(Lou, managing his temper beautifully, after Ryan Dempster gave up back-to-back HR’s to the Cards this weekend.)

First, ESPN blows off coverage of the Cubs’ termination of the Cards’ pennant hopes this weekend (like that happens everyday) for meaningless Red Sox/Yankees games. Now, two weeks before the regular season’s close, Lou Piniella has come to their attention. Apparently, not only has Piniella been named Cubs manager, but his temper is under control, his team is in first, and he likes bottled water. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick introduces Cubs fans to their new manager here. Btw, Crasnick says Lou likes to play the horses — where does that fall as far as MLB’s policies on gambling go?

“When I started managing, they’d have a bottle of vodka in the room,” Piniella said, laughing. “Now I’ll eat a piece of fruit and have a bottle of water.” Piniella, in his first season with the Cubs, will always be captive to his emotions to a degree. His temper is legendary, and he’s a product of the 1960s and ’70s, when men were men, takeout slides really hurt, and managers liked their ballplayers tough, gritty and pressure-resistant.

But Piniella is also a stock market devotee, occasional horseplayer and information junkie at heart. He adheres to the concept of baseball as a “percentage game,” and trusts in the power of numbers over the long haul. During charter flights, Piniella will don his reading glasses, pull out the statistical data at his disposal and map out lineups for the next series before the plane lands. If Cubs outfielder Cliff Floyd is 14-for-35 career against Tom Glavine, or an opposing starter’s release time enhances Alfonso Soriano‘s chances of stealing a base, Piniella feels obliged to put that in the vault. “I’ve never been on a plane ride with him where he didn’t work the whole time,” Chicago general manager Jim Hendry said. “I don’t think people give him enough credit for that.” While Piniella admits he’s mellowed since the Cincinnati days — when he grappled with Rob Dibble in the clubhouse and inspired mock base-throwing contests in the Queen City — he’ll always be perceived as Mount Lou on the verge of an eruption. An ESPN anchor took note when Piniella, looking quite displeased, lifted the ball from Ryan Dempster‘s hand after a rough outing Friday in St. Louis. But after the game, Piniella took pains to reiterate his faith in Dempster, telling reporters that his closer simply had a bad day at the office. With the season winding down and Milwaukee clinging to the Cubs like a conjoined twin, Piniella isn’t about to start trifling with Dempster’s confidence. Piniella’s challenge, as always, is finding a way to motivate his players and not overwhelm them with his hard-driving bent. “I have to guard against my competitive nature when I manage a team,” Piniella said. “I can’t be more competitive than the team. I have to find their level and hover slightly above it. If not, you’re always going to be upset.”