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Cubs second-year manager Dale Sveum looking past the past

Cubs manager Dale Sveum was hunting for quail with buddy RobYount October when he caught blast birdshot his back ear.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum was hunting for quail with buddy Robin Yount in October when he caught a blast of birdshot in his back and ear. | Ralph Freso~Getty Images

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MESA, Ariz. – As Dale Sveum embarks on his second season as a big-league manager, he offers a simple history lesson:

``The one thing you can’t do in life, period,’’ he says, ``is ever think about the past.’’

Not that he’s necessarily dooming himself to repeat it. After all, another history lesson suggests it’s almost as hard to lose 100 games in a baseball season as win 100.

But the Cubs’ sophomore manager knows the first order of business as pitchers and catchers take the field for the team’s first spring workouts Tuesday is at least ignoring one of the ugliest six-month chapters in the often miserable history of the franchise.

``The biggest thing going into the season – obviously, [with] answering all [the media’s] questions – is when does last season stop?’’ Sveum says. ``I don’t want to really talk about it. It’s really over with. There’s nothing we can do about it.’’

A pitching staff that issued more walks than any other staff in the National League. A bullpen that tied Colorado for the worst save percentage in the majors. The club’s worst run production in more than 30 years. Class AAA pitchers making more than 60 percent of the team’s starts over the final two months of a 101-loss season.

Talk about forgettable.

Sveum said he doesn’t plan to even mention last year when he has his annual team meeting in the next week or so.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t get anything out of last year.

``If you maybe have a ho-hum, .500 season where there really wasn’t much drama or roster changes or anything like that, you might not learn that much,’’ he said. ``But on the other hand, when you go through all that, those kind of things, and the trade deadline and losing [veteran leaders Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson], you learn a lot about how to handle all kinds of situations.’’

Sveum said he doesn’t necessarily plan to do much different heading into this season. Chemistry builders like the spring bunting tournament and theme dress-up travel days are back in the plans in his second go-round.

And more to the point of the Cubs’ big-picture plans, so are the tireless attention to daily coaching details with individuals, defensive positioning and efforts to keep players accountable for their effort.

``I’ve never been with a team that’s more prepared each day before a game than this one,’’ second-year Cubs’ first base coach Dave McKay – a 16-year veteran of Tony La Russa’s staffs – said unsolicited during last month’s Cubs Convention.

``That’s a huge compliment to the manager when Dave McKay can say something like that,’’ said Sveum, adding, ``We’re going to work hard. If you don’t want to work hard, you’re not going to be on my staff.’’

It may not have had a chance to show last year. But Sveum’s approach – and the results behind the wins and losses – have the Cubs’ front office convinced the right man is in place for the long-term vision.

``It’s not easy day in, day out when the team’s struggling to keep your cool and really maintain the same message,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said. ``and he had the same message all year. Our guys played hard. We didn’t have a single clubhouse incident the whole year.’’

Said Sveum: ``I think if things would have fallen apart in the clubhouse, you could sit here and say, yeah, I should have done this, I should have done this. But you still had to keep that clubhouse from frickin’ falling apart.’’

With a deeper, more versatile roster, Sveum might actually be able to see some of his skills now in the bottom line this time around.

Not that he cares. Or that he has to prove anything to a front office that told him exactly what kind of long-term rebuild he was getting into when he was hired.

``As a result, we told him we weren’t going to evaluate him heavily on wins and losses in the first year, but we would evaluate him,’’ team president Theo Epstein said, ``that there would be a lot of factors that went into our consideration of how good a job he’s doing. And he excelled in all those areas.

``I don’t think any manager in baseball was going to win the pennant with the club that we put on the field last year, but I hope Dale’s the one that wins it with the teams we put on the field going forward.’’

NOTES – Fan favorite Tony Campana, who led the league with 30 stolen bases last year, was designated for assignment to make room for outfielder Scott Hairston, who agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal almost two weeks ago. … Epstein continued to strongly support closer Carlos Marmol amid allegations of domestic assault in his native Dominican Republic and said the club had no knowledge of the allegations when it came close to trading Marmol in November. Marmol’s accuser claims he assaulted her in October.

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