Updated: December 21, 2011 8:18AM
OK, not bad. This could work.
I don’t know what I was expecting from new Cubs manager Dale Sveum. Actually, that’s not true. I was expecting the sorts of things you might expect to hear from somebody named Dale Sveum.
Shame on me. Or Swaim on me.
The last name is pronounced ‘‘Swaim,’’ and the man behind the name made enough tough, pointed pronouncements at his introductory news conference Friday to make you wonder where this guy has been all these years.
And why couldn’t he have been here earlier to cap Carlos Zambrano, like Red Adair capping an oil-well blowout?
The stiff wind that blew around Wrigley Field on Friday was no match for the fresh air that the new Cubs skipper brought with him from Milwaukee, where he had been the hitting coach for the Brewers. It was the fresh air of honesty. He said things that should have been said a long time ago. Let’s not be overly dramatic here, but he said some things that managers could have and should have said often in the last 103 years.
He said the Cubs don’t play hard enough.
‘‘A change in culture is . . . getting guys to be accountable and making sure that they understand that this isn’t OK,’’ he said. ‘‘Losing isn’t OK. Not running a ball out isn’t OK. It’s not acceptable.
“ . . . You’re disrespecting the owner. . . . You’re disrespecting me. You’re disrespecting the other 24 guys on the team.’’
Hard work and effort
If only the Cubs could have arranged for the dearly departed Aramis Ramirez to take in the news conference via Skype.
For any new man in charge, the easiest thing in the world is to come in, be tactful and offer some empty plaudits about whoever came before. On Friday, Sveum could have stroked any Cubs who will be back with the team in 2012 after a 71-91 season. He did not.
‘‘This organization’s got to change as far as how the game is played on an every-day basis,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s got to go in another direction, to play this game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series every day.’’
The Cubs wouldn’t know much about that. The only time they have played in the seventh game of a World Series was in 1945, when they lost to the Detroit Tigers.
But we get it: Play the game hard.
‘‘The worst thing that happens in baseball is when we look over and [say], ‘That team, man, they’re dogs. Nobody plays hard over there,’ ’’ Sveum said. ‘‘They might be good, but you don’t respect them. You want to be respected for the way you play. You want to have catchers fear you when you’re coming into home plate, not just taking the easy way out and sliding.’’
I don’t know about the whole respect-the-game thing. The image I always get is of people kneeling, hushed, in front of one of Tony La Russa’s marked-up lineup cards. But the Cubs played a brand of baseball last season that was an insult to fielding. Defense — making accurate throws, throwing to the right base, cutting down on errors — has to do with practice and repetition. In other words, hard work and effort.
For years, Cubs fans listened to manager after manager make excuses for the players. From Dusty Baker to Lou Piniella to Mike Quade, the generals protected the troops. From what, I’m not sure.
Watch your step, Big Z
As the excuses flowed, you couldn’t help but get the feeling that the managers’ opinion of the fans’ intelligence wasn’t very high.
The Cubs shouldn’t bring back the flammable Zambrano for 2012, but part of me hopes they do, just to see how Sveum handles him.
‘‘His three strikes are up, and his three strikes are up again,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘He’s definitely got to prove his willingness to gain respect back from teammates, as well as myself and [president of baseball operations] Theo [Epstein] and the Ricketts family.
‘‘I don’t think he’s deserved a long leash. He’s created that
whole monster himself. Is there any leash anymore? Like I said, three or four or five or six strikes, it’s enough. It’s time to buckle down and prove to your teammates that you can go out and be a winning player every day.’’
Sveum is the flesh and blood that complements the data-driven approach that Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer like to apply to anything that moves. There was a gleam in Epstein’s eye Friday when he described how Sveum, before each Brewers series, would watch video of the most recent 100 grounders off the bat of each opposing hitter to help his fielders know where to position themselves.
Epstein loved the dogged preparation. I’m tickled that Sveum is interested in fielding. And honesty.