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Exits of Cubs managers bring back memories

Cubs' managers have made some memorable exits.

Rick Renteria's exit as Cubs' manager Friday wasn't as loud or memorable as that of many of his predecessors.

His firing was announced in a wordy news release from the Cubs in which President Theo Epstein said "he deserved better and we wish him nothing but the best."

Running a star-crossed franchise like the Cubs in a town like Chicago is like no other managerial job, former manager Lou Piniella told me last year.

"It was an experience," Piniella said. "Unless you're there and you do it … it's different than what you would think going in. You know, you win three or four games in a row and you're going to win the pennant. You lose three or four games in a row and the season is over. It isn't an easy place to manage."

As another name gets added to the litany of failed Cubs' managers, here's some of our favorite exits:

Herman Franks

Franks came out of retirement in 1977 at 63 to be the one finally to get the Cubs over the hump. They hadn't won a pennant in 32 years, and Cubs fans were getting anxious.

Franks managed during a memorable Cubs' collapse in '77, and quit with six games left in the 1979 season, complaining to the Tribune of "whiny" players, including outfielder Mike Vail.

"I just got tired being around him," Franks said. "There isn't enough money in the world to pay me to manage if I have to look at that face every day."

Lee Elia

Elia became part of Cubs' lore when he went on the greatest rant in baseball history, ripping Cubs fans in a profane speech in April 1983 for their lack of support.

Elia somehow survived that but was let go Aug. 22 after admitting "we've never heard of this guy, Gerald Perry," after the rookie first baseman homered and drove in three runs in the Braves' 5-3 victory.

General manager Dallas Green called it "a copout" by Elia and said he "embarrassed" the organization.

Gene Michael

Green said upon hiring Michael as manager that he "stuck out like a sore thumb."

At the end of a bad season in 1987, Michael refused to use the minor league call-ups Green had ordered him to play and told radio reporter Bruce Levine in early September he was quitting.

"It's nice he told somebody," Green said. "He didn't tell me."

Don Zimmer

One of the most popular managers in Cubs' history, Zimmer was fired on May 21, 1991 after issuing an ultimatum for a contract extension.

"Am I any different (from the players)?" Zimmer said he asked Cubs President Don Grenesko. "What am I? A piece of garbage in Lake Michigan? … I said, 'I'm not going to put up with that. I didn't think that was fair. I've been in the game 43 years and they have to evaluate me at the end of the season?'"

Grenesko didn't budge, firing Zimmer in New York.

"There's too much talent to be playing this way, a game under .500," Grenesko said after the firing. "We felt a change was necessary to jump-start the team."

Zimmer ended his career in the Rays' organization, and was a favorite of manager Joe Maddon.

Jim Essian

Known as for his "clapping seal" routine in the dugout, the perpetually cheery Essian won his first five games after replacing Zimmer, but ended up 59-63 and got the ax.

"Your head just swirls a little bit when you look back at the season," Essian said the final weekend. "You wonder if it would have been different if the ballclub had won some games."

Jim Riggleman

Hailed as the "next Jim Leyland" by general manager Ed Lynch in 1995 after being hired with a losing record (112-179) for the Padres, Riggleman lost a league record 14 straight to start the 1997 season but led the Cubs to a wild-card playoff berth in '98.

He was fired along with most of his staff after a disastrous '99 season. The Cubs clubhouse had turned into a carnival, with Sammy Sosa, his agent, his bodyguard and friends acting as though it was their own home.

"But they won (in '98) and by the time I made an issue of it this year, it was probably too late," Riggleman said after being fired. "It was little things. We probably have to go back to the way it was years ago in the clubhouse."

Don Baylor

In one of the more unusual starts, Baylor's hiring first was revealed during the '99 postseason when the Cubs accidentally posted a news release announcing it in an area of their own website they believed was hidden to the public.

A Tribune sports department employee discovered it, and though the Cubs denied Baylor had been hired when the story was published, he eventually got the job.

After bringing in motivational guru and conditioning coach Mack Newton, fans grew leery of Baylor's tactics, but the Cubs contended during his second year in 2001. Baylor was fired in July 2002 with 11/2 seasons left on his $5.2 million deal, two days after he told a Miami radio station: "Andy MacPhail is the president and general manager. If he wants to make a change, make a change."

MacPhail made the change to Bruce Kimm, who clearly was out of his element.

Dusty Baker

Baker began his Cubs' stint in 2002 with the proclamation: "My name's Dusty, not the Messiah."

His popularity peaked during the 2003 stretch run when he took on the Cardinals and manager Tony La Russa in September, saying: "If he thinks (the fight) has been on so far, he has a whole decade full of us coming. This is just the beginning."

But it went downhill in 2004 during a team collapse that collided with an acrimonious feud between players and broadcaster Steve Stone.

Baker survived, but general manager Jim Hendry announced in July 2006 that he would evaluate the manager, coaches and players during the All-Star break. Baker wasn't worried, saying: "I expect to be here. Why not? I ain't walking death row."

As it turned out, Baker was in his final months on the job and was let go when his contract ended after the season.

Asked last year about his prediction in 2003 of a Cubs-dominated decade, Baker replied with a laugh: "Boy, was I wrong."

Lou Piniella

Only seven managers in team history won more games than Piniella's 316, and his .519 winning percentage was the Cubs' best since Charlie Grimm's .547 mark over three stints in the '30s,'40s and 1960.

Shortly after the ill-fated Milton Bradley experiment in 2009, Piniella began dropping hints that he wanted to continue managing after his four-year deal ended in 2010. During the following spring training in Mesa, Ariz., President Crane Kenney said the Cubs would have an "interesting conversation" with Piniella after the season if he "feels well."

Piniella felt blindsided.

"Last time I checked, I'm not on life support," he cracked.

On Aug. 22, with the Cubs in a 5-20 stretch, Piniella announced he was going home to take care of his ailing 90-year-old mother.

"Family is important," he said. "My mom needs me home, and that's where I'm going."

Rick Renteria

Epstein said in September that Renteria "absolutely" was returning, only to change his mind when Maddon became available in late October. One week later, Renteria was fired.

"Rick deserved to come back for another season as Cubs manager, and we said as much when we announced that he would be returning in 2015," Epstein said in a statement.

But Maddon's availability was the end to Renteria's brief run, whether he deserved to return or not.

"We saw it as a unique opportunity and faced a clear dilemma: be loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization," Epstein's statement continued. "In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual. We decided to pursue Joe."

Maybe Maddon's exit will come after a World Series championship, unlike that of the others.

But one thing he soon will discover is Piniella was absolutely correct when he declared: "It isn't an easy place to manage."

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