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updated: 9/21/2011 7:08 PM

Change in Quade a Cubs mystery

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  • Manager Mike Quade watches from the dugout Wednesday as the Cubs played their final home game of the season.

      Manager Mike Quade watches from the dugout Wednesday as the Cubs played their final home game of the season.
    Associated Press

 
 

Even politicians occasionally appear honorable during a campaign.

That's when they might believe what they say about serving their constituents and doing what's right. But then they get to Washington, see the sweet deal, and begin thinking about how to keep their jobs instead of doing their jobs.

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The temptation is too grand, the response often involuntary.

I don't know what happened to Mike Quade, but a baseball lifer went from solid replacement for a sleeping Lou Piniella to laughingstock over the course of a winter.

When Quade took over last August, he immediately signaled a change in the dugout from passenger to manager.

With nothing to lose, he handled the pitching staff, held players accountable and showed up for media gatherings with thoughts about the game and justification for every move, without apologizing for bad play.

Speaking with relievers who had gone from Piniella's complete lack of communication to Quade's specific instructions about how to pitch a batter and when they'd be removed from the game, it was clear to me by early September that the Cubs had found their next manager.

It made for a great story about a good guy.

You remember, longtime baseball man toils in the minors for decades, never sniffing a serious opportunity, but gets a chance with the hometown team that was his favorite growing up.

It was romantic and fitting.

More important, the Mike Quade who managed here last season was the right man to do it again.

But that Quade never showed up in 2011.

He arrived in spring training as the players' friend, not their manager, and seemingly everything he said and did was designed to keep the players on his side -- and keep his job a long time.

Mike Quade had changed.

No more teaching, coaching, discipline and accountability. Gone was the reasoned in-game managing.

Players went from campaigning for Quade last fall to openly disrespecting him this spring. In addition to the asylum, the inmates were running the circus.

Quade became a laughingstock, consistently embarrassing his owner and general manager, and in the process he took down GM Jim Hendry.

Think about it. Tom Ricketts didn't want to fire Hendry, passed on several opportunities to do so and had no intention of firing him after this season, not with one year left on the Hendry and Quade deals.

He had gone this far with Hendry, and with Ricketts' blessing Hendry's moves for this year worked out fairly well, with Matt Garza, Carlos Pena and Kerry Wood giving the Cubs their money's worth.

On top of that, he put Hendry in charge of overspending on the draft and international signings, and the Cubs by most accounts spent that money well.

So what was different? Why did Ricketts finally buckle to pressure and fire Hendry when he had said he didn't plan to do it, and in reality didn't want to?

It wasn't because the Cubs were bad again. Ricketts couldn't be so foolish as to believe the Cubs were going to compete this year.

No, it's because this season spiraled out of control under an empty uniform in the dugout. It became farcical in so many ways, and nothing was more nonsensical than the manager. The daily face of the franchise was wearing a clown suit, and Ricketts couldn't possibly sell a clueless Quade for another season.

It meant that if Hendry stayed, he would hire another manager, and Ricketts also knew that he couldn't fight public opinion on that subject, or face more erosion of his season-ticket base.

So he fired the GM while keeping all of Hendry's employees, essentially running the same organization without the deposed GM, who might have survived to finish his contract if the Cubs had stayed within striking distance of .500 and the manager hadn't been so bizarre.

But the manager was odd from start to finish, and cost the Cubs many games along the way with bad decisions, lineups, pitching changes and a complete failure to manage the players on the field or off.

It's shocking and a shame because the Quade who managed last year was the right guy for the job.

Ricketts thought so, Hendry thought so, most of the players believed it, and they weren't wrong.

Under the circumstances, there was no reason to make a change and Hendry made the correct call.

No one could have guessed after 32 years in pro baseball that Quade would change over the course of an off-season.

But a different Quade appeared this spring and it's why he managed his final game at Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon, a lifelong dream having ended in disquieting fashion.

Sad finish for a man who waited so very long for this chance, an inexplicable turn of events and personality for a baseball lifer.

No one, perhaps not even Mike Quade, will ever be able to explain it.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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