Barrett 'overly prepared' for Piniella
Catcher feels less comfort with manager will lead to change
MESA, Ariz. -- Lou Piniella was the Cincinnati Reds manager in 1990, and very early in Spring Training, he walked around the outfield to meet some of his players. Let former Reds and Cubs reliever Randy Myers tell the story.
"I was in right field, and [Piniella] said, 'Now, Randy, you just came over from the Mets,'" said Myers, who played in New York from 1985-89. "He says, 'OK, I don't need to say anything to you. I'm going to put you in charge of the bullpen and making sure they understand.'
"One of the young guys came up to me and said, 'Understand what?'" Myers said Friday. "I said, 'About winning.' I said, 'It's not just putting your best effort in, but doing what you can to win. You think ahead, whether you're a pinch-runner, pinch-hitter, reliever, extra defensive replacement. Your job is to think ahead so your chances of success will be greater than not success.'"
Maybe Myers, one of the "Nasty Boys" relievers in the Reds 'pen that season, should talk to the rest of the Cubs players. They're still trying to get a read on their new manager. Michael Barrett, for example, didn't expect Piniella and Dusty Baker to be so much alike, and yet so different.
"I pictured Lou as being a guy who is constantly in your face," Barrett said. "When I first came over to play for Dusty, everybody talked about how fun he was to play for and how easy he was to play for, and the second day I played for Dusty, he was in my face. I wasn't quite prepared for that.
"In Lou's case, I'm overly prepared -- not that it's going to happen," Barrett said. "It's just like players -- managers get labeled."
Piniella is trying to get a read on his players as quickly as he can to help make decisions regarding the final 25-man roster. He's had a few one-on-one chats with players, and will wander the outfield, giving them a similar speech as he did with Myers.
"I want them to feel comfortable with me," Piniella said. "I'm here to help them, nothing more, nothing less. I'm here to help them win baseball games."
Piniella established what he wanted quickly. For example, in the Cubs' first Cactus League game, he was not happy with the way a play was executed. He corrected the guilty party immediately in the dugout.
"It's good to bring in people who have a winning attitude," Barrett said. "It can't be just one guy, and to put all the pressure on [Alfonso] Soriano isn't fair. As good as he is, to say he's going to come in and completely change the clubhouse and change the way we play, it's not fair."
Change could be good for the Cubs, coming off a 96-loss season. Barrett is surrounded by plenty of Cubs fans who live near his hometown in Alpharetta, Ga. This winter, he gave a Cubs jersey to a devoted fan named Bill, who owns a Chicago-style pizza restaurant. During a question-and-answer session, Barrett was surprised at the guy's in-depth knowledge of the team.
"[Cubs fans] are so tapped into what's going on with the team," Barrett said. "Everybody's dying for the Cubs to win a championship and a World Series."
They can all count. It's been 98 years since the Cubs last won a World Series.
"There are people nine generations into this thing and they get hungrier and hungrier," Barrett said. "It gives me a sick feeling as to how long some of these fans have waited."
Which brings us back to Piniella.
"Dusty is a lovable guy, and he's an intense, passionate guy about the game," Barrett said. "But in order for there to be change, there has to be an uncomfortable environment. What's important is that there's a higher level of uncomfortability -- if that's a word -- and that's what's going to allow for change for now."
Part of the reason the Cubs spent more than $300 million this offseason is to make changes for the better. It's the reason there are new additions like Soriano, Jason Marquis, Ted Lilly, Cliff Floyd and Mark DeRosa. This is not simply about improving on-base percentage or pitchers cutting down on walks. It's an attitude adjustment. It's part of the reason Piniella talks about developing a "Cubby swagger." Barrett isn't dissing Baker. He loved the former Cubs manager, and the two remain close. Piniella is just different.
"You have a new manager who has new expectations," Barrett said. "He has different expectations, and you're trying to meet those and keep your job. For the direction we want to go, that's how it probably should be."
Asked if he'll take the temperature of the clubhouse mood every day, Piniella quipped: "That's what the thermostat is for. I'm a manager, not an air conditioner guy."
OK, what about the emotional temperature?
"We play so many games, I think if you needed to do that, you'd need a team of psychologists and psychiatrists," Piniella said. "You can't measure it daily. Too many ups and downs. My philosophy on the clubhouse is that it's the players' domain. It's their second home. You won't see me in the clubhouse at all. When I played, I didn't want the manager coming around and hanging around the clubhouse. When I played, the less I saw of the manager, the better."
Cubs players like Barrett always know he's there.
"With Lou, when he's walking around, you're not comfortable," Barrett said. "He has that aura, he has that reputation. What we're trying to accomplish right now, he complements that."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.