Quade shows he's in control
In a rocky spring the Cubs manager won't let his team fall into disarray
MESA, Ariz. -- Mike Quade was talking Friday about college basketball, asking really, because he hasn't had a lot of spare time to surf the web and scan sports sections, as he has in recent springs.
"All I had to worry about was which guy to send home a lot of the time," he said.
Quade grinned, which you might not expect after the week he just had as Cubs manager. Considering this was only the first week on the Cactus League schedule, it is even more impressive.
For those just catching up, let us review. The Cubs lost five of their first six spring training games, committing 14 errors over the first four games -- 20 by Quade's count, including mental mistakes.
Then on Wednesday, a Cubs pitcher with the first-name "Carlos" but not the last name "Zambrano" popped off in the dugout after three errors were committed in an inning in which he gave up two home runs, a veteran objected and a scuffle ensued. For any other team, this might not have resonated beyond Mesa. But as we know, the Cubs are not any other team. First off, we've been conditioned that when a Cubs pitcher named Carlos is involved in any sort of scuffle to pay close attention. And second, did we mention these are the Cubs? They add a urinal at Wrigley Field and a press conference is called.
Quade said he didn't sleep the night after the scuffle, partly because he had a miserable cold. But mostly because of the 20 stinking mistakes. And so he called a team meeting, after which a players-only meeting was held, thereby breaking the unofficial major league record for most meetings held in the first week of spring training.
But to portray this Cubs team as being in any sort of disarray would be inaccurate. Not very good at this juncture, perhaps, but disarray, no. And however they come through this spring, there should be no doubt that Quade is in control of things.
"I understand the spotlight is on me bigger than Dallas," he said. "First-year guy and all the rest of it. So I'm in the mix whether I like it or not and whether I should be or not. But I was having that meeting because you don't make 14 errors in four days and a half a dozen mental errors. I can't sleep at night if I don't address that. That's just me. That's who I am.
"If you're going to try to turn something like that around or stop something like that, you better do it now. And whether it's the issue that took place in the dugout, stuff festers, you get irritated; no, I've got to get it out."
Quade has learned plenty from managing in the minors. Lesson one: Don't cause the incidents.
"When I was a younger manager, an idiot, I invoked a couple of them going after players I was disappointed with," he said. "But I learned very quickly that it's not productive. You might be totally justified but it's just not productive."
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"And you know what else?" said Quade. "I kind of like pissed-off people. I'm OK with that. But again, control your emotions and channel it in the right way and in the long run, that's not the right thing to have happen. But the frustration and the passion when things aren't going well, the irritation, it's a heck of a lot better than complacency."
Cubs players, it bears repeating, really like Quade. For one, he knows their names -- both first and last. He also does things like give them advanced notice when they're going to have a day off, something he will do to a smaller extent during the regular season.
It's a nice gesture, also a way to take a player out of the lineup with less fanfare.
"I like to do it, it keeps me on top of the game and it lets them know," Quade said. "Then my demands are much easier and if I ask for a little extra, let's go."
We will see if players abuse this favor by still not being ready to play on days off. But this team does have good leadership, from Ryan Dempster to Kerry Wood to Marlon Byrd to Carlos Pena, and Dempster is hoping there isn't a need for more meetings, at least not this week.
"Hopefully not much comes up," he said. "[But] I think it's up to the veterans to lead the clubhouse. It's our job as players to do that. This is our locker room."
Quade isn't willing to cede too much responsibility, however.
"When you struggle, it's easy to say, 'They're not doing this or that.' I told them, 'This is on me too.' I want them to understand that I'm in it with them and that I've got their back and everything else. But you can't think because of this disposition I happen to have that I'm at all happy with poor performance."
Quade promises there will be nothing done for effect, no self-inflicted pressure to do what he thinks will win outside approval.
"I like to think there's sincerity. I don't calculate. That meeting was from the heart and it's just what I do," he said. "I used to be around people who could come up with a script. I can't."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.