Cubs manager Lou Piniella was in New York City last week for the 30th annual Thurman Munson Dinner to raise money to benefit the AHRC-NYC Foundation. He was honored with the Legend Award for his long and meritorious service to baseball. Beforehand, Piniella talked to Sporting News' Bill Eichenberger and other reporters about his team's offseason moves, steroid use in baseball, the more prominent role of statistics in today's game and life as manager of the star-crossed Cubs.
Sporting News: How do you feel about your team heading into spring training?
Lou Piniella: We have a good ballclub. Every manager feels good about his team at this time of the year. Last year we had a lot of injuries. I think we had our everyday lineup on the field two days, and you can't have that in today's game. You have to stay healthy.
LP: We've done some nice things. I think we are still looking to improve our bullpen just a little bit. But Jim Hendry, our general manager, has been working hard, and I like our chances. We're probably going to get criticized for not doing much, but I like the things that we've done. We've added Xavier Nady, who was here with the Yankees last year. We added Marlon Byrd, the center fielder with Texas. That is going to help our outfield situation. We also signed the hitting coach from Texas, Rudy Jaramillo. We're trying to add a reliever.
SN: Who are the young players in the Cubs' system who figure to play a role for you guys this season?
LP: We have (Jeff) Samardzija, the young man who pitched at Notre Dame, especially with (Ted) Lilly being out for probably the first few weeks of the season, maybe the first month. He's going to get an opportunity. Our first-round pick a couple years ago, (Andrew) Cashner, will get an opportunity also. We have a couple of young relievers -- (Esmailin) Caridad, who pitched for us last year because of injuries and really pitched well, and a kid named (Justin) Berg out of the bullpen. I'm looking forward to seeing our young shortstop, (Starlin) Castro. Everybody raves about him. I've never seen him. But I would think he wound end up in Triple-A. But more pitchers, young pitchers, will get opportunities this year than position players with our team.
SN: Do you think the baseball gods owe you guys something after last season?
LP: I've never seen so many injuries. We lost 12 players for over 30 days, and they were all our top people. None of our backup people, except for our fourth outfielder and fifth infielder. Outside of that, everybody else was either a 1-2-3-4 starting pitcher, a key reliever or a position player. So I was heartened that we were still able to finish second in our division, that we competed awfully well, and I think that is going to pay big dividends for us this year.
SN: The cloud of steroids is still over the game today. Do you ever think it will go away?
LP: I think it will. I really do. It took a long time for the problem to surface, and it is not going to go away overnight. You just have to be a little patient with it. Baseball has done a really nice job of cleaning up the sport. They are very diligent. But it's not going to go away overnight. Already this year there's been the Mark McGwire confession, which has put it back in the limelight. I was proud of Mark, by the way. He has a big job to do with the Cardinals, and I think him coming forward was a step in the right direction.
SN: Do you think that players who have admitted using steroids should be elected to the Hall of Fame?
LP: If I had a vote, I would have to think long and hard. And I'm not prepared to do that now. But let me tell you this. How can I say this? ... Whoever is without sin can cast the first stone. I don't know. I didn't play in that era and wasn't part of it, and feel very good because of it. But, you know, it's something that will go away and one of these days you'll never hear about it again.
SN: You played on a Yankee team that won back-to-back World Series in 1977 and 1978. How tough is it going to be for this Yankee team to repeat as champion?
LP: It's going to be a challenge. You have to be lucky. First of all, everybody is a year older. Everybody points at you. It's not the easier thing in the world. And sometimes you get that false sense of security where you go to camp and say, "Well, we can get it done again." And there's not the urgency. But, look, the Yankees have done it (27) times, better than any other organization in baseball or any other sport. So if anybody can do it, they can.
LP: It's good. I think you use numbers. Baseball is a percentage game. That's really what it is. My job as a manager is to keep the percentages on our side as much as possible. Let the players play. The good talent will win for you. But, yeah, I like to use matchups. ... We have all these statistics, and I can make lineups off statistics, to be honest with you. I try to mix it up a little bit and go against the grain. But I think basically if I had to say hunch or the statistics, I'd rather have the statistics.
SN: Given your time as a player with the Yankees, if the Cubs can't win the World Series, are the Yankees always your second choice?
LP: Well, I wear my Yankee ring. I've worn it since 1977. I'm proud of it. I'd love to get it replaced with a Cubs ring. That's what I'm in it for. But, yeah, I wear my Yankee ring with a lot of pride. You know what is amazing? When you think back on all the guys you played with, when you play on a championship team you remember them all. And when you play on teams that don't play quite as well, you forget quite a few.
SN: You've managed both the Yankees and the Cubs? Are the pressures and expectations the same or different in each place?
LP: You never would think it, but there is pressure in Chicago. They haven't won in so long. They are going to win. It's just a question of when and how soon. It's a wonderful franchise. It's a really nice city and Wrigley Field is a fun place to play. You start a ballgame and you feel like you are in the British Open with the wind blowing, light rain and so forth, and all of a sudden it ends up a sunny day and you're hitting the ball with 9-irons into the left-field bleachers.
SN: How much longer do you see yourself managing?
LP: We'll see. I'm getting up there in age. I still have the desire. I still have the passion for it. I'm not putting any timetable on it. I'm going to do the best I can this year and we'll see what happens at the end of the year.
Bill Eichenberger is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at email@example.com.