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All comes down to Hendry picking a pal for manager

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Baseball lifer Mike Quade has a big job on his hands.


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He came cheap. He came easy. He came with a winning record.

He came ready to play ball.

What he didn't come with is pizzazz.

Mike Quade -- pronounced ''Kwau-dee,'' for those of you with pencils and scorecards ready -- is now the official manager of the Chicago Cubs.

The man who finished out last season as interim manager for retiring and burnt-to-a-crisp Cubs skipper Lou Piniella -- going a lovely 24-13 in the process -- has only been working on his baseball resume since, let's say, shortly after birth.

''There's no shortcuts,'' the 53-year-old baseball lifer said at his anointment ceremony Tuesday in the Stadium Club at Wrigley Field. ''And I don't take any.''

Roger that.

The Evanston native played pee-wee, Little League, high school, college and minor-league ball (five years in Salem, Buffalo and Alexandria without making it above Class AA), and managed in minor-league Macon, Rockford, Harrisburg, Ottawa, Scranton, West Michigan, Huntsville, Edmonton, Vancouver and Des Moines before joining the big- league Cubs as a third-base coach in 2007.

I mean, the dude's journey makes Odysseus look like a slacker.

''This is an incredible opportunity,'' the ebullient Quade said at the white-clothed table in the blue-ceilinged room, flanked by Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and chairman Tom Ricketts.

Quade meant, of course, it is an an opportunity for him to help Cubdom throw off the chains of 102 years of failure. (Not likely.) But he also meant -- Dang, here I am!

What the announcement of Quade as manager meant to the rest of us is that the Cubs are thinking about expenses, compatibility, rebuilding. Quade will be paid somewhere around $1 million or less per season for his two-year deal, which is roughly $3 million a year less than what Piniella was making at the end.

It also means managerial hopeful Ryne Sandberg spent a wasted four years in the Cubs' farm system trying to get the big job. The Hall of Fame second baseman and beloved Cubs hero (a thought here: Aren't all former Cubs, except maybe Don Young and Milton Bradley, beloved- ) is broken-hearted and likely done in the organization.

For now.

Because what the hiring of Quade also says is that the Cubs are treading water, and the future -- like two years from now -- is wide open.

Sandberg can go about his business elsewhere, and maybe come back as the head man in a spell. Or he could disappear into somebody else's system, and maybe be a dud. Who knows-

But the other apparent contender, Yankees manager Joe Girardi, is gone because his entire premise for even considering the Cubs was to break the bank. He's a Yankee with a World Series title under his belt, remember- To come to the Cubs, he would have needed something like a five-year deal for $25 million or so.

Truth- The Cubs never even considered Girardi, who is locked in the AL playoffs.

Hendry, who has never been the biggest fan of the brilliant but stubborn Girardi, had a near no-brainer on his hands once this economic climate set in, even for the rich Ricketts family, and Quade finished with that nice record.

''To be honest with you, I have a hard time criticizing anything he did,'' Hendry said of Quade's brief tenure.

This deal could have been announced the day the season ended. Other than the affront to Sandberg, there was little else involved.

Hell, World Series-winning former manager/broadcaster Bob Brenly has been sitting 50 feet above home plate for six years!

No, this was the safe, he's-my-pal call by Hendry. The GM remembers all too well that famous Piniella never won a postseason game with the Cubs.

Quade, whose chrome dome is an effect of the autoimmune condition alopecia areata and not constant shaving, is a likable, chatty soul who will try to work with a bland team with former nut case Carlos Zambrano at its core.

Good luck, there, of course. And stand back.

But Quade worked the pitching staff well in his six weeks as Cubs manager, and Big Z seems almost like a changed man since his anger-management sessions. Almost.

Still, here's the deal: The Cubs have no oomph.

I mean, this is a low-level managerial hire of a man whose name is still mispronounced by everyone.

So why is it ''Kwau-dee'' anyhow, and not ''Kwaid''-

''That's a great question,'' said the new manager, looking cheerful after the news conference, but a bit strangled in his black suit and crisp light blue shirt and tight-knotted, blue-striped tie. ''It's German and French, with a French derivation or something. That area, around there, sort of.'' He paused. ''You know what- I'll call Dad tonight and find out.''

Man, it would be great if this friendly lifer panned out.

But this seems like the Cubs are on the down low. They're not doing headline stuff.

Is anybody running out to buy season tickets because Q-Ball's at the helm-

He looks like a combo platter of Mr. Clean and Billy Corgan (a huge Cubs fan, by the way), and he's got the passion.

But does he know goats, black cats, Bartmans, centuries-

''I know it's all there,'' he said with a glint in his blue eyes. ''But I can't acknowledge it.''

And away we go.

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