Cubs and Sweet Lou giving their fans reason to believe
MIAMI -- Apparently, Cubs manager Lou Piniella doesn't believe in the powers of a black cat. Or Steve Bartman. "And that goat I don't believe in, either,'' Piniella said.
"I'm superstitious,'' he concedes. "But not about the Cubs."
The way the first-place Cubs look now, bad luck is all that can prevent their first World Series trip in 63 years. Their first World Series title in 100 years seems very possible, as well. Unless you believe in the killer B's -- the Billy Goat, the black cat, Bartman and the general bad luck that has plagued this franchise for a century -- that is.
"I believe in good pitching, good defense and timely hitting,'' Piniella asserts.
The Cubs have all that, and more. There doesn't appear to be a weakness on this team now, thanks especially to some in-season pickups that bolstered their rotation (ultra-talented Rich Harden came from Oakland) and lineup (Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds came for nothing from Toronto and San Diego, respectively).
Piniella liked his team this spring, but wondered seriously about whether they had enough offense ("We tried all spring to get that kid from Baltimore," he said, referring to Orioles All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts), and if there's one thing Piniella knows best, it's hitting. "I felt all along we needed another bat,'' he said. Eventually, they would get two more bats to split centerfield.
Late in spring the Blue Jays inexplicably released Johnson, and the Cubs quickly snapped him up. Then early in the season the Padres cut Edmonds, a former All-Star, and the Cubs happily signed the longtime Cardinals star, too.
"We got real fortunate,'' Piniella said. "Our GM (Jim Hendry) deserves to be commended.
Hendry made some great moves. But as the Cubs confront the jinx, they are especially fortunate to have Piniella, who constantly reminded the team this spring not to worry about the Cubs' bad past.
When it's suggested to him that he's a major asset in the goal to beat the jinx, Piniella said, "I don't know about that. But I do know we've got some real nice kids in here. They play hard, and they play to win. We've got some pretty good chemistry.''
Indeed, they have a lot going for them. But whether it's enough to overcome nearly a century of bad luck won't be determined until October.
Cubs change in plans: Cutting up the Pie
According to one executive from another team, a Cubs person, speaking of the heralded outfield prospect Felix Pie, once told him that they "wouldn't trade [Pie] for Joe DiMaggio.''
Yet, Piniella fretted all spring about whether Pie would ever hit enough to help the team. Pie batted just .215 in 87 games last year and was at .222 in May when he was sent down to the minors, where he is hitting .280 with eight home runs and 45 RBIs at Triple A Iowa. Pie is still considered a nice prospect, though maybe his value has slipped a bit. And while the Cubs still don't have DiMaggio in center field, Edmonds and Johnson have combined to give the Cubs among the better offensive outputs from that position in the league. Edmonds is hitting .267 with 15 home runs and 42 RBIs for the Cubs and is making his usual share of spectacular catches in center field while Johnson is hitting .314 with six homers and 45 RBIs.
Edmonds was released by the Padres after only 90 at-bats, with a .178 average and one home run. He isn't sure exactly why they gave up on him so quickly when they were committed to pay his full $9-million salary (he said they only told him they wanted to play some young kids more).
But Edmonds doesn't blame the Padres a bit. "I had a couple of issues I needed to get through,'' he said. I hadn't played well in awhile, and I needed to get my confidence back."
He also had physical impediments. He was nursing a sore calf this spring, and some wondered whether he'd fully recovered from a concussion suffered last season. Edmonds actually believes it wasn't his head that was hurting him but rather a prescription for concussion medicine. "The medicine was screwing me up,'' he said. "The medicine was making me loopy.''
Edmonds' Cardinals rule: No talk of Tony
Even though he was a great star in St. Louis and still lives there, Edmonds said he didn't hesitate when the Cardinals' great rival called. He loves being so close to his residence. And it doesn't sound like he minds competing against his legendary former manager Tony La Russa, either.
"I don't talk to him or about him anymore,'' Edmonds responds to a question about La Russa. "Tony who?' is what I say.''