Dale Sveum’s approach is low-key and universal. He can converse with the clubhouse attendant, relate to the 25th man on the roster and chat up the multimillion-dollar star.
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He’ll demand as much accountability from the Chicago Cubs’ veterans as he will from the younger ones. Whining will not be tolerated. Ground balls will be run out at full speed, and he’ll address problems directly, face-to-face.
”We wouldn’t have brought him into the interview if he wasn’t so well-respected by all the players he’s been around,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said when Sveum was introduced Friday as the team’s new manager.
Now, of course, the big question: Can he win?
Sveum was courted by two teams with great traditions, and he landed with the one with the longest current championship drought.
He was interviewed twice by both the Red Sox and the Cubs. When Chicago made an offer two days ago at the owners/GM meetings in Milwaukee, he was finally in reach of the managerial job he’d been thinking about since his playing days were winding down in the late 1990s.
”I think the arrow fell in the right spot. Whenever you got two places like that and you’re in the running, your head is spinning a little bit,” Sveum said. ”I think what it came down to (is) this was just the better fit.”
Sveum will be staying in the NL Central. He’s been Milwaukee’s hitting coach the last three seasons and also served as bench and third base coach with the Brewers, the team that launched his 12-year major league career in 1986. And he’s had a strong relationship with Brewers star Prince Fielder, one of the biggest free agents this offseason.
Sveum’s lone big league managerial experience lasted 16 games, 12 at the end of the regular season in 2008 after Ned Yost was fired and four in the playoffs after the Brewers captured the wild card that season. But he was passed up twice for the full-time job as Milwaukee went with Ken Macha, then Ron Roenicke.
Sveum also managed the Pirates Double-A team before he became Boston’s third base coach in 2004, the year it ended an 86-year championship drought by taking the World Series.
The Cubs haven’t won one since 1918.
”The past is the past, no matter where you are,” Sveum said during an introductory news conference at Wrigley Field. ”You’re only as good as you are right now. It doesn’t really matter what happened in the past. … The 103, 104 years, blah, blah. It was that way in Boston, it was 86 years. We all know that, but the fact of the matter is when you take the field the first day of spring training, it’s a whole new year.”
Sveum received a three-year deal with an option for 2015 as the Cubs continue to revamp their operation. Theo Epstein was Boston’s general manager before he left last month to become the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, and Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod also worked for the Red Sox.
”Dale won’t get caught up in the trappings of the job,” Epstein said. ”He’s very comfortable in his own skin.”
Sveum replaces the fired Mike Quade. Also interviewed were Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin and Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar, Jr.
This past season under first-year manager Roenicke, the Brewers won 96 games and the NL Central as Sveum supervised one of the best offenses in the National League. With Ryan Braun and Fielder leading the way, the Brewers hit an NL-high 185 homers and were third with a .261 batting average on their way to the NL Central title, well ahead of the fifth-place Cubs.
The switch-hitting Sveum was an infielder during a long major league career that included 25 homers and 95 RBI in 1987. He was injured in an outfield collision the following season, then missed the 1989 season and was never the same player.
Sveum got to play under some of the marquee managers in the game, including Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland. Each had an effect on how he plans to approach his new job.
”I think the one common thread is the ability to motivate and none of them were screamers or yellers,” Sveum said.
”Their ability on the bench to never show any emotion or body language — bad body language or good body language — I think that’s a big asset to show players. That even though it might be crunch time or whatever, they still seemed to be calm and bring an ease to the team.”
Even though he says he hasn’t read the book ”Moneyball,” or seen the movie, Sveum is a proponent of statistical analysis favored by Epstein during his years in Boston, saying it gives the manager options when studying matchups and filling out lineups. And he’ll talk baseball for hours.
Sveum was ready to start meeting with coaching staff holdovers after his news conference on a cold morning at Wrigley Field.
He’s promised to improve the defense — the Cubs made 134 errors while losing 91 games last season — and baserunning. Like everyone else, he was impressed with the offensive skills of 21-year-old Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who had 207 hits a year ago.
He wants a bench coach whom he knows well because they’re bound to tangle during the season, but it won’t be former Brewers Hall of Famer Robin Yount, whom he calls his best friend.