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Larry Rothschild Trades Up To Yankees, Spares Self Aggravation Of Zambrano, Rebuilding

Larry Rothschild has left the Cubs after nine years -- was it personal reasons? To get away from the Zambrano soap opera? Or just a move up?

You have to believe Larry Rothschild's first explanation why he abruptly left the Cubs Friday after nine seasons as pitching coach under five different managers.

If you've ever seen Rothschild's kids cavorting in left field at Wrigley Field after a game at mid-summer, you know how much family means to him. Those kids live in Tampa, where the Homewood-Flossmoor alum had moved years ago, and he wasn't about to take them out of school to join him all season in Chicago.

Meanwhile, the Yankees' player development operation is headquartered in Tampa. The Yankees train in Tampa. And they visit Tropicana Field two to three times a season to play the Rays.

"It came about in part being in Tampa and the family being in spring training," Rothschild said. "It’s got less to do with leaving the Cubs than the opportunity of being with the family and being with the Yankees. The opportunity presented itself.

"I had talked to Jim (Hendry) off and on about opportunities close to home (in spring training). I’m only about a mile from the spring training stadium. To be there on a daily basis is a great opportunity. 

"I didn’t feel it was time to leave the Cubs. It’s hard because I’m close with Mike Quade and I have a lot of respect for him as a baseball person. I had a nice run with the Cubs. People treated me well here. To allow me to do this is a rare opportunity."

But, always in baseball, there is a story behind the story.

No. 1, the Yankees won't have a mess of kids fighting for rotation jobs and bullpen slots like the Cubs. The Steinbrenner family mandate is win the World Series every season -- no rebuilding or patching. Rothschild has traded up to the premier job in the game, working for a manager with whom he has rapport. Joe Girardi was in his final season of his pair of Cubs catching tenures in 2002 when Rothschild signed on as pitching coach under Don Baylor.  The two hit it off immediately, and are now re-united.

For four seasons, Rothschild was on a bit of pins and needles situation. Dusty Baker became manager in 2003. Baker imported buddy Dick Pole as bench coach. Yet Pole was miscast -- he really was a pitching coach. Pole's presence made things a slightly tricky co-existence for Rothschild, who refused to comment at the time about these relationships. 

He endured another more aggravating personality wire to wire as pitching coach. He'll never say so publicly, but Rothschild now rids himself of a nine-year headache named Carlos Zambrano. Big Z drove Rothschild to exasperation with his temper tantrums and refusal to use his hard sinker to pitch more to contact, get quicker outs and cut down his pitch count.

When Zambrano got hot in late August, Rothschild initially was not sold. He cautioned the revived Zambrano was working against late-season lineups and still had not regained his old velocity. He might have softened that criticism by the time Big Z ended up 8-0, but it's still clear the enigmatic right hander wore on Rothschild.

"You saw him at the end of the year," Rothschild said Friday. "He pitched very well. I think he figured out the last two months of the year not to worry as much about the velocity as (compared) to location and movement. He has a chance to be a very good pitcher."

And now Rothschild's father, Fred Rothschild, has a personal rooting interest in his favorite team.

"My dad has been a lifelong Yankees fan," he said. "It put a smile on my face. He was very happy with the news. I grew up going to Comiskey Park watching the Yankees all the time."

The Cubs say they'll have a successor on the job soon after Thanksgiving. To listen to scouting director Tim Wilken in an unrelated conversation earlier Friday, minor-league pitching coordinator Mark Riggins should be a prime candidate. Wilken credited Riggins with development of a number of his drafted prospects.

Rothschild departs with a host of critics who think he was linked with Kerry Wood's and Mark Prior's injuries, and Zambrano's meltdowns. But the nay-sayers must've been shocked when the Yankees came calling. That's an endorsement, and not one of failure.