Sveum ready to change Cubs culture
Bathroom breaks are underrated.
It was one such break during the Cubs managerial search that all but sold the team on Dale Sveum.
The Cubs introduced Sveum as their 52nd manager during a news conference Friday at Wrigley Field. He has a three-year contract with a club option for 2015.
Sveum, most recently the hitting coach of the Milwaukee Brewers, beat out five other candidates during an intense and exhaustive interview process with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
"I think the passion that he has for the game is so obvious, and the knowledge that he has," Hoyer said. "I can tell you that during the process, maybe an hour into the interview, we took like a 10-minute break. He walked out of the room and had to go to the bathroom or whatever. We were like, 'Wow,' just because he captivated the room with his baseball knowledge and passion.
"It was so clear. It wasn't that he prepared for the interview. This is what he had done his whole life."
If being a big-league manager wasn't a lifelong dream, it certainly was one that Sveum harbored for some time. Although this is his first full-time gig, he did serve as interim manager of the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of the 2008 season and led them into the playoffs.
Sveum beat out a field that included Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux along with former Red Sox manager Terry Francona (who ultimately said he didn't wish to manage in 2012), Pete Mackanin, Sandy Alomar Jr. and DeMarlo Hale.
The new Cubs management team wants to establish a "Cubs way," one that is different from the previous way of poor fundamental baseball and a perceived lack of accountability.
"The thing that needs to be addressed right away is playing the game a certain way on an everyday basis," said Sveum, who turns 48 next week. "We have to address some of the problems that caused that, which is (if) the defense isn't very good or not enough power. There are a lot of things when you lose that many games that you have problems with.
"This organization's got to change as far as the game is played on an everyday basis. It's got to go in another direction, to play this game like it's the seventh game of the World Series every day."
Sveum is a former big-league infielder whose playing career was set back after he suffered a broken leg in 1988. He played with the Brewers, Phillies, White Sox, Athletics, Mariners, Pirates and Yankees. Sitting on major-league benches allowed him to observe the game.
His coaching career included stops in Boston, where he served a team that won the World Series in 2004, and with the Brewers. He has been a bench coach, a third base coach and a hitting coach.
Epstein became impressed with Sveum while he was the GM of the Red Sox, and he beat his former team to hire Sveum, who had lunch with the Red Sox as recently as Wednesday.
"He's as comfortable in his own skin as anyone I've ever been around," Epstein said. "That's a good sign, because when you have to deal with adversity, you end up falling back on who you are and how you feel about yourself.
"The thing that stood out about Dale was that he was able to hold the players very accountable, to high standards, get in their face at times to disagree with them, drive them, get them to be their very best. At the same time, earn their respect and admiration. He's universally loved by the players he's had without enabling them in the slightest degree. That's a hard thing to pull off in this game. It makes him a very impactful person in the clubhouse."
The Cubs finished the 2011 season under manager Mike Quade with a record of 71-91. They were last in the National League in defense and third from the bottom in pitching. The Cubs sent pitcher Carlos Zambrano home for the season after Zambrano walked out on the team in August. Quade also had to get after star shortstop Starlin Castro a number of times about "playing the game right."
Epstein said one goal of the Cubs is to play the game the right way. Recent Cubs managers such as Don Baylor, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella burst into town talking of changing Cubs "culture." All did to some degree, but not enough to get the Cubs to the World Series.
Next up is Sveum.
"The way you handle anything is man to man," he said. "Communication. If anything gets out of whack, you have to treat every individual as if they're your own son ... Changing culture, a lot of that is getting guys to be accountable and getting them to understand that, 'This isn't OK.'
"Losing isn't OK. Not running a ball out isn't OK. It's not acceptable. There are certain things that you have to hold people accountable for because they have control over it. They don't have control over popping up with the bases loaded. They tried their best. That's part of the game. They don't have control over booting a groundball with the bases loaded. They tried their best.
"Now, if they're booting balls and doing things because their work ethic isn't right, then you have to hold them accountable for that."
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