Tigers slugger Prince Fielder says Dale Sveum could be long-term difference-maker for Cubs
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org June 13, 2012 10:22PM
Chicago Cubs Vs Detroit Tigers. Prince Fielder was tag by Cubs catcher No.16 Steve Clevenger. Wednesday June 13, 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:33PM
For a moment last winter, Prince Fielder thought he might become a Cub.
“Maybe for a second,’’ the burly slugger said as he sat in the Detroit Tigers clubhouse at Wrigley Field before his team’s 8-4 victory against the Cubs on Wednesday. “Clearly, the talks weren’t that serious.’’
The new Cubs’ front office wasn’t about to invest in a big, long-term free agent contract with so much organization-building on its plate — much less for anything close to the nine-year, $214-million deal Fielder got with Detroit.
Not that Fielder had much reason to consider investing in the Cubs.
Except for one.
“The one thing I did look at was Dale [Sveum] being the manager,’’ he said. “That was a selling point for me if anything were to happen. … That’s my man.’’
Fielder wasn’t going to make a difference with this team this year. Or maybe even next year — or the year after.
But he seems to believe Sveum can be a difference-maker, now and in the long run for the Cubs — for some of the same reasons the Cubs’ new front office thought so when they hired Sveum from the Milwaukee Brewers coaching staff in November.
Especially young players — like the Brewers had funneling up from the farm system throughout Sveum’s time there and like the Cubs are about to have in abundance as the rebuilding shifts gears over the rest of the summer.
‘‘[That demeanor] is good because you’re going to make mistakes [as a young player],’’ Fielder said. “He’s a guy who understands how hard the game is.’’
Fielder echoed what Brewers veterans such as Rickie Weeks, Ryan Bryan and Corey Hart have said since Sveum’s departure.
“Dale’s the same guy every day,’’ Fielder said. “He’s the one that kind of helped me with that. You might get a little frustrated, but what does snapping do? After a while it becomes just for other people to look at you doing it.
“You get mad, but just like in slumps when you’re hitting, after a certain point, it’s not the bat’s fault.’’
Sveum doesn’t try to pretend that the losing this season doesn’t get to him. And he admits he snapped on the team once, during the recent 12-game skid.
“Yeah, everybody wants you to snap and yell and scream,’’ Sveum said a few days ago, “but find something to snap and yell and scream about. I’ve already done it once. Are you going to keep doing it?’’
Exactly, said Fielder. “I mean, what is that going to do? You going to win 10 in a row? That doesn’t do anything.’’
Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer saw that character trait in Sveum up close in 2004 when he was a third base coach for their Boston Red Sox — a third base coach under a lot of heat for a while after getting several runners thrown out at the plate.
How he handled that in that fishbowl market, as well as how he handled the sudden promotion to interim manager at the end of a 2008 season that ended in the playoffs, were big parts of the evaluation process for this job.
“Dale’s perspective and demeanor has been that of a 10-year manager,’’ Hoyer said in an email. “He is intensely competitive day to day but understands the grind and difficulty of the game and the season.
“Both in our experience with Dale in Boston and the references we checked from his Milwaukee days, everyone echoed the same thing — players really respect the way he prepares and acts for each game.’’
That demeanor figures to get tested especially hard as the summer heads toward the trading deadline next month and some of the few productive veterans on this team head elsewhere.
“It’s just part of the game and you’re going to have to deal with it,’’ Sveum said. “And hopefully when things like that happen, if you do make trades, you get people back that are going to impact your team in the next few years, if not right away.
“Sometimes you see it, obviously, with the [Houston] Astros the last couple years, losing [Hunter] Pence and [Michael] Bourn and guys like that, and the team getting dismantled. And you do the best you can. There’s nothing else you can do about it.’’