The one great thing about being a beat writer is that you really get the feel of a team by being around it almost every day.
Of course, the one danger is that you can get too close to the forest for the trees, and that's something all of us in this crazy business have to guard against. You want to build some empathy, but you don't want to get too close.
Contact information ( * required )
For the last six weeks of the Cubs' season, I got to spend a lot of time with new manager Mike Quade, and I came away impressed enough to think the Cubs did the right thing by letting him continue in that job.
As an aside, I also spent two days in Des Moines in August with Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs Hall of Famer who came up short in the process. Two days don't equal six weeks, but I also came away impressed with Sandberg's determination, his hard work and the respect he earned from the players on the Cubs' Class AAA Des Moines farm club.
That said, here's what I like about Mike:
Honesty: One of Quade's early tests came when he benched rookie phenom Starlin Castro for Castro to clear his head and to gain greater focus on the job at hand.
I asked Quade whether his approach is the same for veterans as it is for the kids.
He said no, that veterans get handled differently from the rookies.
It's that way for every manager, but most spout the line of treating everybody the same. Give Quade credit for telling it like it really is, even as a rookie manager.
"I'm honest, straightforward," he said. "You rarely don't know what I think. It doesn't mean you like it. It doesn't mean things always work in my favor. At least you know where I'm coming from."
Directness: The players always knew where they stood with Quade, whether it was Castro or a veteran player such as Aramis Ramirez, whose play at third base improved markedly after Quade quietly let him know what was expected.
Players knew a day or two ahead of time if they'd be in the lineup.
"For the first time all year, we were having fun," said veteran pitcher Ryan Dempster. "We were winning games. We were winning games we were supposed to win. We were beating teams that were in the hunt for the playoffs. We were playing well; it wasn't like we were winning games on fluke. It was exciting, and we felt like he played a big part in that. He communicated well. He told guys when they were playing, when they weren't playing. He told them when they weren't playing hard enough and when they were."
Poise: Quade hardly looked like a rookie manager, either in Tuesday's news conference to reintroduce him to Chicago or on a daily basis in dealing with the media.
If you asked Quade a question about strategy, an injury or a lineup change, he answered without any hemming and hawing.
Patience: The biggest difference in the season under former manager Lou Piniella and under Quade was the development of the young relievers.
Andrew Cashner, Marcos Mateo, Justin Berg and James Russell all improved over the final six weeks. Quade showed patience with each and wasn't afraid to run a kid out there the day after he suffered a bad outing. (That also helped keep Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol fresh.)
As a result, there was a huge uptick in the confidence in each of these kids.
"I think he instilled a lot of confidence in them right from the beginning," Dempster said. "I think he did a good job of that. I think it says a lot (for) those guys, too, because they responded well to it. You look at a guy like Justin Berg. He got sent back down. A lot of guys don't come back up. He threw the ball pretty well when he came back up. And what happened with Andrew Cashner, that's as exciting … what a young arm. He's unbelievable."
Realism: They say the worst times to make judgments about a baseball team are in spring training and September.
On the other hand, you don't see many teams in free-fall, as the Cubs were, turn it around all of a sudden and finish the season on an upswing.
Quade asked his players in Washington before his first game not to mail it in, and they didn't.
Even so, Quade knows the sample size was a small one.
"I'm also smart enough to know that six weeks doesn't make a season," he said. "I felt there were a lot of positives that came out of that last six weeks. We'll head for Arizona with that in mind. We'll run a sharp camp and come out of spring training ready to go and build on what this last six weeks meant to me and to I hope all of them.
"I spoke with them in Houston the last day, and I think they understand that."