Piniella glad to be back in NL

October 18th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Piniella glad to be back in NL

CHICAGO -- Lou Piniella is happy to be back in the National League and said he hopes the Cubs can regain their home-field advantage.

Piniella has managed primarily in the American League with the New York Yankees (1986-88), the Seattle Mariners (1993-2002) and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2003-05). He did spend three seasons in Cincinnati, and won the 1990 World Series with the Reds.
"I like the National League," Piniella said Tuesday during his introductory news conference as the new Cubs manager. "I'm an aggressive manager. I like to force the issue a lot. I think managing in the National League, you have a little more say in the managing of the ballgame than you do in the American League.
"I like clubs that can execute, I like clubs that are aggressive," he said. "I don't like to sit and wait for the three-run homer. If you look at the teams I managed in Seattle and even Tampa Bay, we always were up there doing the things we needed to do to win ballgames."
The Cubs have struggled at home the past two seasons, posting records of 36-45 (2006) and 38-43. This year, they were out-homered at Wrigley Field, 125-81. Does Wrigley present a challenge?
"What you need here is consistency," Piniella said. "You need pitchers who can command the strike zone, you need defensive players who can catch the ball, and you would think in a ballpark like this that you need a lot of power, but you what you need is athleticism. You catch more baseballs. Singles stay singles, doubles stay doubles.
"When the conditions are right, anybody can hit a home run," Piniella said. "When the conditions aren't right, Babe Ruth can't hit a home run."
The elements do play a factor. When the wind was blowing in at Wrigley Field, the Cubs and opponents combined to hit 76 home runs, and when it was blowing out, they slugged 101.
"The day games at Wrigley should be an advantage," Piniella said. "But you need to rest your players and you need to have fresh troops out there."
He's talked to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry about the need for a strong bench. Hendry also has to address the starting rotation, which has Carlos Zambrano and lots of question marks, and will try to add another good hitter to go along with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. Piniella was asked if he had a wish list of players.
"A wish list? I don't even know what the free agency list looks like," he said. "My job basically is to assist Jim if he wants on the talent, and then get the team to play. I don't get involved in the other areas."
"Our goal is to win. Lou Piniella is all about winning," Hendry said. "I think he's the right guy to take us to the promised land. That should be our goal. It's up to me to put a better product on the field and get enough players where he can mold them into a championship team."
Piniella does like percentages, but also relies on his gut feeling to make decisions in games. He likes to bunt, hit and run. However, some of the Cubs failed to execute, and those problems contributed to the 66-96 record and last-place finish in the NL Central. They had a 23-41 record in games decided by one or two runs. Good fundamentals help win close games. How will Piniella discipline the team?
"You appeal to people's pride. That's where it starts," he said. "You can't be a hard [guy] as a manager. I'm not a hard [guy]. At the same time, you appeal to their pride.
"When I came up, you better respect the manager because if you don't you're not going to play," Piniella said. "Now the manager has to earn the respect of the players -- and that's my job. Earn their respect so I can expect respect back at the same time. That's how I operate."
He does like to delegate, and his coaching staff will be key. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild will be back for a sixth season, agreeing to a two-year contract with the team.
The Cubs used eight rookie starting pitchers this season, many called up out of necessity because of injuries.
"The problems they went through last year will pay some dividends because more kids got an opportunity to gain experience," Piniella said. "They got more opportunities to pitch innings, they got more opportunities to get at-bats. How do you get better in this business? You've got to be given a chance. Last year, they paid for it somewhat in their won-loss record.
"At the same time," he said, "when these kids go to Spring Training, they will be more acclimated to a Major League situation and more acclimated to expectations and what they need to improve on, and they'll be more relaxed and know what they need to do to contribute."
Dusty Baker, whose contract was not renewed after four seasons in Chicago, was well-liked by the Cubs players.
"They replaced a great manager with a great manager," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "I think Dusty is a great manager, and I think Lou is a great manager. So the managing part of that franchise is taken care of.
"I'm not sure that there's a lot of difference in personality," La Russa said. "Dusty's very close to his players, and Lou gets very close to his players. From what I know of both of them, there's a lot more similarity between the two guys than differences."
What can the players expect from Piniella? "I'm a lot of fun to play for but I make it demanding, though," he said. "I do make it demanding. That should be part of the equation."

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