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Cubs brass vows Dale Sveum is his own man

General manager Jed Hoyer (left) president Theo Epste(right) welcome Dale Sveum before questions came pouring in. | Brian Jackson~ Sun-Times

General manager Jed Hoyer (left) and president Theo Epstein (right) welcome Dale Sveum before the questions came pouring in. | Brian Jackson~ Sun-Times

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Updated: December 20, 2011 8:10AM

Dale Sveum is nobody’s puppet.

If you didn’t already guess that from the Harley-riding, son-of-a-Marine’s blunt-talking news conference Friday, his new boss made a point to say so.

‘‘The idea that you want someone that you can control — not at all,’’ Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. He was responding to public perceptions that by avoiding managerial candidates with bigger names and more experience, the Cubs wanted somebody they could push and shape and count on to take lineup “suggestions.’’

‘‘I certainly never did that in two years in San Diego, and [Cubs president] Theo [Epstein] didn’t do it in Boston,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘You want someone that’s well-prepared. We’ll probably offer some input on some stuff, and he’ll probably offer some input on player transactions. You should have that kind of relationship, but the idea that you want someone that you can control is the farthest thing from the truth.’’

In fact, you get the impression just listening to Sveum, the Cubs’ new manager, that he’s not only prepared but also focused, tough, even-tempered, intolerant of ‘‘crap’’ and as steeped in baseball education as anyone in the room.

During a series of lengthy Q&A sessions with various media outlets, Sveum never broke stride, never broke character, never sidestepped a question, never seemed caught off-guard and was so forthright and, at times, blunt, that the questions just kept coming.

On whether handling a player such as Carlos Zambrano requires a short leash or long leash, he said, ‘‘I don’t think he’s deserved a long leash. He’s created that monster himself. Is there a short leash anymore? Three, four, five, six strikes — it’s enough.’’

On whether Carlos Marmol is still his closer: ‘‘Sure. Right now that’s what we have. . . . We don’t have another closer.’’

On industry speculation that he’ll hire Milwaukee icon and best friend Robin Yount as his bench coach: ‘‘That’s not going to happen.’’

Nothing he said came off as flip (except maybe the suggestion he’d stick Zambrano at first base and put him in the middle of his order).

Sveum plans to meet Zambrano face-to-face as a first step in any evaluation process. He thinks Marmol has leaned so hard on his slider that hitters finally stopped looking for a fastball in 2011, which contributed to a downward spiral with effectiveness and confidence in both pitches. And he said he and Yount have talked about the possibility of reuniting in Chicago, but several factors play against that happening.

He talked so long after Friday’s formal podium session that he eventually needed a dip break.

‘‘He’s extremely comfortable in his own skin,’’ said Epstein, who saw that first-hand as the GM in Boston when Sveum was the Red Sox’ third-base coach in 2004-05.

Sveum, who has spent the last six years on the Brewers coaching staff, has a reputation as a communicator and motivator, not to mention he’s enough of a regular guy that he’s the best man in a Brewers clubhouse guy’s wedding this weekend.

But he also vows a firm hand, even with high-priced veterans, in this whole ‘‘culture change’’ thing.

From recent seasons watching the Cubs 18 times a year, he said: ‘‘Running balls out on a consistent basis, playing the game hard for three hours — you just don’t see that looking over on the other side.

‘‘And that’s my job, to make each and every one of those guys
accountable for what they have control over. My biggest pet peeve is seeing guys not play the game hard on a consistent, daily basis. That’s just not acceptable.’’

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