When it comes to their managers, Cubs fans are a funny lot.
They like their field bosses to be “fiery.”
Or if not fiery, they like their managers to show a spark of life.
Cubs fans liked Lou Piniella when he got kicked out of that game in 2007, thus “turning the season around.” When Lou appeared to have lost interest, they didn’t like him so much anymore.
Chicago never really warmed to Dusty Baker, especially after the 2003 playoff debacle. Dusty was a little too California laid-back for many in Chicago anyway.
Enter Dale Sveum.
So far, he’s looking and acting the part in a way that should have Cubs fans happy, at least for now.
The 48-year-old Sveum, a former major-league infielder, begins his first full-time managerial gig in the big leagues. He was the interim skipper of the Milwaukee Brewers late in 2008, leading them into the playoffs.
The tone Sveum set in spring training was businesslike from the very beginning, with some fun mixed in (see the now-famous bunting tournament).
Even the venerable stats tome Baseball Prospectus weighed in on the idea of the manager making his players “play the game right.”
“A favorite pastime of casual fans everywhere is playing the ‘guess how hard someone is trying’ game,” the book’s chapter on the 2012 Cubs states. “Of course, the players are professionals, among the top 1,000 or so in the field, and have dedicated their life to the sport of baseball, but when teams lose, fans need somewhere to direct their rage.
“So the guys who have a relaxed demeanor get an abundance of blame. Hence, when a new manager says that all his players will play hard, it’s mostly pablum for the masses, an announcement that he’s going to work on making his players appear to try harder. Yet that’s important.
“It may or may not help motivate the other professional athletes on the team, but part of baseball is show business, and selling the product is always important.”
We won’t know until the games start to count what kind of manager Sveum will be, but we have a few things to go on.
Here are a few of the early leading indicators.
Setting the tone:
On the first day of full-squad workouts this spring, players hit the field shortly after 1 p.m. and trudged off after 5. Veteran players such as Ryan Dempster said at the time they liked the tone that had been set.
All the while, the Cubs were having some fun with their 64-man bunting tournament, which included Sveum.
Sveum told reporters last week in Arizona he was happy with the way his team has been playing the game in the Cactus League. He said any problems have been talked about right away.
“We’ve addressed it, and being held accountable on the defensive end,” he said. “When something happens on the field, it’s taken care of right when they get off the field, and you don’t have time for mental mistakes to happen again. People like to say ‘Well, I’ll take care of it after the game.’ But what if there are six innings left and it happens again?
“When something happens, you have to address it right then and hold people accountable for what just went on on the field. Everybody has been doing pretty well for the most part. We’ve been great at running balls out. I haven’t had to deal with that, so all that’s been good. Just some minor things.”
When closer Carlos Marmol struggled recently, Sveum talked with him, saying that “communication is huge.”
During the Cubs convention in January, Sveum said it would be difficult for players to pass him in the dugout if they made a mental mistake, didn’t hustle or admired a flyball a little too long in the batter’s box.
“They’re going to be held accountable; it’s not going to be OK,” he said of the bad stuff. “I’m not going to say they’re not going to do it again. But it’s not going to be OK.They’re not going to be able to walk by in the dugout without me saying something.”
It might be pulling somebody out of the game. If it’s going to embarrass the Chicago Cubs and the other 24 guys that are busting their butts every single day, I’m not going to allow that to happen. It’s not my personality.”
Use of stats:
If you’re working for team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, you better be open to using statistics to enhance your chances of winning.
Every managerial candidate the Cubs paraded through Chicago last November was asked how they planned to balance statistical analysis and “gut feeling.”
“We can all use stats the way we want them to be used,” was how Sveum responded to the question. Sveum had been mentioned in print as someone who prepares thoroughly. “I think what that article meant was that I do my due diligence in video work and prepare as much as anybody with my video work and all that.
“As far as the stats, those are what they are. We can use them to our advantage. It’s a big part of the game now. It’s helping us win a lot of ballgames now, the stats and the matchups. That’s just part of the game now, and you use what you can. A lot of that stuff you do throw out, too.”
Tops in the NL
Bruce Miles ranks the managers
1. Charlie Manuel, Phillies
2. Bruce Bochy, Giants
3. Bud Black, Padres
TBD. Dale Sveum, CUBSCopyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.