Piniella reminds Cubs fans to stay calm
Don't place years of expectations on this team, skipper says
CHICAGO -- Lou Piniella has been reminded since before Spring Training started that it's been 100 years since the Cubs last won a World Series. He'd like overanxious fans to give this team a chance and keep the expectations in check.
"The amazing part of it is I hear all these things about how this team is built to win the World Series," Piniella said Saturday. "Which team isn't built to win the World Series? Is this the only team in baseball built to win the World Series? I don't think so.
"All teams, when they're put together, are built to win the World Series," he said. "Some get a chance to and some don't."
Piniella then voiced his disapproval of the notion that "if you don't win the division and you don't win the World Series, it's a lost year," using an expletive.
The 65-year-old manager was sitting in the Cubs' dugout as he spoke, just hours before the team was to play the St. Louis Cardinals and attempt to clinch the National League Central for the second straight year. The Cubs' magic number was one heading into the game.
Asked if Piniella's Tampa Bay teams were built to win the championship, he quipped, "They were built to win the World Series in the month of April. They just didn't get it done."
Cubs fans are different than Rays fans. The Cubs have been in existence since 1876, the Rays since 1998.
"It's not fair to put all the expectations of all the past failures here and all the past successes here on the 2008 team," Piniella said. "You let this team stand on its own merit and you let them do what they can do as well as they can do and let them go as far as they can.
"This team has played hard all year, they've treated the people of Chicago to a good season of baseball, and believe me, they all want to win as much as I do, but the problem is there's only one team that can win. For people to say that this team is built for the World Series, and if it doesn't win the World Series, it's not a successful year, I just don't buy that."
However, one of the main reasons the Cubs signed Piniella was to end the franchise's championship drought, the longest in professional sports.
"I'm trying the best I can," Piniella said. "If I don't win it, there will be somebody else here who you'll be talking about, and if I do win it, there will be somebody else here anyways, so what's the difference?
"Everybody who puts on a uniform wants to do it, but it doesn't happen," he said. "It's not an easy thing to do. You talk to these players and they play hard all year. Talk to the other team in contention, and they'll tell you the same thing.
"I understand it's been a long, long, long time here," he said. "I can empathize, but at the same time, this is the 2008 team. Period. This is not the 1968 team, this is not the 1943 team, this is not the 1918 team. This is the 2008 team. These kids will play as well as they possibly can for as long as they possibly can, and we'll go out there and give it all we've got and that's all we can do. Nothing more, nothing less."
Perhaps the 100-year anniversary of the last Cubs championship is fueling the high expectations?
"One hundred years from now," Piniella said, "they won't know I managed here, so what's the difference?"
He's dealt with media hype before, having played for and managed the New York Yankees. But with the Cubs leading the Central and having such a good record all season, the expectations would seem to be normal.
"The Dodgers team has changed a lot since we played them," Piniella said. "A few of the teams in contention now have gotten better as the year has gone on. How many times has the Wild Card team won the World Series? You can't tell what's going to happen in the postseason. Everybody goes in equal. What can I say? I know that everybody wants it, but let's just let it play itself out."
When Piniella goes out to dinner, he gets advice from fans. He's heard a few suggestions from the media. Most of all, he said, he gets some tips from his mother. What does she say?
"My mom? She says you guys are giving me a heart attack," Piniella said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.