Cliff Floyd is a South Side Chicago native. Signed to a contract the Cubs this season for his powerful left-handed bat, he adds a missing piece to the puzzle for the Cubs. In this interview, he talks about the pressure of playing in his hometown, if he’s happy platooning and what really tries Lou Piniella’s patience.
The Heckler: You grew up in the south suburbs. Were you a fan of the Cubs or the Sox growing up?
Cliff Floyd: I was a big Cubs fan because I liked the “Sarge” [Gary Matthews] and “Bull” [Leon Durham], Jody Davis, and “Ryno” [Ryne Sandberg] and all those guys, but I was a Sox fan because I got to see them at night time. Night games were better for my schedule, so that’s how pretty much I ended up being a Sox fan, but I liked them both. I liked Harold Baines, but being a fan of the “Bull” makes me a Cubs fan.
TH: Does being from the Chicago area put any more pressure on you?
CF: It could, but I’m not going to let it affect me. If I was younger and earlier in my career, you might have to worry about that, but I have one objective, and that’s winning, and I don’t think anything’s going to stop that from happening.
TH: Is winning the reason you came to the Cubs?
CF: Yeah, I thought Jim Hendry did a great job of putting a team together. I didn’t have a lot of opportunities. I had a few opportunities to go to the American League, but I thought this was a good fit for me. They needed a left-handed hitter. They have a right-handed dominate team, and I knew I was a good fit. It was an opportunity for me to come home and play, not only for a ring, but in front of my family before the end of my career.
TH: What’s your impression of this team so far this spring?
CF: I know one thing: Lou’s got us ready to play. He’s a no-nonsense type of guy and our expectations are really high. I don’t want to take anything away from Dusty. I think Dusty is a great manager and a great person, but I think playing under Lou, not knowing him but asking around, he is straight-forward. I think we will benefit from that. You know what’s happened in the last few years, and hopefully, that’s all in the past. I think Lou has put this team up there in terms of us playing a high caliber every night. I think you’ll see a difference, and I think you’ll see a better team this year.
TH: In the past, the Cubs were known for bad fundamentals and bad base running. What has Lou Piniella stressed so that doesn’t happen this year?
CF: For one, he doesn’t have the patience for pitchers throwing balls. He’s stressed that tremendously. And to the hitters, he stressed to make sure we stay on top of our game and work hard, and don’t make stupid mistakes every game. Mistakes happen, and that’s why you have the “E” on the board, but to keep away from stupid running mistakes, overthrowing the cutoff man, and simply catching the ball. I think we’ve really bought into his system, and I think you’re going to see guys more focused. I missed some balls the first game, and I came back to the dugout and he said, “Damn son, let’s go.” He doesn’t care what game it is. He wants to win every single day and I think that’s important.
TH: Are you ready to play out in the field, and do you think you’ll be comfortable in left field at Wrigley?
CF: I’ve played there and I enjoyed playing there. The only thing I’ve ever thought about in playing for the Cubs was the day games. In order to succeed here, you have to understand the situation. You can’t be going out and doing things that prevent you from performing at a high level every day. Take care of yourself, take care of your body and make sure you’re ready to play every day. As far as injuries, my foot hasn’t bothered me at all this spring. I’m not going to use my foot as an excuse. I feel like I’m going to have a great year. Lou has a lot of options, and I think he’s going to use the options the best he can, and everybody is going to be fresh.
TH: How does a player have to adjust differently to playing all of those day games?
CF: We have a lot of veteran players. I think it’s more about traveling home and having a day game after playing a night game the day before. I don’t think he’s going to play me in a day game after a night game, especially early. I think once I get into a good flow, I’m going to try to make it as hard as possible for him, and that’s my job, to make it as hard as possible for him to keep me out of the lineup. Matt Murton’s job is to do that too. We don’t have to worry about making out that lineup card. We just have to make it hard for him to keep us out of the lineup. If we do that, we’re going to do a lot of things right.
TH: Right now you’re scheduled to share left field with Murton, and being a lefty, you’re going to get a bigger share of the playing time. How do you feel about sharing the job?
CF: I’ve never thought about it that way. It’s the first time in a while I’ve had to think about it. This is the hand I’ve been dealt. I’ve been hurt in my career and I have to go out there again and prove I can play every day, and if I do that, we won’t have any problems. I know Murton wants to play and rightfully so. I don’t think anybody’s going to be disappointed or frustrated. I think we’re just going to play together as a team, and do what we’re supposed to do.
TH: You’ve had a lot of injuries in your career. Some guys never seem to get injured, while others seem to be injured all of the time. Is it just bad luck? What do you think has been the situation with your career?
CF: I’ve looked back on my injuries, and I haven’t had the pulled muscles or the pulled obliques and stuff like that. It hasn’t been muscles with me. I’ve broken bones and torn tendons. I would attribute it to bad luck. I really do. I broke my wrist playing first base in 1994 at the start of my career. I’ve had two knee surgeries, once when I slipped on a base in Florida. My Achilles was the biggest thing. I think that it’s really more bone spurs than the Achilles. You have to let it heal. It takes a little longer with bone.
TH: The team had a lack of power last year and that’s one of the main reasons you were brought in. Wrigley Field is known as a hitters’ park, but historically, the wind blows in more than it does out. As a hitter, is there a temptation to try to jack the ball? What is your approach going to be?
CF: You go with the flow. If the wind’s blowing in, you better change your approach. One thing that has been stressed this spring with everybody is that the division itself . Houston is a good hitter’s ballpark. Cincinnati and Milwaukee are good hitter’s ballparks. When you think about these ballparks, especially as a lefty, you can get pull conscious big time. Playing in the Central, you have to realize that if you just stay within yourself, chances are you’re going to have a pretty good year, and I think our team is set up to do that. Our lineup, other than Izturis, can pretty much drive you out of the ballpark at anytime. I think Lou has seen it enough this spring that we’re not going to do a lot of running. I think he’ll sit back in the first few innings and look for the three run homer. We can play small ball too, and hopefully we’ll put that all together and have a pretty good year.
TH: Is there anything in particular that Lou has said he would like to see from you this year?
CF: All he wants me to do is to stay healthy.
TH: With the Cubs, every spring training seems to focus on Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Is it still that way, or is it more about the team now?
CF: It’s more team now. I think a lot of pub went to them in the past years and rightfully so. They were great talents, but once you get yourself into the league for a few years, that pub wears off and it becomes a team. That’s how it should be. Everybody talks about Soriano and $136 million, and he doesn’t care about that. Of course he’s filthy rich, but that’s not why you play the game. I think when you get guys on a team that don’t look at that as the reason they come to the ballpark, that’s the way you win ball games. I think it’s going to be a special year and I think it would be a shame for anybody not to want to be a part of this.
TH: Jim Hendry has known you since he tried to recruit you out of high school from Thornton, and you’ve always been someone that’s been a favorite of his. Was there ever an opportunity before for you to come to the Cubs and what made it work this time?
CF: There was once a three-way trade when I was with New York, but it fell through at the end. This time he knew I had a procedure in the off-season, and he said if I could prove to him and the trainer that I was healthy enough and had healed good enough, that he wanted an opportunity for me to come home and play for him for a year or two. I told him if he thought that I was a good fit and could help him win, that I would love to, and that’s how it came about.
TH: As a player when you are involved in trade rumors, how does it affect your psyche?
CF: It affects you. People say ‘I’m not worried about that’ and ‘I’m trying to play my game.’ Yeah right. It’s not that easy. Our bodies don’t work that way. If you’re talking about the mental part of the game, that’s playing tricks with your concentration. If you go out there thinking ‘I have to do well because I know scouts are in the stands,’ chances are you’re not going to do well. If you go out there knowing everything is cool. You’ve got your contract and you know you’re going to be on the team and that they’re not thinking about trading you, you’re pretty much free and easy. But once that deadline comes and you start hearing your name, and the team ain’t doing well, there’s just something about that and you just don’t play well. You can’t really let it go until after, that’s why in my opinion it’s good not to hear that junk. If you get traded, just trade the guy and let it be a shock at that particular time.
TH: I’m sure you’re familiar with the bleacher bums. Now that you’re a Cub, what’s your impression of the bleacher bums?
CF: When I wasn’t a Cub, they were tough. Hopefully with me now being a Cub, they’ll welcome me with open arms. If there’s one thing I learned through my years, if you play hard, the fans love you. Hopefully we’ll play good baseball and these fans will enjoy a good summer in Chi-town.
TH: In the past, some of the more popular players on the Cubs would toss warm up balls into the stands between innings, and last year that stopped. Is that something you think you might bring back this year?
CF: I hope so. We haven’t really discussed a lot of stuff about how they want things to go, but we’ll see. I know Derrek is a fan favorite and he always tosses one up, so we’ll see what happens.