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.

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”