Darwin Barney joined Casey Stern and Jim Bowden during Inside Pitch (MLB Network Radio/XM Radio) on Monday afternoon. The Cubs’ Gold Glove second baseman discussed a variety of Cubs’ topics as well as his relationship with Ryne Sandberg … and the Cubs are discussing pushing back Barney’s Gold Glove presentation until Sandberg is at Wrigley with the Phillies (August 30 – September 1). Barney also passed on a little insider information about how Sandberg possibly ended up in the Phillies organization.
Darwin Barney was very complimentary of Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo … and Barney said that Soriano is the best teammate he’s ever had.
Audio of Pat Hughes calling Darwin Barney’s game winning home run against the Padres on May 30 of last year and one of his many excellent defensive plays from last season provided the lead in to an excellent interview with the Cubs’ second baseman.
Casey Stern: Well, today on the show we are talking and counting down as our countdowns on Monday’s continue up to the season, the best defensive players in the sport. And I know this next player already, this young in his career, jumped into both of our top 10s overall in the sport … got a Gold Glove last year at second base. Here is the second baseman for the Chicago Cubs, Darwin Barney kind enough to join us again on MLB Network Radio. Darwin, Casey Stern and Jim Bowden, thanks for doing this again. How have you been man?
Darwin Barney: Sure guys, good to talk to you guys again.
Jim Bowden: Yea, good to have you back on Darwin. So, first of all how come you made three errors? The sun got in your eyes? What happened?
DW: (laughs) Well, one of them was at shortstop and that one hurt the most because that is what I came up as, I was bred as a shortstop. I moved over there and probably played there once all year and of course the one day I played there I made an error. So that one hurt.
CS: You know Darwin, the one thing that I had heard, at least a couple of years ago, and this tells you when you should or shouldn’t believe people, is that any ball that comes to you that you can make a play on but that you don’t have the best range at second base. Then I watched you play last year and I thought you had range to both sides, almost as good if not as good as anybody that I saw. Is that something you worked at or have changed? Or did people get a bad read on you? Have you heard the same things in terms of your range and what’s your take on that aspect of your game?
DW: In 2011 it was my first year at second base and I would have to somewhat agree with those guys. When you are reading balls on the left side of the infield your whole life, making that transition isn’t as easy as people might think. I struggled a little bit to my backhand side. About two months into the season I had a knee injury and I wore a brace for about a month and I think that definitely hurt me to my backhand side. It was on my left side leg, which is my plant on the backside, so my range wasn’t where it was last year. It definitely hurt me, hurt me being hurt a little bit, but I think going into the off-season being a second baseman and focusing on those angles and my approach over there really helped my range and brought out lengthening my range a little bit too for sure.
JB: Yea, no question about that and I remember three years ago when Casey and I were at Cubs camp and Gary Hughes, who used to work for the Cubs, told us about you …
DW: Yep …
JB: … And that is before you had made it. He said, “Watch out.” Forget the tools; forget the numbers, this kid can flat out play and this kid is going to be an everyday star player in the big leagues. And there you were three years later. But can you talk about how you got from the fourth round to where you are now? Who changed positions for you and what was the reason when you changed from short to second?
DW: Gosh, it is a long story. I was always too small. I was drafted in the fourth round. I wasn’t drafted out of high school and in Oregon, my senior year, I led the league in every offensive category there was. I led the whole state in average, in home runs and all of the stuff and I never got drafted. That right there told me I am not big enough, my arm is not good enough, I’m not fast enough and all kinds of stuff like that. So, I went into college really focusing on my career there and never realistically thinking about pro baseball. Once I made that jump to professional baseball I was lucky enough to have Ryne Sandberg as my manager on four of my teams. Where that comes into play is, when I was in Triple-A, Starlin Castro was in Double-A. I was leading the league in hitting, leading the league in fielding percentage and they called up Castro from Double-A. I sat down with Ryno and was like, what are we going to have to do? I got passed up by this guy and I’m having one of the better years of my life. So we started working every day at second base. I still played shortstop. I went in the next year trying to be a backup shortstop and luckily they gave me a chance to play second base. You just never know … but I definitely had to work hard to get where I am at.
CS: Nine Gold Gloves in a row for Ryne Sandberg and Ryno one of the best we’ve ever seen at the position. Did you get a chance to have a chat with him or converse with him at all after you won the Gold Glove? And if I can Darwin, can you think back to the number one bit of advice that stood out to you above everything else you got from Ryno, what was it at second base?
DW: Well, Ryno is one of those guys that when he talks you listen. He is not going to say something that is not important. Anyone that played with him back in the day knows that he was kind of that quiet, unspoken, kind of guy. I think what I got from him was the kind of person you want to be in the big leagues. The kind of demeanor, the kind of competitiveness … he definitely had that kind of competitiveness. Gosh, he probably got thrown out, like every three weeks in the minor leagues as a manager because he was so competitive. He taught me how to have a routine and take that routine day in and day out and work on it and get better at it. Man, it was pretty special being with a guy like him. I talked to him a little bit after I broke his consecutive errorless record, errorless streak, and he told me he was proud of me and he wouldn’t rather have anyone else do it. We’ve been talking with Dale and Jamie Quirk, our head coaches over here obviously in Chicago, about possibly pushing the Gold Glove ceremony back until Philly is in town so that Ryno can be there to see it and be a part of it. So, that would be kind of special.
JB: You’re listening to Darwin Barney, the Gold Glove winner of the Chicago Cubs, the second baseman. Darwin, Ryne Sandberg’s name comes up a lot with managerial openings. Didn’t even get an interview with the Cubs, now he’s coaching for the Phillies and there are a lot of people that think he could be in line to eventually replace Charlie Manuel. But, why do you think the Cubs did not even give him an interview for their managerial opening?
DW: You know, insider information, I think there was a miscommunication. I’m pretty sure he was still offered a job in Triple-A with the Cubs but when it comes down to it, Ryne Sandberg in Chicago is Ryne Sandberg the Hall of Famer. He is Ryne Sandberg the second baseman. He’s not necessarily Ryne Sandberg as a manager. So, I think getting out of Chicago and going to Philly, which is his first home, he was traded over to Chicago in Triple-A, I think that is important to him. He is probably over there and guys look at him as a manager and they respect him that way. I think he definitely won over anybody he managed in Chicago but to the fan base and to all of those kind of people, I think he will always be Ryne Sandberg the amazing second baseman, Hall of Famer, so maybe it is good for him to make the move. I think he is definitely ready to be a manager, I think he was at the time. I saw him at Low-A and the transformation he made to Triple-A and the kind of guy he was as a manager, it is pretty unbelievable. I think that a guy that is as competitive as him, what he needed was guys around him that were the same. That were baseball was kind of what their life is and he kinda struggled with that in the lower levels because there were guys that were kinda there for fun and it wasn’t what they were there for. I hope the best for him and I’m sure someday he’ll be at the helm.
CS: Talking to Darwin Barney, second baseman for the Chicago Cubs as we countdown the best of the very best defensively. You talk about Starlin Castro. So let’s talk about your double play partner. You know having played the position how important shortstop is. Defensively you don’t want to get into a scenario where the shortstop is having the most errors of any middle infielder in all of baseball, second or short, which he did a year ago. We know the tools are there. What did you see? You are next to him. Was it a focus issue? Is it mechanics? Is it just growing pains? Breakdown what you saw for those that might look at that error number and be wowed by how big it was with 27 a year ago for Castro.
DW: If you guys played baseball you remember where you were at when you were 21. The things you were doing in your life and this guy is playing shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. So, I know when I was 21 I was nowhere near mentally ready to play at this level and this guy is so talented that his tools overcome his mentality and where he is at. I sat down and talked to him many times, obviously we converse a lot about what we are trying to do. That is something he wants to work on … is being mentally prepared on every single pitch. Sometimes you can forget a guy that is as good and as talented as he is, that he is still a youngster … 21 or 22-year old, a two or three year vet on this team. I think he is only going to get better. I think the sky is the limit for him. It is a lot of fun playing next to a guy that is that athletic and sometimes you are in awe on the plays that he makes in the hole and how easy the throws are for him. I think he is going to stick there and I think he is obviously the guy us there and it is a lot of fun and a privilege to play next to him.
JB: Yea, no question about it and how fortunate is he to have you as his double play combo and also have a left fielder like Alfonso Soriano, who’s work ethic is ridiculous. I was so glad to see the year he had last year, 30 homers, 100 RBI, top 20 in MVP. Can you talk about the importance of Soriano in the clubhouse and in the weight room and the work ethic he brings every single day to the ballpark?
DW: Yea, that is something that, especially Dale Sveum was very surprised about. When you talk to someone that is on the other side, who is, say with the Brewers or with the Reds or something, and they look at a guy like Soriano and they just figure that he’s just out there continuing his career. He’s not working hard, he’s this and that. But one of things that was most surprising to Dale was when he came over that, the work ethic and the kind of guy Soriano was. He is the best teammate I have had at any level. He comes to the park happy every day. He feels blessed. He doesn’t take anything for granted. He makes people around him better. A lot of guys that are talented, do not do that. Don’t make people around them better. He’s the kind of guy that is fun to play with. He is just a special guy. You are not going to meet another guy like Soriano. A good story on him last year is we had early hitting and usually the younger guys are the ones that do that but Soriano wasn’t hitting but he was in the outfield taking some fly balls off the bat. Dale went up to him and was like hey, man why don’t you go get a break? And he goes, hey Papi, I need to get better out here. I need to be out here. So, that’s the kind of guy he is. The guy has made what, $150 million dollars in the game and he’s played for 10-15 years or so and he still has that mentality … that’s one of a kind right there.
CS: Darwin, we started to see the last three months of last year what many for years have expected when they look at the talent of your first baseman, Anthony Rizzo. When you look at this club and certainly the two of you in the middle of the infield and some of the young players and young catchers and others that will be in camp, a lot offensively could ride, in terms of run production, on this big bat at first base. Can you talk about Anthony Rizzo and how impressive he was the latter half of last season?
DW: We are definitely going to need a lot out of him and I think he knows that. I think he’s ready. He’s another guy that the reason they say we are a few years away is that our core pieces, like him and Castro, are so young. As much as he grew last year in that last few months he was with us, it looks really bright. He is definitely an easy leader. He works hard. He is just one of those guys where the couple of adjustments he made in his swing made huge differences and huge strides for him. There is no doubt in my mind he is going to be a 30-100 guy in the next year or two. He is a huge piece for us I think. When you saw him come in last year before we had to bail on most of our veterans at the deadline, our team was different. When he came in, it lengthened out our lineup and gave us a little pop. Someone they had to work around with Sori behind him. So he is definitely a very important piece to our lineup.
JB: About six years ago, Darwin, I scouted Josh Vitters in high school. He and Michael Moustakas and Matt Dominguez were the three high school third basemen here in Southern California. All had great potential. I thought Moustakas was one, Vitters was two and Dominguez would be three. And now Vitters seems to be the one that’s third. I’m just curious, back then his bat speed was as good as you can see tremendous power. He needed to work on his defense and the ball away from him. But I saw last year, at least at Triple-A where he hit over .300, had 17 homers, 60 RBI. Is he developing and why is he taking so long? I know he is only 22 as well, so he is another a young guy, but what have you seen with his progression?
DW: You know, everyone has their own opinions on things like that and my opinion is that on a guys that doesn’t go to college you’ve gotta give him time. I had three years under my belt of competitive, learning how to win College Baseball. A guy that comes out of high school … him and I were drafted the same year, we went to instructs together. We did the whole thing. He’s definitely going to develop into a good Major League player. The timing you just don’t know. Again, he is 22 years old and I think he has proven that he has all of those tools. Look at what he did in Triple-A and it is tough the first time you come up to the big leagues. So, people don’t need to look too far into his numbers that first, what 60 at bats that he got, or whatever, 100 at bats. Every guy is different how they handle things and Josh is very good at handling situations like that so I am not worried about him at all. It is just a matter of when things are going to click for him. I’m a big believer that in baseball when one thing clicks, everything can turn and hopefully that happens for him pretty soon.
CS: Darwin, one more from my end. You talked about people saying the club is two or three years away, they are too young. Can you take anything collectively? I am not saying you go in there and speech, hey let’s try and do what the A’s and Orioles did last year. But last year in this sport we had two teams that probably sat in the same boat before the season from the outside. Collectively inside believe in each other and all of the sudden that timeline, if you will, come way forward and both ended up in the playoffs. Is there something to take from that for a younger team like yourself to at least prove look across the way and say hey look you know what nobody cares what everybody says about us, these two teams just last year proved that you know did it now and we don’t have to wait.
DW: Yea, that’s, that’s true. That is true in baseball more than most other sports like basketball and football where it is not like Miami is going to get run over until the playoffs … You know what I mean? The thing is that pitching and defense take you a long way. If you look at Oakland and the pitching staff they had it is pretty phenomenal. You look at the Orioles and they had so many different contributors in the pitching staff. We went out and we tried to strengthen ourselves, pitching and defensive side of the game. I think we have done that. We brought in a lot of high character guys that are going to give you innings. We are all really excited about the Jackson signing and all the other guys we picked up. It is a thrill for us. There is a lot of optimism in our clubhouse. You would have never known we lost 100 games last year because of how well everyone got along. We all have one goal and that is obvious and that is not like we even need to talk about that. Obviously teams doing that open your eyes a little bit to things working out but you gotta go one step at a time and just worry about Spring Training. Just get yourself ready and we will worry about that later.
CS: Darwin, we always appreciate it. We will see you when we do our 30 and 30 in a few weeks out in Arizona. Thanks as always for the time; we will talk to you soon.
DW: Sure guys, it was a pleasure.