Dale Sveum’s the name for Cubs
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org November 17, 2011 10:34PM
Chicago Cubs new manager Dale Sveum at Wrigley Field.Friday, November 18, 2011. | Brian Jackson~ Sun-Times
5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT DALE SVEUM
1) His cousin is former AL batting champ John Olerud.
2) The last of his 597 big-league hits came at Wrigley Field on Sept. 26, 1999. He delivered a pinch-hit single for the Pirates during a tying rally in the ninth and stayed in the game defensively, replacing Aramis Ramirez at third.
3) He’s a motorcycle enthusiast known to occasionally send out Christmas cards that include his Harley.
4) Cubs bench coach Pat Listach succeeded him at shortstop for the Brewers in 1992 and won the Rookie of the Year Award. They remain good friends.
5) A tattoo on his arm says, ‘‘Give ’em hell’’ — something his late father used to say to him before games.
Updated: December 19, 2011 8:27AM
MILWAUKEE — He likes his motorcycle, has big tattoos on his arms and once got ejected from the dugout — as a hitting coach — after a game in 2009. And, according to the Milwaukee Brewers media guide, he goes by the nickname of ‘‘Nuts.’’
And if you knew even that much about Dale Sveum, you’re way ahead of the guy who was his boss the last six years.
‘‘His nickname is ‘Nuts’?’’ Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. ‘‘I’m not touching that one.’’
As for what kind of manager he might be in Chicago — and what kind of chance he has of managing all three years of his new Cubs contract, much less the 2015 option year — good luck figuring that out based on the scant track record and underdeveloped reputation.
Which, of course, was a major part of the point when new team president Theo Epstein and new general manager Jed Hoyer took on their first major hiring process a few weeks ago.
Not counting Mike Quade’s one-year tenure, the new manager the Cubs will unveil at a news conference Friday marks a significant and intentional break from more than a decade of strong-voiced, experienced, big-name managers on the North Side (from Don Baylor to Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella).
Sveum, the Brewers’ hitting coach who spent 2004 and 2005 with Epstein and Hoyer in Boston as the Red Sox’ third-base coach, has exactly 12 games of regular-season, big-league managing experience (plus four games in a first-round playoff loss) in 2008.
And that’s more than most of the candidates who were interviewed. Which fits a new organizational philosophy under Epstein that requires the manager to be part of the existing vision instead of being handed the keys to drive a new direction.
Whatever Sveum traits are valued most by the bosses going into this job — a self-proclaimed ‘‘stoic’’ exterior, an active and open mind for outside-the-box thinking and analysis, or the kind of character-under-fire impression he made handling criticism in Boston — the bigger idea involves the way he’s able to incorporate the Epstein-Hoyer plan and grow into his role in the organization.
In other words, if this is the right guy for the job, Hoyer and Sveum become what Epstein and Terry Francona were for eight years in Boston (rings included).
Or they try it again with somebody else.
Sveum, 48 next week, has, if nothing else, shown an ability to handle pressure and scrutiny in brief stretches in Boston and Milwaukee.
In his first big-league coaching job — manning third base in quirky Fenway Park — he came under repeated fire for poor decisions on plays at the plate.
But those in the clubhouse then describe a guy who never hid from the media and answered every criticism, even if the responses weren’t always perfectly refined.
‘‘The thing about when I was judged as a third-base coach, you get scrutinized,’’ he said earlier this month when interviewing for the Red Sox manager’s job. ‘‘I’m glad I was scrutinized for being aggressive instead of passive. I’m not a passive person. I’m a very aggressive person and always have been.’’
On the other hand, Sveum was said to be a calming influence in the Brewers’ clubhouse when he was suddenly asked to replace good friend Ned Yost in 2008 with 12 games left in a September that was in full collapse mode.
‘‘The first day he got the job, he brought us all in separately and told us what he expected out of us,’’ infielder Bill Hall told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that fall. ‘‘Then we had a team meeting, and he told everybody what this team was capable of doing. We just went from there. Everybody was more relaxed.’’
The Brewers went 6-5 over those first 11 games and faced the Cubs in Milwaukee on the last day of the season, tied with the New York Mets for the wild-card lead.
Sveum left a simple message scrawled on the clubhouse board, ‘‘Give ’em hell’’ — a phrase his late father liked to use and one that’s part of a tattoo on his arm.
The Brewers then beat the Cubs to clinch their first playoff berth since 1982.
‘‘When I saw him manage Milwaukee in 2008, he made all the right moves, and I knew how the players enjoyed playing for him,’’ said Cubs bench coach Pat Listach, a good friend of Sveum since they were Brewers teammates 20 years ago. ‘‘I don’t know any player that didn’t enjoy playing for him. Even [when Listach coached in Washington], I had some players he managed in Double-A in the Pittsburgh system, and they all said the same thing.’’