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Is the mood in the Cubs clubhouse really that much different than it was the last time they played at Wrigley Field?
For the past week, I've been reading stories about how much more laid back the Cubs clubhouse seemed now that Milton Bradley has been suspended for the rest of the year. While I didn't notice any specific difference in the behavior of any of the players, it was definitely strange to see Bradley's locker stall have a different name on it, that of fresh-faced rookie Tyler Colvin. Aside from that, everything looked more cramped than usual, due to the space taken up by all the minor league call-ups.
While Cubs manager Lou Piniella wouldn't come right out and say that the team was better off without Bradley, it would be easy to think that by reading into his comments. I asked him if he had noticed a change in the atmosphere between the last time his team was in town (with Bradley) and now (without him). Here is what he said -- after pausing for a few moments:
"We've had a good series in Milwaukee, a good series in San Francisco. Things have been much quieter and it allows the players to concentrate on playing baseball."
It's safe to say that the Piniella and some of his players had gotten tired of dealing with the emotional outfielder and aren't very sad that he's gone.
That wasn't the only topic that Piniella touched on during his pregame news conference. Here are some of his more interesting quotes ...
"Look, we need to stay healthier next year," Piniella said. "That's really the biggest thing. The people that we have here, keep 'em healthy and keep 'em on the field. If you would look at the list of players this year that have missed a month or more -- it's astounding.
"We need for Carlos to work hard over the winter," he said. "I'm sure he will, and come ready to pitch next year and lead our staff."
Does Piniella believe it when Zambrano says he'll retire if he has another season like he did this year?
"Do I believe him?" Piniella repeated before pausing. "Look, he's a prideful guy. I think there's been a valuable lesson [learned]. As you get a little older, and he's not old, but as you get a little older, you gotta work harder. He's pitched a lot and he's gotta work harder. And if he learned a valuable lesson from this [season], it's gonna be much the better for him and for the Chicago Cubs."
"I take exception to that, yes, I really do," Piniella said. "I can take criticism, believe me, because invariably, in this business here you're gonna have to be able to take criticism and you're gonna have to have a thick skin. But at the same time, be at least correct in your assumptions."
The veteran manager wanted to make it clear that he still has the passion to manage the team.
"I've been in it from the first day I've been here, to the last day I leave here," Piniella said. "I take pride in the team winning and playing well to please our fan base, which to me is the best in baseball.
"We work extremely hard as a staff, and if you want to stick around 'til 1-1:30 a.m., 'til the parking lot is closed, because we're having meetings as to how we can get our team better, you'll see we are very interested and take a lot of pride in what we do."