How delicious is this?
One of Theo Epstein’s first acts as the Chicago Cubs’ president of baseball operations was to pink manager Mike Quade. That was after he informed Ryne Sandberg—whom he once tried to hire to manage the Boston Red Sox’s Pawtucket minor league affiliate—that he wasn’t going to be in the running for the Cubs’ job.
Meanwhile, Sandberg, now managing the Philadelphia Phillies’ Lehigh Valley (AAA) affiliate, could be a candidate to manage . . . the Cubs’ most bitter National League Central rival, against whom Sandberg became famous in the first place.
You’re not seeing things.
The Phillies have given the St. Louis Cardinals permission to talk to Sandberg about the job from which Tony La Russa is freshly retired. Epstein outlined his criteria for the next Cub manager, and every drop of it seemed to apply to Sandberg until the final clause: The managerial search process begins immediately. We are looking for someone with whom and around whom we can build a foundation for sustained success. The next manager must have leadership and communication skills; he must place an emphasis on preparation and accountability; he must establish high standards and a winning culture; he must have integrity and an open mind; and he must have managerial or coaching experience at the major league level.
Sandberg spent five years managing in the Cubs’ system, establishing a reputation as a solid leader and communicator who demanded preparation and accountability from his players. He established standards and a winning culture; he led two Cub minor league teams to their postseasons and was named minor league manager of the year in the bargain. His reputation for integrity and for open-mindedness is well established. The only thing Sandberg lacks is major league coaching or managing experience.
It’s not impossible to accept Epstein’s insistence on Show experience for the next Cub skipper. But Sandberg laboured under former manager Jim Hendry’s suggestion and assurance that making his bones managing in the minors would assuredly, no questions asked, earn the Hall of Famer’s way into the Cub dugout. Sandberg took it to heart and was rewarded, well, not with his head on a plate, but with Quade—who took the Cubs after Lou Piniella’s in-season retirement under duress, and finished 2010 respectably enough—getting the top job. Thus did Sandberg leave the Cubs, for whom he was one of the game’s most respected and admired players, for the organisation that first signed and nurtured him, expressing quiet anger that he’d done as he was told only to see a broken promise at the end of it.
Nobody who knew Sandberg’s labours in the Cub system doubted he’d end up in a major league dugout. Even before he got shoved aside in favour of Quade, there were rumours about various teams keeping him on speed dial. But wouldn’t it surprise more than a few people if he ends up succeeding La Russa in St. Louis? It might shock no few Cardinal fans who yet remember how Sandberg became a name outside Chicago in the first place.
23 June 1984, a date poetically coinciding with Sandberg’s long-retired uniform number. With the Cardinals up 9-8 in the bottom of the ninth, Sandberg squared up Bruce Sutter (former Cub, future co-Hall of Famer) and hit one into the left field bleachers to tie it at nine. An inning later, after the Cardinals hung up two more, Sandberg faced Sutter with one on and hit another one into the bleachers. The Cubs went on to win in the eleventh. They also went on to win the National League East.
Now Sandberg could be getting a chance to manage the team he’d tied twice on the day he became a national star. And this time, there’ll be no hard feelings toward the Cubs. “Theo called me 10 minutes after they issued the press release and told me that they have a list of guys and I’m not on it,” he told the Chicago Daily Herald. “He wished me good luck and said he hoped I got a chance somewhere soon. He didn’t owe me that at all. He didn’t have to do that. It was a classy move and I’m very appreciative of the phone call. In the end, I wished him and everybody there good luck.”
Except perhaps when he leads the Cardinals against the Cubs?
Epstein was no less gracious in pinking Quade. “When I joined the Cubs last week, I knew that Mike had a reputation as an outstanding baseball guy, as a tireless worker, and as a first-rate human being,” said Epstein’s release. “After spending some time with him this past week, it became apparent to me that Mike’s reputation is well deserved. His passion, knowledge of the game, commitment, and integrity stood out immediately. While Mike is clearly an asset to any organization and any major league staff, Jed and I believe that the Cubs would benefit long term from bringing in a manager for 2012 who can come in with a clean slate and offer new direction.”
Only an optimist or perhaps a close relative could have believed Quade would be back managing the Cubs in 2012. From almost the moment Jim Hendry’s firing was made public—you may remember the Cubs decided to dump him but asked him to hang in there through the non-waiver trade deadline, anyway, for whatever that was worth—the worst kept secret on the North Side was when, not whether Quade was going to be invited to the unemployment line.
Quade told reporters Epstein handled the firing with “class all the way . . . If you’re going to let someone go, they handled it as well as anyone could.” Apparently, better than Quade handled a Cub clubhouse that found reasons to quit on him in 2011 after playing decently enough for him when he stepped into Piniella’s seat in 2010.
Which leaves the Cubs looking for whom? Texas Rangers’ pitching coach Mike Maddux (brother of another Cub icon, Greg) is thought to be a solid candidate, particularly with Epstein and new general manager Jed Hoyer talking about run prevention. Terry Francona—who essentially fired the Red Sox after that team’s stupefying collapse—could be a candidate, considering Epstein was maybe the one Red Sox official who really didn’t want to see him go and who really didn’t blame him for the Red Sox deflation. Francona’s bench coach, DeMarlo Hale, whom Epstein is said to have listed as a Francona successor in Boston before he left the Red Sox himself, is a third. Some speculation has also pointed toward Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, once a finalist for Francona’s former job, assuming the Rays let the Cubs talk to him.
But it also leaves the Cubs looking at considerably brighter days to come. Epstein made it known that, for all intent and purposes, there’d be few sacred cows as he undertook the task of remaking and remodeling the Cubs. It’s nice to know there’s someone tied to Wrigley Field who believes a sacred cow is worth one thing—steak.