Chicago Cubs

Feeding the beast: Managing at Wrigley Field

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Feeding the beast: Managing at Wrigley Field

Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010
6:20 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Mike Quade has acknowledged that his life could be in a completely different place if Lou Piniella hadnt agreed to make him part of the Cubs coaching staff almost four years ago.

Quade had spent the past four seasons managing at Triple-A Iowa and 15 of the previous 18 working in the minor leagues. He couldnt know when hed get another chance to get back to the majors.

Quade remained grateful for that, even as other opportunities opened up around him. He sat in the Wrigley Field dugout one morning in late September and remembered the last thing Piniella told him before he took over as Cubs manager.

He said just be prepared to deal with (the media), Quade recalled. It wasnt negative. It was just like this is a huge part of this job. When you do this at the minor-league level, ok, you might see one (reporter).

So thats (new). The managing of the game, the managing of people is something youve done (already) and (will keep) working at. But this onslaught every day is something that you need to get through.

That is something to think about as the Cubs patiently approach three months since Piniella first announced his retirement. General manager Jim Hendry is under no obligation to wait until Joe Girardis season is over, though the New York Yankees manager will continue to create headlines in Chicago until he signs his next contract.

Its entirely possible that the Cubs will make an announcement before the World Series. The intensity here is of course different than Des Moines or Rockford, two of the 10 stops Quade made during his 17 seasons as a minor-league manager. But for the next Cubs manager it wont be the same in 2011 as it was in 2001, or even two years ago.

Some of the greatest moments of Piniellas professional life came in the worlds media capital, amid the crossfire of the New York tabloids. Hes partially credited the amazing comeback of the 1978 Yankees from 14 games back on July 19 to World Series champions to the citys newspaper strike that year.

We just concentrated on playing baseball instead of the gossip, Piniella said this summer.

But that exposure still didnt completely prepare Piniella for managing a franchise that has won one postseason series since 1908 and is now heading into its 103rd year without a championship.

In Chicago, every win or loss is almost covered as if its an NFL game and not just by the traveling beat writers Piniella addressed by name.

Major League Baseball has made serious investments with its network and websites. So have national outlets like ESPN and FOX and regional affiliates such as Comcast SportsNet. Piniella knew the digital landscape completely altered the way he was seen and heard.

The media is so overwhelming because of everybodys expectations, Cubs pitcher Randy Wells said. If you can somehow put that out and just let the play on the field talk, then I think the media scrutiny will kind of come down a little bit.

This year we saw Piniella, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox move toward retirement. Together they won more than 6,600 games and represent a generation of managers that used to enjoy more autonomy and a more relaxed relationship with the press.

Front offices increasingly rely more on statistical analysis than a managers instincts, and view him as an interchangeable piece. But organizations shouldnt diminish the importance of the one person who communicates with fans before and after every game, nearly 400 times a year.

That is one of Ozzie Guillens definite strengths, his ability to take the pressure off the 25 men in the White Sox clubhouse.

Hes always been the guy that will take away the attention of the media, White Sox reliever Matt Thornton said. Hell distract them and hell make something happen and I really think he does it intentionally.

Maybe he doesnt maybe its Ozzie being Ozzie. But he really does get the attention off his players and onto himself.

Does he like the attention? Probably, but at the same time I think hes doing the right thing (so that) no ones constantly harping on the offense or constantly harping on the bullpen or the starting staff. Its all about him and players are able to relax and just go out and focus on what they need to do to win.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has indicated that the team needs a manager who understands what he would be getting into, the culture of Wrigley Field and the fans expectations.

Ryne Sandberg has been an enormous public figure in Chicago since near the beginning of the Reagan administration.

For all their experience, Eric Wedge (Cleveland) and Bob Melvin (Seattle, Arizona) dont fit that part of the description, having worked in smaller markets, though they seem to be in good position to be managing somewhere soon, possibly in the National League Central.

Near the end of his 37-game audition, Quade still enjoyed the back-and-forth with reporters, though it would be interesting to see if he still felt that way next July during the middle of an 11-day homestand, should he get the job.

Whoever that man is, he will have to be himself.

You look guys in the eye, Quade said last month. You realize (youre) going to have rough stretches. Whether Im talking to them, or Im talking to you guys (in the media), thats the only way I know how to handle things.

(You) got to be honest and say what you need to say, make your adjustments and move on. (I) hope I get to keep doing it.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Stop asking if the Cubs are back, they need to make their own momentum — like they did Sunday

Stop asking if the Cubs are back, they need to make their own momentum — like they did Sunday

Stop asking if the Cubs are back.

That’s been a season-long talking point every time something that seems big at the time happens, constant wonder over what can snap the Cubs out of it and get them back to their expected place of dominating the division and looking like a World Series contender.

But it’s been pretty plain up to this point that one game hasn’t made that drastic difference fans are looking for.

All those “Cubs back?” inquiries have only been met with the same kind of play that’s kept the team middling all season. Flashes of brilliance have come and gone, and still the Cubs turned in a sub-.500 first half and remain just a few games ahead of their division rivals from Milwaukee and St. Louis.

So it’s time to stop wondering if every big win will lead to the Cubs turning on the jets and blasting away from the Brewers and Cardinals.

If the Cubs are going to get the kind of momentum required to do that, they’re going to need to make it themselves. Just like they did Sunday.

The Cubs beat the visiting Toronto Blue Jays and completed their first three-game series sweep in a month, their first since that six-game win streak out of the All-Star break with back-to-back broom breakouts in Baltimore and Atlanta. (For those appreciative of technicalities, yes, the Cubs won both games in the road half of the Crosstown matchup with the White Sox.)

But it was the way they did it Sunday, coughing up a 3-0 lead, coughing up two runs in the top of 10th, only to score three times in the bottom of that extra inning, winning on a walk-off base hit by one of the new guys, Alex Avila.

Did it mean that the Cubs are back? Did it mean this is the start of something great? What did it mean?

“That we’re a good team, I guess,” Avila said. “There are certain times over the course of the year when you’re a team that’s trying to get to the playoffs, you’ve got to win crazy games like that, games you should win.

“For me, momentum depends on the next guy that’s pitching, to be honest with you. If (John Lackey) goes out Tuesday and throws a good game and gives us an opportunity, then you can say that. But for me, once the game’s over it’s over, and the next game is something completely different.”

Sunday’s game was far from pretty. The Cubs benefitted from a pair of dropped third strikes in that 10th inning, including one where Blue Jays catcher Raffy Lopez plum forgot to throw to first, allowing Javy Baez to reach. Baez scored the game-winning run two batters later, sliding in ahead of the throw on Avila’s hit.

This time last year, the Cubs had a double-digit lead in the National League Central standings. After this sweep, you still need just one hand’s worth of fingers to add up their current division lead. This clearly isn’t last year. But Sunday’s win did have a little bit of that 2016 feel to it.

“The way the boys grinded at the end was awesome, definitely reminiscent of last year somewhat” starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “That’s where we’ve got to get to, we’ve just got to be who we are right now. And hopefully that’s the team we can be now, maybe even progress beyond that. But yeah that was huge. Kept on fighting, even late in that game, and found a way to win that one.”

That’s not to say, though, that 2017’s problems didn’t pop up. The Cubs were just 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position. They gathered just four hits the remainder of the game after Albert Almora Jr.’s bases-clearing double with nobody out in the third inning. The bullpen could hardly be described as lock-down, with Justin Wilson adding two more walks to his struggle of a portfolio since joining the Cubs, Wade Davis also walking two batters and Koji Uehara charged with the two runs in the 10th that put the Blue Jays on top.

But listen to Joe Maddon and look elsewhere.

Those “little things” that everyone is always so fond of telling you make the difference in championship seasons? They were there Sunday, chiefly in the form of Baez’s 10th-inning hustle, which first got him to first base on that dropped third strike and later allowed him to score from second on the game-winning base knock.

“Javy runs hard,” Maddon said. “For those who ever want to criticize this guy, that’s a ball in the dirt, about 15 feet away from the catcher, the catcher just blanked out on it. If Javy does not run hard right there, it’s a different result. He ran hard, and that’s why he was safe because by the time Lopez figured it out, he had already beaten it to first base.

“All those little diminutae like that, that’s the difference between winning and losing. Everybody’s going to look at Alex’s hit. Great. It was a big moment. But Javy striking out and not just sulking, runs to first base.

“This is the nuance of the game,” Maddon continued, moving on to the lead Baez got at second base ahead of Avila’s hit. “Guys that get good (secondary leads). The way I’ve always described that in spring training when you have your base-running meeting is that you’re being a great teammates when you get a good secondary lead because it leads to moments like that. … You’re being a great teammate when you understand the importance of getting good secondary leads.”

Maybe the spark that’s been so intensely looked for all season isn’t one singular highlight-reel win but a collection of plays over the course of a few games. All three of these wins against the Blue Jays were one-run victories. Little things make the difference in such tight games. They make the difference in such tight division races, too.

One game and one sweep against a last-place team gets the Cubs nowhere close to out of the woods. A playoff spot is hardly a certainty in such a closely contested Central. And for as potentially momentum-building as this weekend series might have seemed, remember the Blue Jays are a last-place team. The Cincinnati Reds, both the team the Cubs played prior to the Blue Jays and the team they’ll play next, and the Philadelphia Phillies, the second stop on next week’s road trip, are also last-place teams.

The Cubs should be winning these games. You could just as easily argue that Sunday’s game was a troubling sign. Why should the Cubs need two dropped third strikes in the 10th inning to get them a win against a last-place team? Valid question.

But if you heard the racket coming out of the Cubs’ celebration room, you might be convinced otherwise.

Is momentum real? To this point, it hasn’t been for the 2017 Cubs. But with the schedule at an easy point, maybe it becomes real soon. They just have to make it.

“We want to get on a good roll,” Almora said. “This series is great, it’s a great start. We’ve been playing well since the All-Star break, so we feel really good as a team. Pitchers coming together, offense coming together. It’s great.”

“A really good team, once you’ve won the series with one left, c’mon. This is when you really want to make some hay at that point, you just don’t want to concede anything,” Maddon said. “Getting three out of three makes a difference moving forward.”

Watch: Cubs complete extra-inning comeback with walk-off hit to sweep Blue Jays

Watch: Cubs complete extra-inning comeback with walk-off hit to sweep Blue Jays

Sunday's Cubs-Blue Jays game had a little bit of everything.

There was Miguel Montero's home run against his former team to tie the game, a crazy catch against the wall by Kevin Pillar and that doesn't even include the 10th inning, which was on its own level of bizarre.

Pillar put the Blue Jays ahead with a single in the top of the 10th and then Justin Wilson walked the first two batters he faced to extend Toronto's lead to 5-3.

Then things got real weird.

Kyle Schwarber reached to lead off the inning despite striking out. He reached on a wild pitch third strike.

Later in the inning, after Schwarber had come around to score and cut the lead to 5-4, Javy Baez also reached on a dropped third strike. Catcher Raffy Lopez decided not to throw to first with the tying run, Ben Zobrist, at third base.

The Blue Jays' implosion continued when Jason Heyward was hit by a pitch after falling down 0-2 in the count. That loaded the bases and set the stage for Alex Avila to do this:

That wrapped up a series sweep for the Cubs.