Dale Sveum fortunate that Cubs face not-so-great expectations
BY CHRIS DE LUCA firstname.lastname@example.org March 18, 2012 8:28PM
The Cubs haven’t entered a season with the bar set so low since 2000. First-year manager Dale Sveum’s evaluation of the team’s spring training: “Everything has gone very well up to this point.” | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times
Updated: April 20, 2012 8:15AM
LAS VEGAS — Dale Sveum doesn’t have Carlos Zambrano tick-tick-ticking in a corner of the Cubs’ clubhouse, waiting for a caffeine-fueled explosion.
He doesn’t have Milton Bradley at full simmer, waiting for someone to exhale the wrong way to send him into a mad boil. He doesn’t have Sammy Sosa and his boombox turning the clubhouse on edge.
He doesn’t even have Kosuke Fukudome and that crazy helicopter swing that used to make little puffs of smoke billow out of Lou Piniella’s ears.
Better than all of that, Sveum is missing something no Cubs manager in the last decade has been able to avoid: expectations.
No wonder a smile comes easily to the first-year manager. This might be the calmest camp in baseball.
Sveum’s biggest worry? Getting his B-list roster enough work to make spring training a glowing success in the new world order of the rebuilding Cubs.
“The number of people in camp and trying to get them all at-bats and trying to make sure the pitchers get their innings — that’s the big thing,” Sveum said of his first camp as a big-league manager. “You know that coming in, but when you have to do it on an every-day basis, you’re like, ‘Wow. This is the toughest part of the job in spring training.’ ’’
Sounds like a picnic compared to the headaches his predecessors endured.
You need to go back to 2000 to find a new Cubs manager facing such thin expectations.
Don Baylor arrived after Jim Riggleman’s 95-loss disaster that was 1999 and promptly guided the Cubs to 97 more losses in Year 1.
Then the bar got raised.
Dusty Baker, coming off a World Series appearance with the San Francisco Giants, took over in 2003 and brought the Cubs to five outs shy of the World Series in Year 1. When Baker got chewed up by the Cubs experience, a fresh-faced Piniella arrived in 2007 — right after then-president John McDonough all but guaranteed a World Series that season — and nudged the bar even higher.
Piniella — one of baseball’s most competitive spirits — took the Cubs to consecutive postseasons but was so destroyed by his Chicago experience, the man who couldn’t remember the South Side from the North Side knew only that he had to get out of town in a hurry, escaping in midseason 2010.
The overmatched Mike Quade faced his own style of expectations, knowing he needed to spend all of 2011 proving that Jim Hendry made the right decision in removing his interim tag.
Quade fumbled in that attempt, and he was sent out the door shortly after Hendry was canned.
After an exhaustive search last fall, Sveum somehow walked away with the job.
The guess here is you could have spent all last summer at the corner of Clark and Addison and not run into one fan thinking Dale Sveum would be the next manager of the Cubs.
But Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer had him on their radar from the start.
We were told all winter to believe in everything Epstein and Hoyer believe is right, so we give Sveum the benefit of doubt — not an easy thing when it comes to Cubs managers.
For a man who hasn’t run a spring training from the manager’s seat, Sveum comes off as surprisingly comfortable midway through camp. He’s stressing fundamentals because that’s what you do with rebuilding teams.
“I don’t know I would do anything different,” Sveum said. “Everything’s gone the way I planned it out and the way the coaching staff has planned it out. We have pushed hard on some fundamentals and defensive preparation. And the players have responded and done a great job there. Everything has gone very well up to this point.”
How could it not? The expectations haven’t been exactly World Series-worthy.
Will Sveum face the same disappointment and frustration that has plagued all of his predecessors since Frank Chance cashed in his chips in 1912?
History isn’t on his side.
But give him credit. He survived that Epstein-Hoyer interview meat-grinder that puts the Ivy League entrance process to shame.
“I went through one other interview [last year with the Pirates] and it was far from what Theo and Jed, or even the Red Sox, put me through,” Sveum said with a sigh. “A lot of due diligence and long hours. You look back and feel like you lucked out and got the job.”
Lucked out? We’ll see.