Think of all the managers that have resided at Wrigley Field over the past decade. There was Dusty Baker, who tried too much to be “one of the guys” rather than the guy that was in charge. The Cubs went for another big-name manager after the Baker experiment failed, and Lou Piniella was pegged as the manager to lead the Cubs to the promise land. While Piniella will certainly go down as a hall of fame manager, the failed seasons of 2009 and 2010 will likely be all that Cubs’ fans remember from Piniella’s time as manager. Piniella retired in August of 2010 and that cleared way for Mike Quade to have his way with the Cubs’ roster. Quade’s way may be acceptable at Burger King, it certainly was not acceptable as manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Now, take everything you know about stereotypical Cubs’ managers and throw it out the window. New manager Dale Sveum does not fit the picture that recent Cubs’ managers were painted in. Instead, Sveum is “nuts”. Whether it is his sleeve tattoos, fondness for metal rock, or his age; Sveum is not your typical Cubs’ manager.
In what was a casual-Friday tone with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, and Sveum all going tie-less, the new man in charge of the Cubs’ clubhouse made his first official press conference as manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Before the Cubs officially announced the Sveum hire, the belief was the the former Milwaukee Brewers’ hitting coach was the favorite to be the next Red Sox manager. While Sveum never commented on his status in the Red Sox managerial search, the expectation was that he wanted to be the successor to Terry Francona. Sveum met with Red Sox ownership on Wednesday, though their was never an offer extended by the Red Sox. Though, the reason no offer was made may be because Sveum told Red Sox officials that he was going to become the next Cubs’ manager and was no longer interested in the Red Sox position.
“When it came down to it, this was a better fit and the arrow stopped on the Chicago Cubs,” Sveum said Friday.
Sveum signed a three year deal, with an option for 2015 with the Cubs. Epstein and Hoyer were searching for a manager that can grow on the job, and Sveum is an ideal fit. Sveum has long been considered as a top managing candidate, and has a high reputation around baseball. The idea is that Sveum will learn the techniques of being a manager over the course of the next two seasons–when the Cubs are in a perceived re-building mode–and then come the final year of his contract, the Cubs should be in line to contend for a post-season spot.
Having spent time with the Milwaukee Brewers as their hitting coach in recent seasons, Sveum–unlike any other managerial candidate–has first-hand experience of observing the Cubs from the opposing dugout. While Sveum did not come directly out and say it, the newly appointed manager did say that the Cubs may have been perceived as “dogs” for their lack of hustle. Sveum promises that perception will not be associated with the Cubs under his watch.
“The thing that has to be addressed right away is playing the game the right way on an everyday basis,” Sveum said. “We have to address some of the problems that caused [a 91-loss season], which is the defense isn’t very good, or not enough power, whatever it might be. There’s a lot of things when you lose that many games that you have problems with.
“It’s got to go in another direction to play this game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series every day.”
One of the ways Sveum is going to change the Cubs’ direction is by improving the team’s defense. While it seems logical that Epstein and Hoyer will add one or two defensive-minded players to the fold by the time Spring Training starts. Though, through basic practice and routine ground ball drills, Sveum seems intent on making the Cubs more fundamentally sound. Something that was absent from the philosophies of Baker, Piniella, and Quade. Even thought it may not seem like much, putting an emphasis on the little nuances of playing baseball will likely go a long way in turning this team around. The Cubs are team that has lacked discipline and the fundamental knowledge of playing baseball, already putting the team at a disadvantage before they even take the field.
As Cubs fans have learned throughout the team’s 103 year old losing steak of not winning the World Series, talk is cheap. The real test for Sveum will come on the first day of Spring Training when the manager leads his players in practice for the first time. Though, Sveum does appear to be yet another addition to help change the culture at Wrigley Field.