A man driving past Gate K saw the reporters hanging out on the Waveland Avenue sidewalk and yelled through the open doors into Wrigley Field: “Get a better f----n’ team!”
A few minutes later, the cameramen packed up their gear as the media herd scurried across the parking lot on Monday afternoon. Steps away from the Wrigley Field marquee, Dale Sveum stood in front of the microphones for 10 minutes, dressed in a black shirt, jeans, flip-flops and a white TaylorMade hat with sunglasses shielding his eyes.
Sveum Watch was finally over. The Cubs manager got fired.
Sveum had received a hall pass for last year’s 101-loss season and appeared to be on solid ground with team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. Until Sept. 17, when Epstein met with beat writers in the entrance room to the visiting clubhouse of Milwaukee’s Miller Park.
As soon as Epstein responded to a direct question and declined to say Sveum would be returning for the final guaranteed year of his contract – “there’s no alarm bells to ring” – the staff’s anxiety level spiked.
“Two weeks ago, I never would have imagined that this was going to happen,” Sveum said. “But obviously it got the ball rolling.”
Epstein said Sveum wasn’t a “scapegoat” or a distraction from the severe lack of talent at the major-league level. Sources said frustration had been mounting with the slow progression of young players like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, as well as the way Sveum ran the bullpen and used certain pieces of the roster.
Of course, part of the logic in hiring Sveum two years ago was that he had experienced a rebuild with the Milwaukee Brewers, helping Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks form the nucleus of a team that won 90 games in 2008 and the National Central in 2011.
“Whatever perception people are going to read into or whatever, I’ve done this,” Sveum said. “I’ve produced a lot of good young players and developed them. Obviously, it just didn’t work out here.”
[RELATED: Sveum out as Cubs manager]
Epstein said he met with Sveum shortly after the All-Star break, outlining concerns the manager might not be the long-term answer: “He should not have been blindsided by what occurred in the media because I told him it was coming.”
A source said Sveum was looking over his shoulder as the front office prepared for another fire sale at the July 31 trade deadline. But the manager still maintained a good clubhouse vibe and a professional work environment.
The video analysis, game-planning system and defensive positioning helped turn Travis Wood into an All-Star pitcher, Darwin Barney into a Gold Glove second baseman and Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman into valuable trade chips.
[CUBS TALK: Canseco believes he can fix the North Siders]
“I’m really disappointed in my staff probably losing their jobs over this, because they’ve done one heck of a job,” Sveum said. “We got some pitchers really on track. Some guys had some great years and we were able to make some trades and get some really good young players (in return).
“We accomplished a lot. Obviously, it wasn’t good enough. But I’m proud of everything our coaching staff’s done and all the hard work. We did everything we could to get this organization and this team in another direction.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer and closer. But the organization is completely 100 percent healthier than it was two years ago.”
Sveum wasn’t a gifted public speaker, mangling words like “cybermetrics.” But he patiently answered all the big-picture questions about the future, never snapping at reporters while fronting for the organization’s long-range plans. Someone had to wear that 127-197 record.
[SPORTSTALK LIVE: Was firing Sveum the right call?]
“Dale was a man, every step of the way about this entire thing,” Epstein said. “I met with him (late Sunday night) because it didn’t feel right to just bring him in here (Monday) morning in a corporate way and let him go. Over a couple of beers we sat and talked for a couple hours about the decision and why. Gave us both a chance to get some things off our chest.
“All of us who have been around him every day through two difficult seasons have learned a lot about how he demonstrated strength in the face of adversity, how to maintain composure.”
Sveum, 49, said it was too soon to think about what he was going to do next, but doubted he’d sit out next season. He is a baseball gym rat.
“I loved coming here,” Sveum said. “I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it. I wish it could have lasted longer. But like I said before, we do all these jobs to be fired.”