Commentary

Mike Quade shows substance over style

With bigger names available, Cubs give baseball lifer chance of a lifetime

Updated: February 20, 2011, 8:28 PM ET
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

MESA, Ariz. -- Mike Quade, the new Chicago Cubs manager, is sitting in his office at Fitch Park after a morning workout with pitchers and catchers, flipping through his photo album of thoughts, from Keith Lieppman, the Oakland executive who was key to his career, to getting fired in Scranton, Pa.

To the right of his desk is a framed photo of Vince Lombardi's most famous speech, the proud profile of the great coach shaded in the background behind the text. Winning is not a sometime thing. It is an all the time thing. You don't do things right once in a while. You do them right all the time …"

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Kirby Lee/US PresswireMike Quade used to live in the guest room of a part-time broadcaster. Now, as Cubs manager, he gets prime spots.

They are the leader's words, the iconic inspiration for virtually every person who has sought the challenge to stand in front a group of talented young athletes and ask them to follow and believe in him.

For 27 years, since managing A-ball for Macon in the South Atlantic League back in 1984, Quade wanted to apply Lombardi's words to running a major league team yet was unsure if the chance would ever come. Ten years ago, Quade couldn't have been further from being a big league manager. He was so underpaid as a first-base coach with the Oakland A's -- a team that during Quade's time there went to the playoffs three straight seasons under Art Howe -- that he did not have his own apartment during the season but lived in the basement guest room of Marty Lurie, the team's part-time broadcaster.

Quade lived like so many baseball men, in the game they loved for decades in supporting roles, drawing a paycheck, helping talented kids reach their potential. All of them, the baseball lifers who come to work in the game before they begin shaving and leave the sport decades later, have to find their peace and realize that talent isn't fair. Quade never played in the majors, which is often the greatest advantage to becoming a big league manager. In the minor leagues, Quade managed more than 2,500 games for affiliates of the Phillies, Expos, A's, Cubs and Pirates.

But before this offseason, when he was hired as the Cubs' full-time manager after finishing the final 37 games of the 2010 season for Lou Piniella, he had never been tapped to be the leading man.

"I love coaching. That's how I saw myself. I was first and foremost a teacher," Quade says. "People ask me about whether or not I ever thought I'd get a chance to manage and it doesn't work that way. You make a decision that this is what I'm going to give my life to, but the carrot to manage at the big league level is true. You just hope to have an opportunity."

A PIECE OF MIKE QUADE lives in everyone who believes in the basic tenets of the meritocracy: hard work, perseverance, dedication. They are the words adults tell children to live by, that the work is the reward. But in the real world of power and connections, where self-promotion can become an advantage, and acumen is often secondary to name recognition, those words can quickly lose their meaning; they can quickly turn into a punch line for the guys who turn bitter for never having gotten their shot.

"You tell yourself this is how it's going to go, until you get slapped in the face 50 times," Quade said. "You tell yourself you'll manage here for a couple of years and then you'll move on and then you'll move up. And suddenly, life doesn't follow the master plan and you realize the game is humbling you every day, sometimes more so. You always tell yourself you can do the job, and boy have I learned from some incredible baseball people from Oakland, and Dusty [Baker] and Lou here, but that doesn't mean you're going to get one."

That Quade, a first-time big league manager at 53 years old, landed not only a managerial job but also one for one of the most important, most-watched franchises in baseball history was a study in both perseverance and the importance of having an advocate. He is another of the coaching tree from Oakland -- Texas manager Ron Washington and Quade worked together on the A's staff -- a fact that is not lost on the A's chief architect, general manager Billy Beane. Washington and Quade have another thing in common: They were surprising choices that vindicated the notion that lifelong grinders with the right break can be generals, too.

You make a decision that this is what I'm going to give my life to, but the carrot to manage at the big league level is true. You just hope to have an opportunity.

-- Cubs manager Mike Quade

The Cubs, on the cusp of the World Series in 2003 before suffering an epic collapse, have never been the same. They are 0-9 in the postseason since taking a 3-1 lead over Florida in the 2003 NLCS, losing three straight and the pennant to the Marlins in '03, and suffering consecutive first-round sweeps to the Diamondbacks in 2007 and the Dodgers the following year.

The organization, with its high profile, had hired high-profile managers for the past decade, from Don Baylor in 2000 to Dusty Baker in 2003 to Piniella in 2007. The Cubs have averaged $138 million per season in payroll over the past three seasons and simply from fan interest have been -- along with the Red Sox, Yankees and Cardinals -- one of the elite and most affluent franchises in modern baseball history. Unlike those teams, which have each won a World Series in the past decade, the Cubs have spent with the A-list but haven't had nearly the results. The Cubs haven't played in the World Series since 1945, 12 years before Quade was born.

SATURDAY, AUG. 21, 2010, WRIGLEY FIELD: The Cubs take a 5-0 lead and hang on to beat the Braves 5-4. Aramis Ramirez has a big day. Quade is looking forward to Sunday, which will be outgoing Atlanta manager Bobby Cox's last game at Wrigley Field. Quade, who's been the Cubs' third-base coach for the past four seasons, is at his house relaxing when the phone rings. On the other end is general manager Jim Hendry, who wants Quade to come to the stadium. Hendry tells Quade that Piniella, who said 2010 would be his last season, has abruptly quit as manager. Quade thinks Piniella's bench coach, Alan Trammell, will be named interim manager. Hendry offers the job to Quade.

"Everyone thinks you get a heads-up, but I had no idea. None," Quade recalls. "I lost a lot of sleep that night, but not out of excitement -- out of concern for Tram. I have so much respect for Tram. My friendship with him was more important than the managerial job.

"The next day is Bobby Cox-Lou Piniella day at Wrigley. I get on a plane after the game and now it's my club. I didn't come in and give everyone a Knute Rockne speech or anything, but it does hit you, after all this time of thinking in your head what you'd do if you were the manager."

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AP Photo/M. Spencer GreenThe Cubs went away from their recent history of hiring celebrity managers -- they even said no to Ryne Sandberg -- when they made Mike Quade the full-time skipper.

Quade finished the season 24-13. Hendry was impressed by the way the club responded, highlighted by winning three of four at San Diego, which essentially knocked the Padres out of the playoffs.

Now Hendry is in a quandary of whether to continue the Cubs' recent string of big-time, celebrity managers or bet that Quade's strong finish to the season will carry over into 2011 as the full-time manager. The big job produces interest from both big names and managers who have previous big league experience. Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs' Hall of Fame second baseman, wants the job, as does Trammell, who was a standout shortstop with the Tigers. There is talk that Yankees manager and Chicago native Joe Girardi might be in the mix. Eric Wedge and Bob Melvin, who both had managed before, were also higher-profile names than Quade.

"Alan didn't do anything wrong," Hendry said. "I thought Mike deserved a chance. I didn't think Alan would be the manager and I didn't want him to manage two months and then tell him he wasn't going to get the job. I think it surprised people.

"You never know how someone is going to be when they are sitting in the No. 1 chair, even if it is for a 30- or 40-game look. I think Mike ran the table. The players saw he was the real deal. He developed the young players. He did it without self-promotion. People may not think they are meaningful games coming down the stretch, but try telling that to San Diego. He did everything to put himself in the position to be rewarded with the job."

Hendry engineered something of a sea change in the philosophy. While Quade and Hendry both say it would have been more difficult to hire Quade had he not finished the season winning 24 of 37 games, it was Hendry who decided that Quade was a better choice despite owning less wattage.

"I have no regrets about Dusty or Lou. It was the right move at the time and they both did a great job for us," Hendry said. "You have to respect the clubhouse. It's fine to get along with the media and the rest of the front office, but you have to have respect. Mike understands that, ultimately, it's those 25 guys who are going to win you the game."

Baseball is a game of wattage, and no, Quade did not play in the big leagues, and does not have the dugout résumé of his two predecessors, Piniella and Baker -- but it is also a game of work. For nearly three decades, Quade played the scenarios of managing in the major leagues in his head, in his daydreams, and in his heart. He is boyish and energized by the first-class efficiency of the big leagues. Whatever the manager needs -- "Things that would've taken a week in the minors," he says -- is now just a phone call or quick conversation away. He is a first-time manager with a $123 million payroll. On this morning, pitcher Matt Garza -- the new acquisition from Tampa Bay -- is both seen and heard. Carlos Zambrano, the former ace who must regain his form, and Garza joke easily during stretching. Quade is talking about his eagerness for the arrival of Alfonso Soriano and Ramirez. He believes he has a good team, but is easy in pointing out that wins must be earned -- and so must his standing with his new charges.

"All I want from everyone is that they try to improve," he said. "Whatever they gave, we need it to be possible for them to maybe be a little better. That includes me. I agree with Dusty Baker when he says you have to give respect to get it because that's the fastest to earn trust. Be yourself. Be straight, even if it's a hard conversation, because when you're asking the players to give you an effort, they know you can't fool them."

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron," "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn.com. He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/hbryant42