Save Sour Sports Year?

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Pitcher Tom Glavine spoke of one scandal in a sports world full of scandal. Commentator Frank Deford sounds a mournful note.

(Soundbite of music)

FRANK DEFORD: Oh, woe is sport. The summer of our disgrace, the months of fun when 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.

(Soundbite of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) ...root, root, root for the home team. If they don't win, it's a shame.

DEFORD: 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 hometown. Well, I saw a man who lied to his wife. Chicago, Chicago, my home team. Ok, he meant well, as husbands so often do. But if he hadn't gone back on his word, then 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 "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel." Now Piniella is a bifurcated man. He's a most happy fellow, 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 high jinks. He had won a World Series in Cincinnati, he 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 Cubbies went 22 and 30 - an unmitigated flop.

And so it was that on June 2nd, 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 out of here. And what happened? The Cubbies 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 got to do what a manager's got to do.

MONTAGNE: Frank Deford's new novel is "The Entitled: A Story of Baseball, Celebrity and Scandal." He joins us each Wednesday from member station WFHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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