Lou Piniella skimmed some sports publications recently to see what the analysts think of his defending World Series champion Cincinnati Reds.
Some don’t think too highly of them, and that’s exactly what Piniella hoped to see.
He told a media luncheon Monday that one of his main tasks this year is guarding against a letdown by his players. Projections that his team will finish near the middle of the pack in the National League West become a good tool to that end.
“Our ballclub last year was picked to finish what, fourth or fifth in the division? We’re like Rodney Dangerfield, we get no respect here now,” Piniella said. “I see where a lot of people are picking us for third already.
“It’s a good situation to be in. They didn’t quite believe after last year. They’ll believe after this season’s over.”
The Reds used the public’s doubts as motivation last year, when they won their first National League West title in 11 years, beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs, and swept the Oakland A’s in the World Series.
Respect remains a sore spot for the Reds, who remember that several Oakland players were unwilling to concede they’d been beaten by a better team.
Pitcher Tom Browning said he’d love to make the World Series again to prove the A’s wrong.
The Reds became the first National League team since the ’76 “Big Red Machine” to sweep a World Series. Now they’re trying to become the first team since the 1977-78 New York Yankees to win consecutive world championships.
Piniella played for those Yankees teams, and remembers how hard it was to repeat. The Yankees overcame a 14-game deficit in the second half of the ’78 season to catch Boston, beat the Red Sox in a playoff, and went on to beat the Dodgers in six games for their second Series title.
“I remember the ’78 club went down to Ft. Lauderdale (for spring training) and enjoyed the fun and sun and didn’t get ready to play baseball,” Piniella said. “At the All-Star break we were 14 1/2 games out.”
Piniella will keep that in mind when the Reds open spring training Feb. 22 at Plant City, Fla.