For Cubs, Q could be the answer
By hiring Mike Quade, the Cubs are distancing themselves from their losing legacy
CHICAGO -- Mike Quade is not Joe Girardi.
Mike Quade is not Ryne Sandberg, and he's not Dusty Baker and he's not Lou Piniella.
Thankfully, he's not Eric Wedge.
Mike Quade, who toiled in anonymity coaching third base in Chicago, and before that for two decades in the minor leagues, is the new manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Stranger things have happened to the Cubs, but Quade's good fortune in going from afterthought to top candidate with a flawless six-week audition, makes him a rarity for a fan base and organization obsessed with its own bad luck.
Call Quade the White Cat.
You might be angry that Ryno was bypassed or that Girardi wasn't wooed with a bag of money and drowned in nostalgia. But I'm here to tell you that you're wrong.
This is a good thing.
Frankly, it's the best move general manager Jim Hendry has made since he called Dave Littlefield in 2003 and said, "Want to make a deal?"
Piniella came into town as a quick-fix savior, replacing another would-be miracle worker in Baker.
It was World Series or bust for those two, and we all know how that ended.
Those two, and the Cubs as an organization, set themselves up for failure by thinking they could erase the darkness with star wattage and later, a lot of free agents.
Talking about a World Series doesn't get you there.
Needless to say, there were no promises about winning a World Series when the Cubs introduced Quade as the 51st manager in franchise history on a beautiful fall day with no baseball.
Tom Ricketts, who closed his family's deal to buy the team almost a year ago, and Hendry sat with the man expected to deliver this team back to the postseason, or at the very least, annual relevance.
Quade is from Chicago, but he's not of the Cubs, which is to say he's not mired in their conflicting, sometimes cruel history like the fans. And conversely, he's not ignorant of the pressures inherent with the job.
As a third-base coach he was anonymous, just a bald dude who occasionally had to stop Ryan Theriot from chugging around the bases like a Little Leaguer. Now he'll be the one who gets the umpteen questions about curses and day games and Alfonso Soriano's place in the batting order.
He got a taste of the job's travails during his six-week interim stint after Piniella's in-season retirement. He passed with flying colors thanks to a 24-13 record and marked improvement by his young pitching staff.
But that was September baseball, a notoriously difficult time to evaluate a team. This is a six-month grind of a job that would make veins on Girardi's tightly coiled neck explode. Sandberg would have quickly realized why he never talked in the first place.
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Can Quade ignore the negative connotations of Cubs history?
"I'm going to," Quade said. "But I've lived here and I was raised here. I get it. You're totally aware of it. But it's not going to do us any good at all as a ballclub or me as a manager or me as a person, to have that anywhere near my thoughts on a daily basis."
Dealing with the pressures of the job simply won't be a problem for Quade. He simply has the right kind of personality for the job. He can banter with the best of them, while delivering a clear, concise message to his players. Several veteran Cubs raved about his communication skills. He plans on still throwing batting practice.
"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 to me in September. "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."
After all, how many new managers refer to their boss as "Jimmy" in their introductory news conference?
"I like to think I take this thing very, very seriously, but I don't take myself quite as seriously," Quade said. "I think the players know what I'm about. I know Jim and Tom do too. I have a straightforward approach to people, and whether that's you guys or someone in the clubhouse, that's the way I've done things."
While it was easy to fall in love with the idea of Sandberg, the Cubs icon, coming back to take his organization where he couldn't as a player, that was just a romantic fantasy.
The idea that Girardi would bail on the defending World Series champions for a puncher's shot to win with the Cubs was sugary enough to require a dentist's visit. If you believed it, you're definitely a Cubs fan.
And the Cubs, not to mention their fans in the media, need to leave the fantasy and romance to Julia Roberts movies.
The 53-year-old Quade's journey from Prospect High to Clark and Addison doesn't make me believe in fate as much as it inspires me to believe in the value of hard work and its dividends.
Most Cubs fans, still bitter over the quick demise of this team, couldn't give too (Brian) Schlitters about Quade's biography or his alopecia or his True Chicago Story.
But who is Quade?
"He's a renowned cook in his own mind," said Quade's college coach at the University of New Orleans, Ron Maestri, who showed up to the announcement. "He's an outdoorsman. He loves to fish. He has a good way with people and I think the players respect him. That's half the battle."
Quade called himself an organizational guy, which is to say, he believes in a holistic approach to building a baseball team. It's not about celebrity or big-name free agents. The Cubs need a better foundation and who better than an organizational man to take the reins.
"Mike's a terrific baseball guy and the reason people didn't put him on a higher level publicly before, is because he doesn't promote himself," Hendry said. "He is what he is."
You think Sandberg deserved it by spending four years in the minors? Quade got his first managing gig in 1985 with Class A Macon in the Pirates organization, and he managed 10 more teams for five organizations over 17 years, and coached for three years in Oakland. He managed the Iowa Cubs for three years and impressed Hendry so much he was invited to be on Piniella's staff after not getting the manager's job.
"God bless Mike Quade," Hendry said. "We told him he was going to be on the big league staff, and he wanted to know why he wasn't considered stronger for the manager job, which I liked."
Quade was only 28 when he got his first managing job, just a couple years removed from playing.
His long trip from the Macon Pirates to the Chicago Cubs is validation of the best parts about baseball -- sacrifice being part and parcel to success, the journey as the destination -- and an inspiration to every .215-hitting catcher in the Sally League who knows baseball better than he plays it.
"'85, wow. Macon, Ga. -- that's a long way back," Quade said. "I'd loved the game and wanted to manage at this level, yeah. But when you get done playing and you're young and you're fired up and you're going, 'OK, three years, four years. I'll start moving up the ladder and I'll be there.' And then, five years go by. You're still staying after it. You love what you do. You're teaching, working and then 10 years go by. You change your goals. All of a sudden, you're going, 'Wow, this is a tough gig,' but all the while getting to do what I love to do.
"I talk so much about the process with the ballclub and it's probably the same for me. If it ever get to a point where I said, 'Gosh, am I going to get it?' I probably would have walked away."
Quade made several fishing references Tuesday. He was just getting done with a long day on the water in Bradenton, Fla., when he got the call Sunday from Hendry. How did he pass the time between the end of the season and now?
"The speckled trout are on fire in Sarasota, the redfish OK; can't find a snook," he said.
I know plenty of disbelieving Cubs fans who wish Hendry were fishing right now instead of hiring another manager, but this hiring is a clear sign that Hendry will be around for the last two years of his contract, which runs alongside Quade's two-year deal (he has an option for 2013).
If you're mad that Sandberg was rejected, it's valid. But you have to come to grips with two things: The 1980s are over and Ryne Sandberg the manager isn't Ryno the second baseman.
You might want to know how this hiring is going to put the Cubs five outs closer to the World Series, because that's still the only goal for a franchise that could sell 3 million tickets by opening the doors and the beer taps. Truth is, even the dumbest Cubs fan knows no manager can guarantee this team a spot in October.
The Cubs tried to buy their way out of a century-long funk when the Tribune Co. opened its checkbook to Hendry following the 2006 season and he nearly got it done.
Two first-round sweeps and two empty seasons later, we're back at square one. With new owners and a decreasing payroll, the Cubs have to rely on an improving farm system and a mix of promising young players and aging veterans to compete in an easily winnable NL Central.
Quade's style is going to be more direct than Piniella's, and by dint of his personality, more hands-on. He's a coach by trade, of course, and the players are drawn to him.
"You can't fool players," Hendry said.
"These kids played like a son of a gun those last six weeks," Quade said. "I owe a debt of gratitude to all of them for not mailing it in the last six weeks, for coming to play and for getting better. That's kids and veterans."
For all the positives Sandberg could have brought to the job as a Hall of Famer patient enough to work his way up the rungs of the minor leagues, Quade deserved his shot more. And this is the kind of team that needs his steady hand.
The Cubs are in flux, and no one's quite sure what 2011 will bring. With rightfully lowered expectations and a fresh start, maybe next year will actually be worth the wait.
"Why not us?" Quade said.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPN Chicago. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at twitter.com/espnchijon.