It's clear to anyone who has seen or worked around Piniella for even the past 15 years that he's slower to rage and less inclined to blow up on the field, at a player or in the media now that he's in his 60s. And, to some degree, maybe now that he's in Chicago.
I covered his Seattle teams for a little over two seasons in the '90s, and he's definitely different now at 65 than he was in his early 50s. But he also has more resources, a deeper team, a different media market (not to mention a different media era) and a different upper-management structure than he's had in previous managerial stops.
And he's at what he calls the final stop in that career, which might tend to give anybody a different outlook.
So what about that famous Piniella fire and ire that many Chicagoans are saying they want and suggesting appears extinguished in the formerly fiery manager?
I think the better questions are:
One, if he doesn't have the fire, why would he bother managing at this point in his life (he doesn't need the money and he's not going to win a championship here by sleeping on the job)?
And, two, how much of it's calculated and controlled, for public consumption?
When asked about it Tuesday, Piniella clearly was bothered by the insinuation:
``What do I need to show fire for? I'm not a dragon,'' he said. ``Look, if I was out there arguing all the time, what they'd be saying is this guy's lost his cool. Look, I still want to win. I still have it in my belly. I think the players obviously know that. But you've got to let them play. I don't win baseball games. Players play on the field. And our job is to prepare them and keep them as motivated as possible. And they've got to do the job on the field.''
Piniella has already done his hard-ass act his first year in Chicago, cleaning house, making it clear this is his team and he'll run it his way.
One thing far different this season is that this is now a team of largely locked-in, high-priced veterans, who are going nowhere regardless of what he says or how often he benches them. The team-sale slowdown makes that an even harsher reality.
Veterans tire quickly of emotional outbursts from their managers or head coaches in any sport, whether it's rah-rah emotion or fire-and-brimstone emotion. If anybody knows this, it's Piniella.
And behind the scenes, he's not sitting on his hands or napping on the job. On recent road trips - in particular that winless one to St. Louis and San Diego - Piniella was beside himself after some of the losses. He snapped at the traveling secretary after one game for putting the team in too nice a hotel (you don't often hear that one), snapped at one of his coaches for something he called ``stupid,'' went off in a back room when he heard that Milton Bradley was complaining that umpires were trying to screw him, and after one game in St. Louis skipped out without telling anybody and took the long walk alone back to the team hotel, stewing and simmering.
At this point in his career and life, and with the makeup of this team, he's not as apt to deliver public lashings, but the fire is never far from the surface.
``I was reading an article just a week ago about Phil Jackson and Joe Torre, how calm and cool they are and how successful they are,'' Piniella said. ``I don't know what else to say.
``Look, if I have something to beef out there with the umpires, I'll go out there and beef. And I will stand up for my players. But I don't think by me going out there and kicking dirt and doing those things is going to get anybody fired up to play baseball.''