Barrett still making headlines in Chicago

Jeff Vorva

Michael Barrett is gone, but not forgotten.

Barrett, whom the Cubs traded to San Diego earlier in the week, was scrutinized Friday for something he didn’t say, as well as something he may or may not have said.

Wednesday night, Barrett spoke at a news conference in San Diego. When asked about his relationship with Cubs manager Lou Piniella, Barrett said all the right things. However, Barrett had a smirk on his face when answering the question, and had to cover his mouth to suppress a grin. That led some to believe he wasn’t being genuine with his answer.

Piniella, who said he did not see a tape of the news conference, tried to put to rest speculation that he and Barrett did not get along.

“I had a great relationship with Michael. I really did,” Piniella said. “I like Michael. I had many nice conversations with the young man. I was supportive. He gave me everything he had.”

Another controversy involving Barrett bubbled Friday when a newspaper reporter speculated to a Chicago radio station that Barrett was a “mole” who leaked information to an ESPN reporter that players were ripping Piniella during a May 30 players-only meeting.

One Cubs official said the team doesn’t believe Barrett did that. A source close to Barrett said the catcher would be “incredibly hurt” if he heard that rumor.

‘Z’ speaks

Pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who on June 1 twice fought with Barrett, finally broke his silence on the trade of his former batterymate.

“It’s sad. Believe me, I didn’t want to talk about this because nobody wants to be traded,” Zambrano said. “I know he didn’t want to be traded. I wish him the best. Wherever he goes and does next year, I wish him the best. He was a teammate. He was a guy who was behind you. Good guy. Great guy. That’s all I have to say about him.”

Culture club

After Friday’s 5-1 win over the White Sox, Piniella’s team is 33-39. That’s not exactly what he had in mind when he came to the Cubs and said during his first news conference (Nov. 17): “We’re going to win here, and that’s the end of the story.”

Does he regret those words now?

“Look, what was my job coming in? To say, ‘Well, we’re going to compete and have a decent ballclub, we lost a lot of ballgames last year and we’re going to improve?’ ” Piniella said. “My job was to be as positive as possible and get my team to feel that way. The biggest challenge a manager has in this situation is to change the culture. If I don’t change the culture here, I’m not going to succeed as a manger. Period. It’s a tough job. It’s not an easy job. I found that out. I really found that out.

“I’ve learned a hell of a lot in a short period of time here. But still, you have to change the culture. If not, they’ll bring in a new staff in here in whatever period of time and they’ll be talking about the same thing.”

Through his first 72 games as Cubs skipper, Piniella said he’s seen a lot of strange things that he had never seen anywhere else during his career.

“I hadn’t seen anything like this, I’ll be honest with you,” Piniella said. “I didn’t expect that. I really didn’t. We’ve lost some awfully, awfully tough games that you’re leaving the park and you’re shaking your head and saying, ‘How?’ ”

Floyd hopeful about father

Last weekend, outfielder Cliff Floyd was not expecting his ailing father, Cornelius, to have surgery. The elder Floyd has been hospitalized since June 9 because of a kidney ailment.

On Tuesday, however, Cornelius Floyd underwent heart surgery, which lasted 3∏ hours.

Cliff Floyd said he’s still hopeful about his father’s recovery, but doesn’t want to say much more.

“Things change so (deleted) much,” Floyd said. “I don’t want to say much more until I know for sure what’s happening. But I think he’s doing better.”

Short hops

Hitting coach Gerald Perry was back in the dugout during the game after serving a three-game suspension for his role in Saturday’s brawl with San Diego. ... Zambrano (8-6, 4.27 ERA) said he would like to go to the All-Star Game this season but “that’s up to (National League manager) Tony (La Russa). He’s the man. I want to go. But it’s up to him.” ... Catcher Henry Blanco (herniated disc in his neck) tried hitting and throwing Friday.