End of an Era

Although Lou Piniella was already set to retire at the end of the season, he managed his last game with the Cubs today. The title of this post doesn’t refer to Lou, though – although plenty could be written about his near half-century in the game. Rather, it’s to the closing of a chapter – from 2003-2010 –  that will be remembered in Cubs history as one of exceptional success (rare) followed by exceptional failure (common). It was an eight-season stretch that spanned a couple managers, but for the most part saw the Cubs carrying themselves like winners. And it wasn’t just the touchy-feely “Hey, everybody wins eventually, right” type of stuff that permeates parts of Cubdom every April. I mean, c’mon, remember this:

Ah, yes. And that was after this:

(Listen to Thom Brenneman just begging for something awful to happen in the early part of the 8th. Thanks, Thom.)

Even after that groin kick, the Cubs were perennial contenders and put together regular season campaigns that actually won back-to-back division titles, one of which saw them rack up the best record in the NL. They added quality free agents both in-season (like Kenny Lofton, one of my favorite moves ever made by any of my teams, ever) and in the offseason (like Ted “The Bull Moose” Lilly).

Unfortunately, each of those peaks had corresponding valleys (gulches? canyons?). After the agonizing meltdown documented above, the 2004 team was in position for a wild-card berth until a collapse that would be a lot more notorious were it not in the wake of the Marlins series kept them out of the postseason (remember this game?). Each of those division championship teams were swept out of the playoffs by first round opponents from the NL West. The free agent spending got a little reckless and will now hamstring them for years.

Fittingly, the Cubs faceplanted today, losing to the Braves by 11. Lou summed up the game, and I think, the era, nicely:

“It’s a good day to remember and also it’s a good day to forget,” Piniella said following his final loss.

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