"Exactly -- come in here, and I'm not going to pre-judge anybody," he said. "It's what I see and how they perform. I really enjoy teams that are loose and play hard and are relaxed. That's always been my M.O. as a manager. When you talk to the majority of players who have played for me, they've enjoyed the experience. Some haven't. It's like Casey Stengel used to say, 'Not everybody is going to like you.'"
Piniella has a pretty impressive track record. His 1,519 managerial victories rank fourth among active managers behind Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. He has gone to the postseason 10 times in his career, including five as a manager and five as a player. And it's important for the Cubs to get off to a good start. Piniella is the only manager to lead two teams to wire-to-wire first-place division finishes, doing so in 1990 with Cincinnati and in 2001 with the Seattle Mariners.
Here's a little sampling of Piniella, who is featured on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated along with new outfielder Alfonso Soriano, to help fans get a feel for the Cubs' 50th manager:
Will you use the Cubs' history -- they haven't won a World Series since 1908 -- as a motivation?
"You don't ignore it, but basically you say, 'Look, what's happened in the past is in the past," he said. "What we're worried about is right now, in the present and the future. The only thing you can do with the past is learn from it.' Look, there's a lot of talent here, there really is. It's up to me and my coaches to get this thing to work. Our ownership group and our front office have done their job. Now it's up to me to do my job on the field.
"I love expectations. I loved it when I was a player in New York. The more expectations, the better. You have to be able to be prepared for them. I'd rather go to camp to manage a team that people say, 'Boy, you have a darn good chance,' than going to a team where things aren't going to work out from the start. This is fun for me."
Will it be tough to change the perception of the Cubs as lovable losers?
"Why not?" he said. "I don't expect to lose here. Our president, John McDonough, doesn't expect to lose here, and neither does our general manager, Jim Hendry. Players don't expect to lose. We've got good talent level. It starts with that. Now you've got to get them to mesh together and work as a team and you've got to get them to execute. That's what makes good talent good. That's our job, and that's what we're going to work hard this spring on developing."
Tampa Bay was a different situation, but are there parallels between the Cubs and when you managed in Seattle?
"I've never managed a team with a $100 million payroll," he said. "When I went to Seattle, it was different. I remember the first year I was there, myself and a couple coaches were having breakfast and a guy said, 'Hey, you're the manager of the Mariners.' I said, 'Yes, I sure am.' He said, 'When does your season start?' and I said, 'Heck, we played 14 games already.' That changed. It changed into a baseball town. How do you do that? By winning. With the Cubs, it's not the case because the fans come out. Now we have to reward the fans for their patience and their loyalty. This is a different situation."
How has managing changed?
"The biggest change to me is that when I came up, you had to earn the manager's respect," he said. "Now the manager has to earn the players' respect. I think that has changed and it's because of long-term contracts and free agency and those sort of things. You still have to be able to motivate.
"Obviously, the biggest change in a manager's repertoire is the media. That's by far the biggest -- it takes up a lot more of his time and with the networks and such you've got to be so careful how you say things and how you phrase things. Things don't seem to go away like they used to. Controversy lingers a little longer. That's the biggest change in the job."