OAKLAND, Calif. -- If the Cubs want veteran manager Lou Piniella, the feeling appears to be mutual -- especially with the New York Yankees no longer an option for 2007.
Piniella expressed deep interest in the Cubs job during an exclusive interview Tuesday with the Sun-Times before Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
''Yeah, I've talked to the Cubs,'' said Piniella, who is broadcasting the ALCS for Fox. ''Chicago is a wonderful city. And the Cubs are a very storied franchise. They have great fans. I had a nice conversation with their general manager, Jim Hendry. He's a real baseball guy. We just have to wait and see what happens.
''I've always enjoyed going to Chicago as a player and as a manager. It's truly one of the great cities in our country. Being a part of turning around the Cubs would be a challenge.''
Piniella made the most of his trip to the Bay Area, meeting privately with San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean on Tuesday to discuss that team's managerial opening. Piniella also confirmed he met last week in Tampa, Fla., with Hendry -- becoming the first candidate to formally interview for the Cubs job.
Sources close to Piniella say the Cubs are tops on his wish list as teams zero in on one of the hottest candidates on the market.
''I had a very enjoyable time talking baseball with Lou,'' Hendry said Tuesday night, after interviewing internal candidate Mike Quade, manager at Class AAA Iowa. ''Lou has been a terrific manager for a very long time. He is certainly a strong candidate for any job in baseball.''
Even with Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly -- also a long shot for the Giants job -- interviewing this week in Arizona with Hendry, Piniella and former Florida Marlins manager Joe Girardi are believed to be the top two candidates by a wide margin to replace Dusty Baker.
Girardi interviewed with the Cubs on Monday at Wrigley Field, and Hendry described the meeting in glowing terms. The Cubs seem split on fan favorite Girardi or battle-tested Piniella.
The Cubs, Giants and Texas Rangers are each interested in Piniella. The former Yankees manager had been rumored to replace Joe Torre had there been a shake up in the Bronx. But Torre's status for 2007 apparently is safe after owner George Steinbrenner confirmed he will return for the final season of his contract.
Piniella was monitoring the Torre saga from the West Coast.
''I'm sorry he had to go through that rigamarole,'' Piniella said of Torre.
Piniella was widely believed to be the top candidate to replace Torre had the Yankees made a change.
After taking a year off from managing -- leaving his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays in mid-contract at the end of the 2005 season -- Piniella, 63, appears ready to return to the dugout with a new outlook on the job.
''I've had fun all summer with the broadcasting,'' said Piniella, who has managed the Yankees, Cincinnati Red (including a World Series championship in 1990), the Seattle Mariners and Devil Rays. ''It has given me a reprieve for a year from the dugout and the clubhouse. And it has been good in a way because it has given me a little different perspective. More of the entertainment aspect of the game. More of a light-hearted approach, and it's good.
''Listen, winning is important, obviously. But I've gotten an opportunity to see the other side of it. It's a fun side.''
Mention Chicago and Wrigley Field, though, and Piniella immediately lights up. He has told close friends that reaching the Hall of Fame as a manager is one of his goals. A nice run in Chicago -- with the national limelight that constantly shines on the Cubs -- would enhance those chances.
''You know the Cubs, basically, outside of the Yankees, they are, prestige-wise in baseball, second or third,'' Piniella said. ''Basically, I've had a nice managerial career and I would hate for it to end with three losing seasons in Tampa Bay. Yeah, we'll see what happens.''
Piniella is also well aware of the Cubs' need to win now -- they haven't won a World Series in 98 years.
''With the White Sox winning just a short year ago, it was great for the city,'' Piniella said. ''So it would be great if that could be duplicated on the North Side -- and quickly.''
Unlike their relatively public courtship with Girardi, the Cubs have been tight-lipped in their dealings involving Piniella -- mainly out of respect for the veteran's wishes.
''I wanted it kept a pretty good secret,'' Piniella said with a smile. ''Whatever happens is going to happen, and as quiet as possible the better -- for everybody involved.''
As for the open market elsewhere for managers, sources confirmed that White Sox third-base coach Joey Cora interviewed with the Nationals on Monday. Cora, 41, has never managed in the majors, but has three years of experience managing in the minor leagues.
The Nationals also reportedly interviewed Houston Astros bench coach Cecil Cooper. Former Cubs manager Dusty Baker and Atlanta Braves third-base coach Terry Pendleton -- considered the favorite -- are also on their list of candidates.
At the top of Nats' list, however, sits Girardi. The Nationals and the Cubs each immediately contacted Girardi when he was fired by the Florida Marlins on Oct. 3 after his first year on the job. Sources say the Nationals plan to have another meeting this week or next with Girardi.
Hendry and new Cubs interim president John McDonough met with Girardi in what sources say was a long and detailed discussion of the organization and personnel Monday.
''They covered everything and spent a lot of time together,'' one source said