Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010
Updated 8:15 PM
By Patrick Mooney
One night in late September, near the end of the 37-game tryout for the job he always wanted, Mike Quade disappeared down Waveland Avenue. Walking home in jeans, sandals and a polo shirt, he went completely unrecognized.
That is about to change for a baseball lifer who was used to doing his job in the shadows -- until Lou Piniella abruptly resigned on Aug. 22. With the television cameras rolling, the Cubs reintroduced the 53-year-old Quade as their manager Tuesday afternoon at a Wrigley Field news conference.
Quade -- who managed 2,378 games across 17 seasons in the minors while waiting for this opportunity -- has essentially viewed his career as a series of 30 one-year contracts.
Born in Evanston and educated at Prospect High School and the University of New Orleans, Quade will now have the relative security of a two-year deal with a club option for 2013 -- in the city where surprised fans have seen him on the platform waiting for the L.
Yes, this is a manager who uses public transportation, doesn't carry much name recognition -- it's pronounced "KWAH-dee" -- and has vowed to be himself. He received a text message from a friend that referenced his first job in 1985, managing a Class-A affiliate in Georgia: It's a long way from Macon.
"I wanted to manage at this level," Quade said. "You get done playing and you're young and you're fired up and you're going, 'Ok, three years, four years, it doesn't matter, I'll be there.' And then five years go by. You're still staying after it. You love what you do.
"You're teaching and working and then 10 years go by. You change your goals. You're going, 'Wow, this is a tough gig.' But all the while getting to do what I love."
In rewarding Quade for the team's 24-13 finish -- and the way he showed faith in some of the young players they will need in 2011 and beyond -- the Cubs have bypassed a franchise icon in Ryne Sandberg as well as the chance to pursue Joe Girardi once his contract expires with the New York Yankees at season's end.
General manager Jim Hendry purposely did not use the interim label when he promoted the third-base coach and insisted that Quade would be a candidate. But it was still difficult to view Quade -- who played only 63 games above the Class-A level in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization -- as the long-term answer at that point.
Sandberg, the Hall of Famer whose retired No. 23 flies on the right-field pole at Wrigley Field, was serving his apprenticeship at Triple-A Iowa, nearing the end of his fourth season managing in the minor-league system.
There was also the buzz in baseball circles that Girardi -- the ex-Cubs catcher who grew up in Peoria and graduated from Northwestern University -- could be tempted to come home with his family after the Yankees finished defending their World Series title.
Perception changed gradually, beginning Aug. 23 in Washington. Quade took over a team that had won 11 of 40 series under Piniella and looked like it could be heading toward a 100-loss season.
The Cubs won eight of their next 12 series to finish 75-87. Ultimately, player development was just as important to upper management.
"It was imperative that we didn't waste the last (six) weeks," Hendry said. "We had to find out what we had in some of these young players and we had to see if the veterans could be pushed a little differently.
"You have to give (Quade) an A-plus for it."
A bullpen leaning heavily on rookie relievers demonstrated growth, ending the season with 28 consecutive scoreless innings and a 1.19 ERA in its last 25 games. Carlos Zambrano pitched up to his 91.5 million contract, going 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his last 11 starts.
Quade showed conviction by benching 20-year-old rookie Starlin Castro for his mental lapses at shortstop and a comfort level in dealing with the media. Those communication skills defined roles in the bullpen, set the lineup in advance and assured players who sometimes didn't know where they stood with Piniella.
By late September, clubhouse veterans from Ryan Dempster to Marlon Byrd to Aramis Ramirez were lining up to endorse the return of Quade, the man almost no one saw coming.
"Opportunity knocks at your door, man, and he answered the call," Dempster said Tuesday inside the Cubs clubhouse. "He just made it fun. There are a lot of pressures that come with playing here and managing here and coaching here (and) I know he's as good as anybody to handle that.
"(That's) not a knock on anybody who had their name in for this, whether it's Eric Wedge or Bob Melvin or Bob Brenly or Joe Girardi or Ryne Sandberg...It's (just) a great thing that it was given to somebody who worked their tail off and took advantage of that opportunity."
And there was Quade late Tuesday afternoon in a dark suit, a light blue shirt and a striped tie doing interviews in the stadium club instead of fishing off Florida's Gulf coast, where he lives in the offseason "and the speckled trout have been on fire."
Quade's chased his dream across Canada -- Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver. He's worked in cities like Rockford and Des Moines. He's managed a winter-ball team in the Dominican Republic. And he's come home again.
"I've been all over the planet with this career," Quade said. "But it's never over until you retire and I'm never satisfied. It's not like, 'Ok, you've arrived.' No, no, no, you got to prove yourself.'
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.