Mike Quade is more than happy to have the title of major-league manager on his resume.
Boil the job down to its essence, however, and you’ll find Quade sees his role as something more important.
“I’m a teacher, that’s really what I am,” Quade says. “I believe that. They happen to put ‘manager’ by my name. I still need to teach, and I need to let my staff and my guys here do their share of that, as well.”
It seems only fitting Quade considers himself a teacher above all else.
Maybe it’s because of a peripatetic professional life that included a stint as a minor-league baseball player before he embarked on a career as a coach.
Or maybe it’s the life lessons he learned from an upbringing that started in Illinois and continued in Ohio and New Jersey before landing Quade right back in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, where he starred for three years in three sports at Prospect High School.
“It comes from a lot of great teachers that I’ve had,” he says. “The words ‘teacher’ and ‘coach’ are synonymous. The teacher is instructing something academic. The coach is instructing something athletic. To me, it’s that simple.”
So who were those “great teachers” in Quade’s life?
He cringes at the question because he knows if he tries to answer it, he’ll go on longer than an Academy Awards speech, and he’ll no doubt forget to mention somebody important.
“You’re shaped early on,” he says. “I had hard-nosed coaches in my adolescence. ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ If the guy told me, ‘You run five times around the city and come back,’ you didn’t question. That probably sets the tone for old school. I had a wonderful family. So you never start this conversation without talking about your father and mother.”
Let’s begin with an early life lesson, one that forced him to look responsibility in the eye.
Quade’s family returned to Mount Prospect when he was a sophomore. He played football, basketball and baseball at Prospect, and he speaks highly of baseball coach Larry Pohlman and his basketball coach, the late Bill Slayton.
Turns out, though, that Quade faced a big test with football and Prospect coach Dave Keefe, and he cites his mom Gail and dad Mike for making him face it.
“I was not going to play football,” he begins. “I had played three sports. Enough. My junior year, we were terrible. I didn’t play well, and I was quarterback. This (coach) came in from Evanston. He was going to run the option. He wanted me to be his quarterback. He chased me around all summer. I was working at McDonald’s. I was doing summer programs in the other sports.
“He spoke to my folks. My mom and dad kept saying, ‘You need to talk to this guy.’ I said, ‘I’m not playing football. To heck with it.’ He was relentless. And I kept going to my folks and saying, ‘You talk to him.’ They would not let me off the hook. I had to deal with Dave Keefe. He won, and I played. And it was a great year.
“Talk about learning experiences. He had a huge impact on my life. It wound up that in my senior year we had good years in all three of my sports. Football kicked it off, and it was something I didn’t want to do.”
Nobody who plays four years of minor-league ball and spends 19 years as a minor-league manager or coach does it without a lot of support.
Quade’s stops included Macon, Rockford, Harrisburg, Edmonton, Vancouver and Des Moines. You don’t survive the bus rides and 4 a.m. wake-up calls without some bucking up every now and then from your farm director.
“I first look at farm directors: John Boles, Oneri Fleita and Keith Lieppman,” Quade says. Fleita is the current Cubs farm director. “All of us remain very good friends and people I still seek advice from. They all three are teachers and are just great baseball people. These are not common, household names.”
But there was one household name instrumental in setting Quade on the right path in his coaching and managing career: Jim Leyland.
Like Quade, Leyland was a little-known quantity when he took over as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986. Quade was the manager of the Pirates’ Class A Macon club, and he was invited by Leyland to help out at spring training.
“Leyland had the hugest impact on me of all the names that I’ve mentioned in the shortest time because I was only with him for one spring,” Quade says. “I was just getting started in the coaching end of the business. For some reason, I had sense enough to say, ‘Let me watch this guy,’ because he doesn’t have the built-in clout of a Lou (Piniella) or a Dusty (Baker) or a Chuck Tanner or whatever. So I paid close attention and watched the way he did things.
“He came in as a bit of an unknown who had to establish who he was and gain the respect of his club. He knew that was his goal in spring training.”
Turns out, Leyland was watching Quade, too, as Quade painfully relates.
“I was there for one reason and one reason only: to throw batting practice,” Quade says. “I was in charge one day of the bunting station. I knew all the players on the big-league club. I hung with some of them. I got Rick Rhoden, Donnie Robinson, John Candelaria. They could freaking hit, and they loved to hit.
“I’m sitting on an old milk carton and I’m feeding the machine. My back’s to the complex. They bunt for 15 minutes, and they do a great job. So Donnie’s says, ‘Come on, Q, we want to hit.’ I said, ‘It’s a bunting station, man. Just bunt.’ They said, ‘We want to hit. Just five minutes. Come on.’ I said, ‘All right, take some swings.’
“So I’m feeding and they’re whacking. What I didn’t know was that ‘the man’ was on his way to the batting cage. He heard the hitting. It’s the first big-league camp I’ve ever been in. I’m kind of a by-the-book kind of kid, and I let my friends talk me into this. I have no idea he (Leyland) is coming, and I have no idea he’s behind me.
“I hear, ‘What the (heck). What’s going on?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, God, he’s right behind me.’ And he’s screaming at them, ‘I get you guys in here for one thing. You will hit as much as you need to when I get you on the field.’ He never said one word to me when he could have worn me out instead of going after his pitchers. He goes to walk away, and I’m turning around to try to apologize. He took off. So I’m like, ‘OK, I hope you enjoyed your coaching career. It’s over.’”
It wasn’t over, but Leyland found Quade and made his point with him.
“As I’m going to the clubhouse, he taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘You got a minute?’” Quade recalls. “I say, ‘Do I got a minute; are you going to let me stay another minute?’ And he said, ‘It’s OK. It’s no big deal. Those guys know better. They’re friends of yours. You’re going to have to make some decisions now. Close is good. Too close is not good. Don’t worry about it. You’re fine. Just do your job for me.’”
After years of laboring in the minor leagues, Quade made it to the show in 2000 as first-base coach of the Oakland Athletics.
He was let go after three years, and he hooked on with the Cubs as manager of their Class AAA Iowa club in 2003. Quade was understandably disappointed he wasn’t in the major leagues anymore, but he had a job.
“Is there disappointment? Sure, and on a bunch of levels,” he says. “One, I had been in Oakland for three years, and we were in the playoffs three years. Two, I felt like I did a good job. I’ve been fired four or five times, and at least half of those times I understood why. I don’t have to agree, but I understood, and I saw it coming. This one floored me. It left me more bitter than any firing I’d had.”
Quade thanks Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and scouting guru Gary Hughes for getting him into the organization. After four years at Iowa, Quade joined manager Lou Piniella’s staff as third-base coach, a job he held until replacing Piniella last August.
Conventional wisdom had bench coach Alan Trammell replacing Piniella at the time. Quade said he was as shocked as anybody at getting the job, which he kept with a 24-13 finish to the season.
“I was buckled and shocked and everything else,” he says.
Fast-forward to spring 2011. The kid from the Chicago suburbs is running his hometown team from the top step of the dugout.
As long a long shot as it might have seemed while in Macon or West Michigan or wherever, Quade said he never quit believing something like this might happen someday.
“There was never a give-up point,” he says emphatically. “And I truly mean this from the bottom of my heart: I could have had a long career as a minor-league instructor and been fine with it. At some point, after 8, 9, 10 years of doing the minor-league thing, there were one or two college things that were possible. I was so enamored with the professional end of it that I had no desire to go to the college ranks. But the bottom line was I believed I was a baseball coach.
“If it was too agonizing to do it in the minor leagues, I should get out anyway. So the carrot, you’re always thinking that you want to be good enough to experience coaching at the ultimate level and what goes with that: watching the best players in the world playing in the best cities in the world, traveling that way, being paid that way.
“Never did I think if I’m not in the big leagues next year, it’s gone. I pretty much decided I’m going to be a coach and that I’m going to do it at this level. And maybe that morphs in to a farm-director’s job at some point. Maybe it ends up being a scouting thing. Professional baseball, after 10 years of doing it, maybe less than that, I decided it was going to be my life.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.