MESA, Ariz. (AP) — The Chicago Cubs have tried pretty much everything else over the last century, so why not bring in a certified curse-buster?
Why not Kevin Millar, one of Boston’s most celebrated title-winning “idiots” of 2004? Why not one of several Red Sox players who took part in pre-game whiskey-sipping rituals to facilitate the end of the dreaded Curse of the Bambino? Why not the dude who made “Cowboy Up!” a Beantown rallying cry?
“I agree,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Tuesday. “The situation you’ve alluded to, I think we’re all aware of it … so your question is answered with a yes.”
Piniella can’t even bring himself to utter the word “curse.” Nevertheless, he acknowledges that the most championship-starved franchise in sports — 101 years and counting — could do worse than enlist the fun-loving Millar as a good-luck charm.
“It’s important that a team stays loose,” said Piniella, who blamed poor clubhouse chemistry for some of last season’s problems. “When you’ve got a guy with a knack for saying the right things, for pulling the right pranks, for making everybody relax, it’s valuable.
“In Chicago, the temperature rises and falls really quick, and a guy like Millar can deflect a lot of pressure. That’s why he’s here. We’re going to give him every opportunity. Let’s see if he’s got enough gas left in the tank.”
The 38-year-old Millar, a non-roster invitee to spring training, still has to make the team as a backup first baseman, emergency third baseman and pinch-hitter.
He’s familiar with the drill.
“Probably seven out of my 13 big-league camps, I’ve had to earn a job,” said Millar, a .274 career hitter. “This is the only way I really know. I’ve got an opportunity and a uniform, and I enjoy the battle.”
Millar became known throughout “Red Sox Nation” in 2003, when he urged Boston’s fear-the-worst fan base to “cowboy up.”
“It’s kind of a Texas version of ‘man up,’ and it took on a life of its own,” he said. “There were ‘Cowboy Up!’ songs and shirts and hats. We grinded and won the wild card, and that saying turned ‘The Nation’ into one big family.”
The Red Sox were within five outs of reaching the World Series in 2003 before falling to the Yankees — as usual. The Cubs, meanwhile, got within five outs of the NL pennant that year but came unhinged against Florida.
The following season, the Red Sox met the Yankees again for the AL title. “Cowboy Up!” remained a popular slogan, and Johnny Damon came up with an endearing name for the players: “Idiots.”
The Red Sox lost the first three games before winning the next two in dramatic fashion. Prior to Game 6, Millar and his mates took small sips of Jack Daniels from a Gatorade cup — and the Sox completed their unprecedented comeback to win the pennant.
With the “Curse of the Bambino” snapped, the Red Sox swept St. Louis for their first championship since 1918. Millar’s double keyed a four-run first inning in Game 1, and the rout was on.
Millar, who drives an enormous pickup truck featuring “COWBOY UP” logos on both front doors, the rear liftgate and the trailer hitch, hopes to bring the same kind of positive mojo to Wrigley Field.
“This is the year,” he said. “We won it in Boston in ’04 and it was nuts. If the Cubs win it in 2010, I challenge Chicago to make it as nuts or more. You’ve just got to believe this is the year.”
So what will Millar’s new rallying cry be? Cubbie Up, perhaps?
“I have to make the club first,” he said. “Then we’ll start working on that.”
NOTES: Though clearly impressed as top prospect Starlin Castro sprayed line drives to all fields during batting practice Tuesday, Piniella decided not to start the 19-year-old SS in Thursday’s exhibition opener vs. Oakland. Ryan Theriot will play short and bat leadoff. He’ll be followed by RF Kosuke Fukudome, 1B Derrek Lee, 3B Aramis Ramirez, CF Marlon Byrd, LF Tyler Colvin, 2B Mike Fontenot, C Geovany Soto and P Randy Wells.