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Cubs’ Mike Quade has ownership support, no regrets

The Cubs’ new commitment building from ground up hasn’t allowed Mike Quade much success his first seasas manager.  |

The Cubs’ new commitment to building from the ground up hasn’t allowed Mike Quade much success in his first season as manager. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:25AM

When Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts makes his rounds at Wrigley Field during games, one of his regular stops, at least once a homestand, is the manager’s office.

‘‘Especially five or six weeks ago, when things were really tough, to have the owner come in and go, ‘You all right?’ ‘You doing OK?’ ‘Keep working’ — Tom’s been great,’’ manager Mike Quade said. ‘‘They’ve been so supportive, and it’s been a wonderful change of ownership. And I understand it’s a business, and I understand all that. But he’s been great — a little different than previous ownership.’’

Quade has no delusions about that business side of things and that the Cubs’ miserable production in his debut season as a big-league manager won’t do him any favors at evaluation time — no matter how many key players were injured.

But as Quade closes in on Monday’s one-year anniversary of his ascension to manager in the wake of Lou Piniella’s sudden departure, he also expresses no regrets about decisions, his approach or the task at hand. He admits he couldn’t have anticipated the enormity of the task this season, especially after two starting pitchers went down with injuries the first week.

‘‘Was it tough? Yeah,’’ he said. ‘‘Do I remember going through anything this tough? Absolutely not.’’

But Quade, his staff and others in the organization also knew this much about the job going in: This was not the same job Piniella took four seasons ago when Tribune Co. mandated a spend-big, win-now, sell-high philosophy after the 2006 season.

Quade won’t admit it publicly — nor use it as an excuse — but after payroll freezes and cuts that contributed to back-to-back declines during the ownership transition, organizational eyes were wide open about big-league depth and top-heavy payroll issues standing in the way of contending.

They didn’t expect to hit low-water marks of 23 games under .500 in July, either. But as evidenced by this year’s four-fold increase in spending on amateur signings (to $20 million), the Cubs for the first time in decades are showing long-term commitment and vision to a ground-up process of winning.

For a field staff in its first year in charge of a team in transition, that has meant a daily commitment to improving young players as quickly as possible, putting veterans in the best position to win and lead while they’re here, and waiting out a few mega-contracts to give way to a more versatile, deeper, productive roster.

It doesn’t make it easier to swallow that the Cubs are in fifth place, 16 games under .500, with six weeks left in the season.

But it might help explain some of Quade’s head-scratcher moments, such as calling out young keystone combo Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney for a dropped first-inning popup in a 9-1 loss, or some of the times he tried to get extra outs from gassed starters.

As Ricketts prepares to address the media during this homestand — issues will range from general manager Jim Hendry’s status to Carlos Zambrano quitting on team — don’t count on any harsh words directed toward Quade and his staff.

It’s doesn’t matter how many pundits and fans seem to be calling for Quade’s head less than a year into the job. It’s doesn’t matter how much ‘‘I told you so’’ outcry comes from Ryne Sandberg supporters.

‘‘I just look at all that as going with the territory,’’ Quade said of the heat he has taken this year. ‘‘You know you’re going to get blamed. And you either weather that or you don’t. It’s that simple.’’

To be sure, there’s no getting around the failures of a team that didn’t produce so much as a three-game winning streak the first 100 games of the season. There’s no getting around the failures of James Russell and Casey Coleman to stop the bleeding of an already-thin starting rotation that lost Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells to injuries after one start each.

The Cubs’ 24-13 finish under Quade last season is a long-faded memory — as is the brief honeymoon period he enjoyed in spring training and the earliest moments of the season.

Pitch to Albert Pujols? Don’t pitch to Pujols?

Leave Zambrano in for 128 pitches in Philadelphia?

Take Ryan Dempster out after five innings in his first start after an injury — and get yelled at on camera?

Publicly downplay Zambrano’s ‘‘We stinks’’ rant?

Call out kid infielders for a first-inning mistake in a blowout loss?

Quade doesn’t seem to care what outsiders think about his decisions or his persistent optimism.

‘‘You go through that stuff, and I think you have to find a way to believe there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel,’’ he said. ‘‘Sometimes in the darkest days, that’s a tough thing to think, but you keep showing up, and you keep working.’’

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