A winning experience for Mike Quade
Cubs playing some of their best baseball of the season under enthusiastic skipper
CHICAGO -- It has been called an interrogation room and a dungeon.
The Cubs' bunker of an interview room is a dreary place to conduct your business, and when it's crammed full of TV cameras and nosy reporters, it can certainly be uncomfortable for a manager.
Dusty Baker acted like he'd rather stick one of his toothpicks in his eyes than go in there, especially when things went south.
Lou Piniella, another old-fashioned manager fond of riffing with reporters in his office, never felt comfortable in that environment.
Mike Quade treats the interview room like it's a Broadway stage and he's been playing Des Moines dinner theater for 30 years.
It's not a one-man act, but Quade is certainly the leading man for the Cubs' September production of "Managing Expectations."
Quade, the 53-year-old erstwhile third-base coach, was given Piniella's job for the rest of the season when the manager stepped down Aug. 22. Quade was given the job for the year without an explicit interim designation, and with seemingly little hope to keep it for 2011.
Since taking over the failing team, he has been a nothing less than a welcome whoosh of fresh air, a straight-talking, joke-cracking, batting practice-tossing, honest-to-Ozzie Guillen legitimate major league manager.
"I don't think you can be in Q's vicinity without having a high energy level, because that's what he brings to the table," catcher Koyie Hill said. "It's always full-bore. I don't know if he has a case of Mountain Dew before he gets out of the house or what."
Quade is 17-8 to start his managerial career and is coming off a historic 8-1 road trip. After hitting their nadir in August, the Cubs are ending the season on a positive note. A team that looked like it could stumble to 100 losses might not lose 90.
Quade was named a candidate for the gig by general manager Jim Hendry when he got the nod over bench coach Alan Trammell and his résumé has only gotten better.
Hendry is reportedly set to interview Ryne Sandberg, the Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year and Cubs Hall of Famer.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi is likely the overall favorite, if he abandons reason and leaves the Bronx, something I doubt will happen.
Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly, former Indians manager Eric Wedge and Nationals third-base coach Pat Listach remain strong public candidates.
But while Sandberg has proved more than worthy of leading his old club, I find myself leaning more and more toward Quade. I'm not alone.
"Guys are pulling for him in here," said one player, who wished to remain anonymous.
Outside the clubhouse, Quade has limited name appeal, especially compared to the leading candidates. Born in Evanston and raised in the northwest suburbs, Quade has been the third-base coach in Chicago since 2007 after managing 2,378 games in the minors, having earlier served a stint in that position for Oakland. He is a two-time manager of the year in the minors and a recipient of more compliments than any man could ask for.
Quade doesn't have Sandberg's bona fides as a player, obviously. He played just 63 games above A-ball in a brief minor league career.
And while I don't think the Cubs can go wrong giving Sandberg a shot at the job, I can't shake the feeling they have a good fit already.
We definitely don't think of this as interim deal. Q is our manager, and we'll see how it plays out.” -- Cubs catcher Koyie Hill
Quade is more than a mere fill-in. He's no one's Bruce Kimm.
"We definitely don't think of this as interim deal," Hill said. "Q is our manager, and we'll see how it plays out."
"He deserves consideration for the job," Carlos Marmol said. "He makes good moves with the bullpen. Good or bad, he's always the same. He's been great for me."
Quade's greatest skill, besides obvious baseball acumen, is his ability to communicate with players. Reporters are already seeing his verbal skills first-hand.
One of the main beefs players had with Piniella was that he would wait too long to fill out his lineup. Or he would make a lineup and then change it later. It sounds trivial but it's not for athletes who train themselves on routine for six months at a time. There was a lack of communication between the manager and his players, and that, more than anything, caused them to tune him out at times.
Quade has been completely different, and the players appreciate that.
"He's very planned out," Hill said. "Guys know when it's their turn. He just relates to everyone very well. He's very, very personable."
"He was like that when I played for him [at Triple-A]," said former Cub Mike Fontenot, in town with the Giants. "From what I hear from the guys over here, he's been really good with them."
Evaluating a team in September is tricky. The Cubs have won under Quade with no pressure and a schedule dominated with teams out of the pennant race. While Piniella got an expensive free-agent class, Quade thinks the Cubs can win with the guts of their current roster.
"Maybe it sounds crazy, but yes, I do," he said.
Good thing he feels that way, because no one expects this organization to dramatically increase a payroll already north of $100 million.
"I'm an optimist," he said. "You see this club playing well here at the end. If they continue to play well and we continue to play this thing out the next two weeks in good fashion, I'd go home and whoever gets this job next year should feel excited about this club. That's just the way I feel and that has no bearing on what happens this winter with Jim and what moves are made."
Of all the players who have prospered under Quade's brief leadership, Andrew Cashner, one of the organization's most promising pitchers, is most prominent.
Cashner, who gave up a solo homer and took the loss Tuesday, has given up just three earned runs in his last 14 appearances, while striking out 16 in 12 2/3 innings.
"He's shown a lot of confidence in the young guys," Cashner said. "Not that Lou didn't, but at this point of the season we're at right now, Quade's just given young guys more opportunities."
Perhaps the most important pitcher on the roster, Carlos Zambrano, won five straight starts before a no-decision Tuesday, all under the new manager. A coincidence? Probably. But all these coincidences are adding up.
While that was a scary situation, the rest of the road trip was more positive.
"I can't imagine, coming into the situation, being better than this last road trip," Quade said. "Having said that, I didn't make one pitch, didn't swing a bat, didn't play defense. So the credit is out there in the clubhouse. I think they're having fun and they're playing, the last six weeks, on a club that hasn't had a very good year."
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Owner Tom Ricketts praised the job Quade has done thus far when I asked him about it informally on the field before Tuesday's game. Ricketts said he's confident the Cubs will find the right fit this offseason as they look for a manager to lead the team for the long haul.
The Cubs have gone for two straight big-name managers and both have nearly turned the corner on a century of futility. Maybe it's time to stop worrying about quick fixes and marquee names and look for the best candidate for the team in place. Maybe it's Quade, maybe it's not.
After Quade's pregame media session, a few reporters clued him in to an inside joke about how the Cubs cookbook cover has turned into the latest team jinx.
Several players on the cover have been traded or injured since its publication.
Quade laughed at the idea and said he doesn't believe in jinxes or curses.
But he still wanted to be safe.
"Please tell me I'm not on the cover," he said.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.