Piniella signs on with Cubs; Hopes high for next season

By ME Online

CHICAGO – Lou Piniella put the blue cap bearing a big C onto his head, pulled the jersey with No. 41 over his shoulders and then made sure his modeling was complete by turning around to give everyone a full look.

The big question: Can he turn around the Chicago Cubs?

Told that the team he now manages has gone nearly a century between World Series championships, dating back to 1908, Piniella said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of that dubious record.

“I didn’t know that. Has it been that long here?” he asked.

Piniella is the latest choice to end that almost unfathomable drought. A fiery manager, now 63 years old, who is demanding and can be combustible – especially in arguments with umpires – Piniella comes to town with a history of winning, including a World Series title in 1990 with the Reds.

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“Urgency is important,” Piniella said. “We’re going to win here, and that’s the end of the story.”

Piniella brushed off a report that he wanted the Cubs to acquire embattled Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, saying there hadn’t been “any discussions about A-Rod.”

Piniella was Rodriguez’s first manager, with the Seattle Mariners in the mid-1990s. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, saying he was not allowed to discuss other teams’ players, also said he and Piniella had not discussed Rodriguez.

On Monday, Piniella agreed to a three-year contract worth nearly $10 million, with an option for a fourth year.

“I’m just a little piece of the puzzle. My job is to come in here and unite this team,” he said at a news conference.

But what makes him think he will be any different from others who have come in with such enthusiasm?

“When a manager comes in, obviously, he’s going to feel that way. Why is it going to be different? I have extreme confidence in my ability, and I know you’ve had some good managers here in the past,” Piniella said.

“Sometimes, things don’t go the way you expect.”

That certainly happened with Piniella’s most recent predecessor, Dusty Baker, whose contract was not renewed after four seasons, the final one which ended 66-96. Just three years earlier in Baker’s first season, the Cubs were within five outs of the World Series.

Now they’ve lured Piniella from the TV booth with a nice contract and the promise of improving their roster. Hendry, calling Piniella “the right man for the job,” said he doesn’t have a set figure on what the Cubs will spend this season. But he promised an upgrade through trades or free agency.

Piniella became frustrated in his previous stop at Tampa Bay in 2005 – one of his four major league managerial posts – when he didn’t get the personnel improvements he thought he needed.

“I have no concerns about that. The resources will be there. It’s up to myself, my coaching staff and the players to get the job done,” he said.

The Cubs have major personnel decisions ahead on third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who can opt-out of his contract; center fielder Juan Pierre, who is a free agent; and oft-injured pitcher Kerry Wood, who is rehabbing a torn rotator cuff. The team holds a $13.75 million option on Wood.

Piniella said he was hoping pitcher Mark Prior, who’s also battled injuries the last three years, and Wood would be healthy and come to spring training. Wood could be offered a new deal at less money and is expected to return as a reliever.

“They’re both talented individuals. Both have had physical problems,” Piniella said.

And forget talk of a curse that some believe has plagued the team since a tavern owner and his goat were ejected from Wrigley Field during the team’s last World Series appearance in 1945.

“No, no, no. There are no curses. Come on. It makes for good copy,” Piniella said.

Known for his outbursts with umpires – in which he’s thrown his cap, flung a base and kicked dirt on the plate – the Cubs hope Piniella can be the spark and provide the discipline.

“The umpires missed me all summer,” Piniella said.

“Look, I’m basically a lot of fun to play for. I do make it demanding, and that should be part of the equation. But I want players to have fun. I want them to relax.”

Piniella has already made one hire on his coaching staff, retaining pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who was his bullpen and later his pitching coach with the Reds.

Piniella has a record of 1,519-1,420 and was honored as AL manager of the year in 1995 and 2001 when his Mariners team went 116-46. He also managed the Yankees.

Joe Girardi, fired by the Florida Marlins after one season and a former Cubs player, also interviewed for the job as did Cubs broadcaster and former Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly. Mike Quade and Pat Listach, managers last season in the Cubs’ farm system, also were interviewed.