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updated: 11/17/2011 9:09 PM

Cubs' Sveum just what Dr. Epstein ordered

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  • Milwaukee Brewers baseball hitting coach Dale Sveum was a coach in Boston when Theo Epstein was in charge there as general manager. Now they're together again as Sveum is the new manager of the Chicago Cubs and Epstein is president of baseball opertions.

      Milwaukee Brewers baseball hitting coach Dale Sveum was a coach in Boston when Theo Epstein was in charge there as general manager. Now they're together again as Sveum is the new manager of the Chicago Cubs and Epstein is president of baseball opertions.
    Associated Press

 
 

On the day Theo Epstein ushered in the Jed Hoyer era at Wrigley Field, an Epstein pal -- and longtime baseball guy -- told me he was fairly certain that we could cross all the names off the managerial candidate list except two:

Dale Sveum and Terry Francona.

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And of Francona, he said, probably not because he'll be viewed as a burnout case for at least the next year, and Epstein is good at recognizing when a relationship has run its course.

So that's precisely how the Cubs' search went, with Epstein conducting token interviews to satisfy the commissioner and branching out to see who else might fall from the trees.

One man did and shook up the process. The Cubs were blown away by Mike Maddux, and if not for family reasons Maddux might have the job today, but there was no sense pursuing further someone who wasn't even certain he wanted the position.

That brought Epstein back to Sveum, who was interviewing for the job as far back as 2005 and didn't even know it. Having spent a couple years getting to know Sveum when he was a Red Sox coach, it's likely Epstein had him in mind for a managing job several years ago.

Epstein always plans for contingencies, and probably knew Sveum would be his next guy if he ever needed one in Boston.

The proof of that is how quickly former right-hand man -- and current Boston GM -- Ben Cherington went after Sveum as soon as Cherington was in charge of the Red Sox. It's not a coincidence, after all, that the Cubs and Boston interviewed a nearly identical candidate list.

As for Sveum, his job will be the least important of any of the new Cubs employees for the next three years, but the seat he sits in still matters and he will be the most visible face of the franchise.

So who is Dale Sveum? Well, he turns 48 next week but according to a friend he still rides a motorcycle, has tattoos, loves heavy metal music and prefers cereal and jeans to quiche and a suit.

They call him "Nutsy,'' but that might result from being married with children, because from a baseball perspective he's considered very bright.

From an in-game strategy standpoint he should be solid, as those who have worked with him say he is always looking ahead. He's a deep thinker who believes in film and stats, and as a hitting coach he was able to break down opposing pitchers and anticipate their patterns with remarkable consistency.

He's at the park early and works at his craft, and when teaching hitters he is brutally honest, which most players in Milwaukee appreciated.

Sveum is said to be an excellent hitting coach when it comes to mechanics, and another good teacher is never bad to have on board.

He was a subpar third base coach in Boston by nearly all Red Sox accounts, but while a player he worked under managers such as Jim Leyland, Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Lou Piniella, and he worked with Francona in Boston.

As for his public persona, he's not going to blow anyone away with style and is much more about substance. He is somewhat soft-spoken and often eschews the traditional clichés in favor of useful insight, which will be a nice change for Cubs fans.

But that postgame media room is going to present a challenge. Many before him have hated it, and he's likely to grow weary of it as well. He does not possess the personality of Piniella or Dusty Baker, so don't expect news conference fireworks or hilarity.

The clubhouse will present challenges, and in his first full-time, big-league managing job Sveum could probably use a respected bench coach with a temper to help as a bad cop.

The most important aspect of his job, however, will be carrying out whatever orders he receives from Epstein that further the long-term vision of the organization, and that's the single most important reason Epstein wanted to hire yet another person he already knows and respects, someone with whom he can have honest conversations and reasonable disagreements.

So that's your new Cubs manager, a man Epstein probably identified as his next manager some years ago and someone who will either be caretaker as the Cubs rebuild the next couple years, or grow into the next Francona.

In the meantime, you can be certain Epstein is already thinking about his options if it doesn't materialize the way he hopes.

brozner@dailyherald.com

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

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