Folks on the South Side generally don’t like it when that team up north gets brought up in a positive light. But don’t get mad at the messenger. Get mad at the guy who once got a Cubs catcher to punch him in the face.
A.J. Pierzynski was back at Guaranteed Rate Field for Thursday’s home opener, and he was lobbed a question (multiple ones, actually) about managing and what kind of skipper he would be. He named a couple of guys he’d like to emulate — including Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
“If I get to a point where I’m ever given the opportunity to do that, you want to try to be a players’ guy, that’s the biggest thing,” Pierzynski said. “You’ve got to have the players trust you. You look at Maddon, different guys that are very successful, (Houston Astros manager A.J.) Hinch and Maddon and those guys, they have the players’ ear, they have the players’ trust.
“The No. 1 job, I truly believe, to be a good manager, especially in today’s world, you’ve got to have the players believe that no matter where you put them or how you put them in and what situation, they’re going to succeed. You’ve got to have communication with them. All you guys who covered me know that I was a guy that if there was a problem I’d go right up to people. That’s the biggest thing is have an open door, let the players have a little bit of say, give them structure but also let them have a say and be able to communicate with them so they know where they stand.”
Being like Maddon isn’t a bad thing, of course. The guy’s got a World Series ring, taken two teams to the Fall Classic and is a period of impressive success with the Cubs, who have advanced to the National League Championship Series in each of his three seasons on the North Side. And his unique managerial style is lauded around the game. Maddon’s relationship with his players, per Pierzynski is something worth emulating.
And Pierzynski wasn’t the only one with kind words about the Cubs’ manager. Hawk Harrelson, starting his last season in the White Sox booth, had good things to say about the skipper whose home park Harrelson has vowed never to set foot in again.
“We’re lucky because in my opinion we have two of the best managers in the game in this city,” Harrelson said. “I’m one of Joe’s biggest fans, and after watching Rick Renteria, I’m one of his biggest fans. He’s the right man in the right place.”
Surely, Harrelson would like to see his good buddy Pierzynski have a more successful managerial career than even Maddon.
“A.J., whatever he wants to do in the game, he’ll be successful in it. He’s always proven that,” Harrelson said. “It’s a different game today than when I played, there’s no question about that. And handling players today is the most important thing. The chemistry has never been bigger than it is today because you’ve got so many different aspects. You’ve got the analytics and the sabremetrics, you’ve got all this other stuff coming in. When he came up, he didn’t have that.”
Pierzynski’s time might eventually come, with recently retired big leaguers the new trend when it comes to skippers. And new New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone provides a very recent example of pulling a skipper from the broadcasting ranks.
If and when the times comes for Pierzynski to sit in the manager’s chair, he can count on having a big fan in Harrelson, who might have to jump his longtime friend above Maddon and Renteria on his list of favorite skippers in baseball.