Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Posted 10:15 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
Over the phone the old college coach could sense the frustration in Mike Quades voice: Im not going anywhere with this.
Quade had already become one of Ron Maestris favorite players at the University of New Orleans. They stayed in touch throughout Quades long and winding career. Maestri long ago recognized Quades inquisitive mind and absolutely loved the way he played the game.
Quade excelled in hit-and-run situations and as a converted center fielder always took charge and chased after everything. Quade obsessed over details and thought his teams should do the same.
Quade always had supreme confidence in his leadership abilities. Growing up in Chicagos northwest suburbs, he was the natural three-sport athlete option quarterback, point guard, shortstop that teammates took cues from at Prospect High School.
But on the other end of the line it sounded like Quade had doubts about the business, his ability to play politics and promote himself.
The Oakland As had won 91, 102 and 103 games and made the playoffs each time during Quades three years as first-base coach (2000-02). Quade wasnt asked back for a fourth season and, well, it wasnt the first time his career seemed to stall and hit a dead end.
Maestri now the chief operating officer for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins knew Quade had pounded the pavement for so long in places like Rockford, Macon, Ga., and Scranton, Pa. He had already managed all across Canada Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Why give it up? Youre so close. Dont quit now.
At the age of 54, a baseball lifer finally has his dream job. Camp Quade ended Wednesday in Mesa, Ariz. By the time the United Airlines charter lands at OHare International Airport, the Cubs will have less than 48 hours until Opening Day.
And then the hard work really begins.
Q tells it like it is, Maestri said. Theres no B.S.-ing. Hes a grinder.
You cant fool players
Bumped back to the minors, Quade latched on with the Cubs organization in 2003. You ask three different people who worked with Quade at Triple-A Iowa and in three separate interviews they say the exact same thing: He hasnt changed a bit.
On a recent morning Quade took off his windbreaker, hat and sunglasses and stood on the mound at HoHoKam Park. Aramis Ramirez smoked a line drive right off the screen and Quade pulled his bald head back.
One player joked that eventually Quade will get tired of throwing batting practice when its 100 degrees in August. But its not an act. You see Quade with a bat in his hands, bunting off a machine during a defensive drill.
Before the Cubs played a single exhibition game, Quade had mapped out virtually the entire Cactus League schedule. He drafted all the lineups to ensure that each player would reach a certain number of at-bats this spring.
Lou Piniella should be in the Hall of Fame one day, but the Cubs hated how late hed post the lineup each day, and it was impossible to ignore the difference.
There was a big white board on one wall in Quades office at HoHoKam Park. The grid featured player names, dateopponent and the number of plate appearances he got each game, plus a running total. The ink reveals an organization man.
Love it, first baseman Carlos Pena said. Hes very communicative. Hes always talking to us players. Hes making sure all of us know exactly where were going to be days in advance, so we can prepare, and that goes a long way.
He gives us a lot of responsibility. He trusts us that were going to take care of business and keep ourselves healthy.
While managing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Quade was asked how well he understood Spanish. It was a good thing he couldnt read the newspapers there, because he was getting ripped every day.
The new guy got off to a slow start in a place where fans like to put money on the games. That 1996-97 Aguilas Cibaenas team eventually turned it around and won a Caribbean World Series.
As Cubs vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita said: Thats an experience you cant read in a book.
Quade seems to get along well with Latin players. Maybe its because he remembers buying them so many fast-food meals in places like West Michigan as they struggled to adapt to a strange, new country.
Perhaps its because he also comes from nothing in terms of a baseball pedigree and was never handed anything either. The reasons could be even simpler than all that psychoanalysis.
Quade gets along with every single player in here, Ramirez said. It doesnt matter where theyre from, or what color they are. Hes that type of guy.
If you cant play for him, you got to check yourself.
During his speech before the teams first full-squad workout, Quade stressed that players should look reporters in the eye and be accountable with the monster that is modern media.
Of course, Carlos Silva soon turned a dugout argument into a three-day fight story by refusing to speak to the media. But through it all Quade projected a sense of calm.
In listening to Quade, you get the sense that he genuinely enjoys some of the give-and-take with reporters. He knows that he is very good at this part of the job. Deep down he understands that he doesnt have enough clout yet to say whatever the hell he wants.
With all these demands on his time, he may have to learn how to say no.
You want to please everybody and make everybody happy. Sooner or later youre going to have to start making yourself happy, pitcher Randy Wells said. Managing the game is probably still the same. You got to deal with all the other (expletive) on the side (the media), egos, players that are not happy about their roles.
As a college kid, Quade earned extra cash by working as a security guard at the Louisiana Superdome, mostly during Saints games. When Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks came to New Orleans in 1978, Quade and his buddies decided to put on their rent-a-cop uniforms and sneak in to watch the heavyweight prize fight.
Thats the image Quade carried through 17 seasons and 2,378 games as a minor-league manager the blue-collar guy whos always working the angles, and never stops hustling.
That wealth of experience combined with a 24-13 finish last season in Piniellas absence forced the Cubs to pass on Ryne Sandberg. The Hall of Famer had spent four years managing in the minor-league system.
Its awkward, said Fleita, the Cubs farm director. But at the same time Quade worked for me for four years before he went up with Lou. It was hard not to be honest and say: Look at the job Mike Quade did.'
Were pretty blunt (here). Guys are going to tell you just what they think. And I dont think wed be the people we think we are had (we) not rewarded the guy who earned it.
That might not have gone over so well in the marketing department, but it sent the right message to the entire organization.
A working-class hero who rides the El may not sell tickets at first. But anyone whos ever paid a price for standing up to their boss, or lost a game of office politics, or wondered why someone else got the promotion can identify with Quades story.
On Friday morning Quade will walk into his Wrigley Field office several hours before first pitch. Tickets for friends and family will already be taken care of and he will likely take a moment to reflect during the national anthem.
Thats when Quade likes to scan the rooftops and soak in the scene. And then he will find relative peace in those nine innings, because he knows hes done everything he possibly could to prepare.
Im smart enough to realize that if were going to win today, Quade said, 95 percent of the time its going to be because of those guys that are out there (on the field and) sitting here with me. (But) its not about me.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.