Dale Sveum earned his players’ respect during Cubs’ lost season
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org September 30, 2012 8:54PM
Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks
Updated: January 16, 2013 7:26PM
PHOENIX — The Cubs are in the final days of their worst season in 46 years. On Sunday, they closed out their worst season on the road in franchise history.
Most of the guys in the clubhouse won’t be around next April, and the front office has given little indication they expect to field a particularly compelling team next season.
But it could be worse, say veteran players. And the reason it’s not, they say, is also one reason the brass likes its long-term prospects of getting this culture-change thing right: first-year manager Dale Sveum.
Pitcher Matt Garza, who’s playing for his third manager in three years, pulled no punches in comparing Sveum to predecessor Mike Quade, who made it through one rough-and-stumble season as a big-league manager.
Garza said he told Sveum what he thought during a meeting the manager held with veteran players Saturday.
“I told him, ‘We’re on the verge of 100 losses, and last year we were close to .500 [for two months], and I hated every day of my life coming in here. It was miserable,’ ’’ Garza said. ‘‘And I said, ‘This year I’m not even performing, and I enjoy it, and I look forward to coming here.’
“I said, ‘You brought that back.’ I said, ‘Thank you.’ ’’
It’s probably not going to keep the Cubs from losing 100 games for the third time in franchise history, despite the 7-2 victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday that staved off the century mark for another day — and kept the Cubs from becoming the first team to be swept on the road by an entire division (finishing 1-18 against the National League West).
But Sveum’s communication skills, respect for players and combination of firm expectations and patience have kept an overmatched team playing hard and buying into the program the new regime is trying to build, players say.
“I love him,’’ said Alfonso Soriano, who compared Sveum favorably to future Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre. “Torre was good, but it’s totally different. Torre was a veteran’s manager. He had veteran teams and didn’t have to do too much. But here, with the team [Sveum’s] got, how he talks with the players is great.’’
“He treats us like players,’’ Garza said. “It’s not like, ‘This is you,’ and ‘This is you.’ And he gives you the opportunity to fail. The way he’s handled the situation we’re in right now, it’s tough for any guy. For him to keep it the same way every day, it’s huge.
“I’ve played for some really good ones: [Ron] Gardenhire, [Joe] Maddon and then Quade,’’ Garza added. “And [Sveum’s] right up there. I’ve been fortunate. To end up with a guy like Dale is awesome. Especially coming from a situation last year where — I won’t even get into that.’’
Clubhouse insiders say Quade changed significantly between the 37-game audition in 2010 that won him the support of players and the uneven, openly questioned way he handled 2011.
Sveum, who spent 12 seasons playing in the big leagues for seven teams, said he thinks his strength of patience was a key to keeping an even keel — if not a steady grip on the clubhouse — in his first full year as a big-league manager.
“You can go out and scream and yell and have meetings,’’ he said. “But in my dealings with baseball and grown men, that’s not the way to go about things. Otherwise, you start losing respect and all that.
“The good thing about this season is the clubhouse has been the same every day. And the work ethic and preparation has been the same all year.
“Now when it’s all said and done, and we get the core players that are going to be here and they understand all this stuff, then it all starts coming together, and the wins start coming as well.’’