Does anyone even remember when Joe Girardi was supposedly tempted by the Cubs job?
As the cameras rolled and reporters strained to take photos on their iPhones, Rick Renteria posed with Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and buttoned up a No. 16 jersey. The new manager got an up-close look at the Chicago media on Thursday at Wrigley Field, inside a stadium club that felt nothing like the interview room/dungeon.
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This was the same day the New York Yankees introduced All-Star catcher Brian McCann at a news conference in The Bronx – part of a $238 million spending spree that also includes World Series hero Jacoby Ellsbury – and prepared for a $200 million showdown with Robinson Cano, Jay-Z and the Seattle Mariners.
Renteria won’t be getting those kinds of toys this winter. Sources say there’s skepticism the Cubs can win a bidding war for Masahiro Tanaka (if the Japanese ace even gets posted). Epstein reported “no new developments” with Jeff Samardzija, who’s in no hurry to sign a long-term contract, which means the Opening Day starter will be on the trading block.
Girardi – the Yankees manager who grew up in Peoria, graduated from Northwestern University and played on the North Side – would have created the biggest splash this winter. But officials from both sides believe that was an October drama manufactured for leverage.
Still, the Cubs believe Renteria has the right personality at the right time. They hope he’s a bilingual voice that will get through to Latin American players. They think he can coach up their young core.
“I want this to be a club that gives you a tremendous effort and goes out there every single day wanting to fight,” Renteria said. “We have to have expectations for our club. No one goes into any season thinking they’re going to fail. We go in there just like anybody else – anticipating success and hopefully putting these guys in a position that gives them the best chance to do that.”
Renteria will turn 52 on Christmas Day and said he’s recovering from the hip surgery that prevented him from traveling to Chicago when he got hired last month.
Epstein will be on his second manager in Year 3 of this rebuild, so Renteria won’t get the same benefit of the doubt as Dale Sveum. Renteria talked about being even-keel – one of Sveum’s buzzwords – and promised his players would run hard to first base.
People who have worked with Renteria say don’t let the public image fool you. It’s not just a power-of-positive-thinking message. He grew up in a tough neighborhood near Los Angeles, clawed out a career as a utility guy, played in Mexico and managed eight years in the minors.
“Oh, I can get hot,” Renteria said. “I think any competitor can get hot. I think you got to pick your spots. I don’t think players, quite frankly, appreciate people just losing it for the sake of losing it. Will I do it for the sake of people watching me do it? No. You may not see me do it at all. I can’t guarantee that.
“When it happens, it’s got to be the right time. Those things kind of take care of themselves. I think it’s a ‘feel’ thing. Most players respond if you’re a guy that’s pretty even-keeled and you end up losing it. They understand that you mean business. Then it means a little bit more. But for the most part, I think a lot of times conversations need to be had behind closed doors.”
Renteria will be the franchise’s fourth different manager in five seasons on Opening Day 2014. He’s taking over a last-place team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908, at a time when it’s being run like a mid-market operation. He stood there in front of the cameras and smiled for the before picture.