Through various freelance writing opportunities, I’ve had the chance to reconnect with quite a few people from my baseball days in recent months – and it’s been great to catch up and see what people are up to.
I’m in the process of researching and writing a longer magazine-style piece for one of my clients (I’ll be sure to help direct you there when the story is complete), and I had the opportunity this week to chat with Lou Piniella.
Piniella was the Cubs’ manager from 2007-2010, leading the team to a pair of National League Central Division titles and earning Manager of the Year honors in 2008. He is now a senior advisor to baseball operations with the Cincinnati Reds, serving that organization in a consulting capacity.
He sounded great over the phone, and I thought you’d like to hear how he’s doing.
Looking back, tell me about your time with the Cubs …
Lou Piniella: “When I was hired, team president John McDonough told me, ‘We want to win now.’ And we did. We won a couple divisions, which the Cubs hadn’t done in a long time. We just didn’t do anything in the postseason.
“My first year, we won our division – but with only 85 wins. The second year, we won the most games in the majors with 97. After a couple years, we had to start undoing some of the things that we had done from a payroll standpoint. We had to drop our payroll the next few years.
“When the Ricketts family bought the team, they had priorities. They wanted to fix the farm system, which I thought was a very wise move. They needed to get the new complex in Mesa, Arizona, done – which they did. And they wanted to fix up the ballpark – and they have spent a lot of money on the park. Those were their priorities when they took over. And they’ve done a wonderful job.
“I enjoyed my four years in Chicago, I really did. It’s a wonderful city. And the Cubs are a storied franchise. I’m happy that I was a part of it for four years.”
You had a good working relationship with the Ricketts family …
“Truthfully, I knew they were going to be successful. I really did – the reason being the passion they have for it. It didn’t surprise me that they’ve been successful. It took a little while – five or six years since I was there – but they finally won a world championship. Good for them. I’m happy for them. They’re good people.
“But you know, the Ricketts family did it the right way. They took the time to build up a farm system. They brought in Theo and his staff. And they hired Joe Maddon.”
Tell me about Wrigley Field …
“Managing at Wrigley Field, I’ve always likened it to playing the British Open. The wind can be blowing out to start the game and blowing straight in by the fifth inning. You have to adapt to it.
“I recognized that the ballpark … you think of it as a power park, but I always felt that really good athleticism would win there. And that’s basically what the Cubs have now – really good athleticism. They have power, too, but athleticism really comes into play.”
On what he’s doing nowadays …
“I do a little consulting work for the Reds. I help out (manager) Bryan Price and his coaching staff some. And I also do some work with (executive advisor) Walt (Jocketty) and Dick Williams, the general manager. I’m not fully involved, but when I’m asked, I give my opinions. I enjoy it. It keeps me watching some baseball.
“I also get to spend a lot of time with my family. I’m back here in Tampa, where I was born and raised. My wife, Anita, makes it easy for me. We’ve got the grandkids and the kids all within 10 minutes of us. We get together often. And then I play some golf, which I enjoy, and do some fishing. I’m truly blessed.”