Commentary

So Cubs-like to pass on Ryne Sandberg

Nothin' against the man to whom they gave the job, but there was a better choice

Originally Published: October 20, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Ryne SandbergAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhRyne Sandberg may get interviews with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.
Maybe this will work. Maybe a guy who would have never gotten a sniff at the full-time job if Lou Piniella hadn't flamed out will break the Chicago Cubs' 102-year starvation diet. Maybe Mike Quade is the next Jim Leyland or Earl Weaver, a nobody who became a baseball somebody.

But I doubt it.

If it happens, if Quade can lead the Cubs to their first World Series championship since 1908, then I'll believe anything -- that Barry Bonds hit all those home runs because of flaxseed oil, that Wade Phillips will be the 2010 NFL Coach of the Year.

There are reasons why the Cubs are the Cubs -- and the decision to hire Quade is one of them. I'm not saying it's a terrible choice; just the wrong choice.

Nothing personal, but Ryne Sandberg, not Quade, should have been introduced Tuesday as the 51st manager of the Cubs. It would have made so much sense.

Sandberg isn't some Mark McGwire big-timer whose first coaching job was on the major league level. Sandberg grinded for four years as a manager in the bus and drive-thru-window leagues of the minors. He did his time for the Cubs in Class A, Double-A and Triple-A, earning Pacific Coast League manager of the year honors this past season.

He also has a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, which should count for something. And he's wearing a Cubs cap on it.

Sandberg was the consummate professional as a player, and he would have been the consummate Cubs manager. He spoke with his bat and glove when he played those 15 seasons in Chicago. But once out of uniform, he spoke from his heart.

Ryne Sandberg
AP Photo/Jim McKnightAmong the credentials that didn't sway the Cubs: Sandberg's plaque at Cooperstown.

Go back and listen to his HOF induction speech in 2005, when he vaporized a certain unnamed former teammate (hello, Sammy Sosa). Sandberg has always been about playing the game the right way. You think he would have been intimidated managing the bizarre and undependable Carlos Zambrano? Something would have had to give, and it wouldn't have been Sandberg.

Sandberg would have been good for the Cubs and also good for business. If you don't think that matters, then you weren't at Wrigley Field during the final month or so of another lost season.

There are no guarantees Sandberg would have won a division, a pennant or a World Series. But he couldn't have done any worse than Piniella, whose teams failed to win a playoff game in six tries. And after the magic and heartbreak of 2003, Dusty Baker never led the Cubs to another postseason appearance. Nor did Don Baylor before him.

There weren't a dozen baseball fans outside the city of Chicago who knew who Quade was when the Cubs asked him to pitch long managerial relief for the final 37 games this summer. I'm not sure there were a dozen fans in Chicago who knew who he was.

Even after he was hired Tuesday, I had two baseball fans tell me, "You hear about the Cubs and Quade?" But they mispronounced his name: calling him, Qu-aid, instead of Quad-ee.

People know Sandberg's name. People name their kids after Sandberg.

I'm all for rewarding loyalty. Quade spent 17 years managing in the minors and four years as a major league coach. On Aug. 22, he replaced the beleaguered Piniella, who called it quits and returned home to Tampa to care for his ailing mother.

Quade finished 24-13 as interim manager and showed a nice, firm touch when handling players such as shortstop Starlin Castro, a gifted but sometimes brain-cramped rookie who needed the occasional tough love. Quade also got seven wins out of the revitalized Zambrano. And he earned the support of key Cubs veterans.

That support, those 24 victories and the fact that the Cubs are on their second 100-year rebuilding plan likely had a lot to do with Quade's hiring. Plus, he's a likable, personable, grinder type of guy.

Still, Quade has only 37 more games of big league managerial experience than Sandberg. Now compare that to Sandberg's big-game experience. And with all due respect to Quade, those 37 games were played when nothing was on the line for the Cubs.

Make no mistake: The Cubs' payroll isn't going to approach the $145 million the Ricketts family spent in 2010 to finish fifth in the NL Central. It is a roster with a handful of talented young players, but also a roster with the ball-and-chain contracts of Alfonso Soriano and Zambrano.

You wonder if owner Tom Ricketts liked Quade not only because of those 24 victories but also because he might have come more cheaply than Sandberg. He definitely was a less expensive alternative to Piniella, as well as to New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who told reporters Tuesday that he had considered the idea of managing the Cubs. No way would Girardi have signed the same contract as Quade: a two-year deal with a club option for a third.

Sandberg was slightly surprised and more than slightly disappointed when he learned he hadn't gotten the Cubs job. But that's baseball. It's like in "Bull Durham," when Nuke LaLoosh says, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about that for a while."

It rained on Sandberg Tuesday. By the end of next season, we'll know if Cubs fans got soaked too.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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