Remember a couple of years ago when I suggested the Cubs pick up Kevin Millar, because he was the player who led the Red Sox "idiots" to the World Series? Because he was the one who finally was able to get the message through to the Red Sox players that the alleged "curse" meant nothing?
OK, I got laughed at, and justifiably so at the time, because Millar wasn't a very good player by then. And when the Cubs brought Millar to spring training this year, he wasn't very good either and wound up providing comic relief and then retiring. It wasn't Millar that the Cubs needed, it was someone like him; someone who could tell the team that the 102 years didn't mean anything, that they just, presuming they are talented enough (as they were in 2008), need to go out and play baseball and forget about the rest of that, someone who understands Cubs history and culture and what it means to be a Cubs player and fan.
Maybe it wasn't a player they needed. Mike Quade just might be that guy.
Introduced today as the 51st manager in Cubs history (57th if you count the sad souls who were the College of Coaches), Quade essentially said just that: asked about the 102-year drought and all the media-driven frenzy that often surrounds it, he claimed it doesn't matter -- that he'd tell his players to just focus on their jobs and do what they know best.
Perhaps the most meaningful thing Quade said at his introductory press conference was, "I know six weeks isn't six months." He knows he has work to do, but clearly, he already has the respect of the players on the existing roster -- many of whom will be back next year, and many of whom he has coached for four years at the major league level, and four years before that as the manager at Triple-A Iowa.
And that's what owner Tom Ricketts said was one of the three most important criteria in hiring a manager: first, that he should want to be a coach (or teacher); second, that he be committed to the organization, and third, that he know the city and the team. Quade went to Prospect High in Mt. Prospect and used to sit in what we called "the grandstands" at Wrigley Field in those days with his parents. He's about a year younger than I am -- so he grew up with the great teams of the late 1960's who never made it to the postseason. As a fan growing up with those teams, he surely felt the disappointment that we all felt. And Quade admitted that he's an "organizational guy"; he said he'll play the roster that Jim Hendry gives him and ask every man on it to give his maximum effort.
And really, what more could any of us ask from a leader of this team? Quade, to be sure, is not a Dusty Baker or Lou Piniella, coming into Chicago with a World Series win or appearance under his belt and, presumably, "knowing" what it would take to win in Chicago. Both men admitted, not long after taking the job, that they had no idea what they were getting into. Even something like attending their first Cubs Convention was an education for Baker and Piniella -- that type of event wasn't part of their experience in San Francisco, Cincinnati or Seattle. Mike Quade already knows what that's about, having attended previous conventions and also having been a spring training instructor before he was a minor-league manager in the Cubs organization. He's now spent eight years in the organization as well as having grown up in Chicago; his street cred here is unassailable.
Jim Hendry said, as we all pretty much assumed, that the "short list" of candidates was narrowed to three -- Quade, Ryne Sandberg and Eric Wedge -- by last week. When Wedge was hired in Seattle, that dropped it to two. All three candidates had also interviewed separately with Tom Ricketts, then each had a separate dinner with the Ricketts siblings, so they could all get to know each one. But Hendry said he didn't want to waste time by interviewing 12 or 14 people; he said, as I had written here several times, that he wanted to have his management team in place by the time of the organizational meetings, which will begin the first week of November. To that end, Quade, Hendry and Randy Bush will begin to select their coaches over the next two weeks.
And that brings us to Ryne Sandberg. Hendry said he broke the news to Ryno this morning, and it was a tough thing for him to do. He said he has the ultimate respect for Sandberg as a player and person and there will always be "a place for him in the Cubs family," though what that "place" will be is uncertain. Could Sandberg be welcomed back as a coach if he doesn't find a job elsewhere? No one wanted to commit to that today, neither Hendry nor Quade, but neither closed the door on such a possibility. Sandberg, for his part, is clearly disappointed.
I thought I'd be, too. As most of you know, I have been in the Sandberg-for-manager camp for months -- not because I loved him as a player (even though I did), but because I thought he had done the work asked of him, proven himself, and was prepared to be a major league manager. Others disagreed -- we had many spirited discussions -- and though I stayed in Sandberg's corner, I did try to listen to the arguments in favor of others. It appears clear that Joe Girardi was never considered -- Hendry didn't directly address that issue at the news conference, saying only that Girardi has a great job with the Yankees and that "Mike Quade was our guy regardless of the time frame."
But I think some of the over-the-top "I'm never going to be a Cubs fan again" or "I'm cancelling my trip to Chicago" comments over this are unnecessary. Mike Quade has energy -- just listening to him talk, you can see the man is engaged and thinking about baseball every step of the way -- and passion for his work. In a followup question to a reporter who asked him about the day games (he mentioned that when he was in Oakland, they played the second-most day games in MLB to the Cubs), I asked him whether he'd try to put together a bench of players who could step in and start, to give his regulars rest (you all know that's something we haven't had the last two years). His answer was illuminating: though he acknowledged that a good bench is always a good thing to have, if his regulars are doing the job and don't need rest, he wouldn't force it just to say he's doing so.
A thinking man's manager, willing to change with conditions. What a breath of fresh air. I think the Cubs got the right guy. I'll be interested to see how they fill out the coaching staff in the next two weeks.