Dale Sveum has always told it like it is.
That’s one of the defining characteristics of the man who managed the Cubs for two seasons, only to get fired last September, when the Cubs turned in another last-place finish.
Did Sveum’s matter-of-fact responses to reporter’s questions — remember when he threatened to send Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro to the minors? — ever lead to a chiding from Cubs management?
“I’ll take the Fifth on that one,” Sveum said with a chuckle Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field, serving in his new role as hitting coach for the Royals.
It elicited loud laughs from reporters who were gathered to try and squeeze some of the secrets of his firing out of the ex-skipper now that’s he no longer under the employ of Chicago’s North Side baseball team. As usual, Sveum told it like it is, though those behind-the-scenes nuggets were few to come by. Turns out Sveum isn’t the kind to keep grudges.
“It was a great experience,” Sveum said. “You wish them all the best. Things don’t work out. We all have these jobs to get fired someday. There’s not a lot of tenure for most people. That was a great experience in a great city, the best city in the country as far as I’m concerned.
“It’s a great, great experience, and I’ll always thank Theo (Epstein) and the Ricketts family for giving me the opportunity.”
Sveum revealed he’s exchanged some text messages with Epstein and Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer since he was axed back in October. It’s also hard to be bitter when a new job offer comes in so quickly. Sveum said his phone rang on the way back to his apartment from Wrigley Field.
But it might be less what’s happened since and more what kind of guy Sveum is that allowed him to handle his firing with his head held high.
“You have to be a man to be in this game, there’s no question about it, and understand that things don’t work out or someone wants somebody else or the team’s not playing well. And people get fired. That’s what happens in all sports,” he said.
Sveum has no ill will toward the Cubs, and he let everyone know how happy he was that a few members of his coaching staff were retained. But, of course, Sveum couldn’t get out of his 10-minute-plus press conference in the visitors dugout on the South Side without giving a few blunt assessments of the Cubs’ current players, like what went wrong with Castro last season.
“Like I’ve said before, you get into the on-base percentage and all that, if you want to tell somebody to do it, it usually has never worked. I’ve never seen it work. Guys grow into that — seeing pitches and taking their walks and things like that. I think we saw it last year in Castro, as much as anything,” he said. “You have to see pitches and you have to take, and I think it bothered him and had a lot to do with him struggling last year a little bit.”
Sveum knew what bothered his former shortstop because he has a passion for teaching hitting, and that’s what he’s doing again in his new role. Does he want to manage again? “Oh, of course,” he said. But he’s focused on turning the Royals around. And, since he moved from third-base coach to hitting coach roughly two weeks ago, the Royals have been on a hot streak, including four straight wins coming into Friday night’s game against the White Sox.
“I don’t really think too much about it anymore,” Sveum said. “We’re focused here, we’ve got a good team, we’re really playing well right now and back in the thick of things. And my job is hitting coach here and to help out in any capacity I can. So I really don’t ever dwell on that. That’s a long time ago now.”
If Sveum’s tenure with the Cubs is already ancient history, time moves pretty fast for him. And that could mean it won’t be long until he’s back in the manager’s role. But if he gets there again, don’t expect him to change. He’s still going to tell it like it is.
“I don’t think I’d do anything different. It’s the way I am,” Sveum said. “Players know when you change and you’re not yourself. I am what I am. Maybe I’d leave the pitcher in an inning more or took him out earlier. But as far as the way I managed and managed people and communication, I’m not really going to change in that way.”