Cubs job exceeds Quade’s wildest dreams

Mike Quade is baseball’s accidental manager.

And he knows it.

It’s not like Quade didn’t pay his dues to become the 51st manager in the history of the Chicago Cubs.

He did spend 17 years filling out lineup cards in the minor leagues. He did spend more than his share of winters managing in the Caribbean. He was in his seventh year as a big-league coach when, last August, he found himself taking over when Lou Piniella decided to go into retirement six weeks earlier than planned.

But these are the Cubs, one of baseball’s mythic teams. He’s taken over from the likes of Piniella and Dusty Baker, both of whom find their names coming up in discussions about potential Hall of Fame managers.

And he was given the job on a full-time basis during the offseason over Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, a fan favorite in the Windy City who had been doing what he thought was an apprenticeship for the Cubs job by working his way up through the franchise’s farm system.

"People talk about this being my dream come true," said Quade. "I’m from the area, and all, but I can’t say I’m living a dream. I had hoped for an opportunity to manage, but I also know the Mike Quades of the world don’t usually get a first chance with a franchise like the Cubs."

Think about it.

The franchises that look for the fresh faces to fill out lineup cards are teams like the Kansas City Royals or Washington Nationals or Florida Marlins. They are teams that have low payrolls, low expectations and usually have front offices with first-time execs who find a comfort zone in giving "an opportunity" to a manager who has paid his dues. Translation: a manager who doesn’t have the bargaining power to demand the multi-year, multi-million dollar deal.

The Cubs? They haven’t won a world championship since 1908 — which is a subject in itself — but they are one of those brands that have a recognition factor worldwide thanks to WGN and its cable powers back before the satellite world created an international forum for most any team.

When they hired Quade, the Cubs hired a first-time manager for the first time since Lee Elia got the job three decades ago, and he was hired by general manager Dallas Green, who previously managed the Yankees and Phillies and had Elia as his right-hand man both times.

What’s more, Quade is a guy who had been a managerial hopeful previously and had "been disappointed several times I didn’t get a job, but not one of the magnitude of the Cubs." Quade didn’t mention teams, but his name was mentioned during recent managerial searches in Oakland, Toronto and Florida, among other places.

Truth be told, life might have been simpler for Quade in an Oakland or Toronto or Florida or Kansas City, where there is a desire to be competitive, but not this burning sensation caused by more than a century of failure, driven by a rabid fan base.

"I was born and raised in the area," said Quade, a native of Evanston, Ill. "I know all about the Cubs and the fans and the frustrations. I was one. … But all that has to be in the furthest recesses of my mind. My thoughts are on what is ahead."

Quade is probably as well prepared for dealing with what lies ahead as anyone the Cubs could have hired. He knows about adversity and perseverance. Drafted by Pittsburgh in the 22nd round of the 1979 draft out of the University of New Orleans, Quade’s playing career consisted of five minor league seasons — the first two and the last two at the Single-A level. He played Double-A in between.

Then he started out as a coach in the Pirates farm system and finally got his first managerial chance at Class-A Macon in 1985. Two years, and a 110-166 record later, he was fired by the Pirates.

"I was a middle class kid and had never been fired from anything,’’ said Quade. "I was devastated. I got humbled."

Syd Thrift, the Pirates general manager at the time, told him, "The clubhouse was dirty, and I didn’t do enough one-on-one work. … People who know we know can’t believe it. … That was a challenging time. We also had a Puerto Rican kid who raped and murdered a girl the year before I got there. We’re running around, trying to find places for kids to live."

Quade, however, doesn’t make excuses for that experience. He learned from it.

"It was a rude awakening," he said. "You are young. You think you are going to set the world on fire. And you get fired. If you are going to decide you need to do something else with your life, that’s the time to do it.

"But for me? I knew after those two years I had found the job I wanted to do. I wanted to manage more than ever."

So, instead of heading home and looking for work, Quade embarked on his managerial tour, which took him to Rockford, Ill., Harrisburg, Pa., Scranton, Pa., Comstock Park, Mich., Huntsville, Ala., Des Moines, Iowa, and the Canadian cities of Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver, with big-league coaching stops in Oakland (2000-02) and with the Cubs (2007-10). That was all before Piniella decided to get a headstart on retirement last season and Quade got the interim job and the chance to convince folks he deserved a legitimate opportunity.

His biggest asset was the Cubs’ play under his direction. A team that was 51-74 with Piniella in charge went 24-13 under Quade, allowing him to join Whitey Lockman (1972), Frank Chance (1905), Charlie Grimm (1932) and Gabby Hartneet (1938) as the only in-season managerial hires in Cubs history to have a .600 winning percentage.

"First and foremost, I had to do things consistently to show people how I do things," he said. "As long as I did that, and then we followed that up with winning, the chance to manage (on an interim basis) because huge for me. … I learned as much about myself in those six weeks than Jim (Hendry, general manager) or the Ricketts family (who own the team) did. By the end of the season I felt I could do this."

Even with that, Quade had some anxious moments while the Cubs decided who they would make the team manager for 2011.

"I said, Day 1, I felt prepared for the job, but I knew they were going to look for someone with a name, and it would start with Ryne," said Quade. "(Joe) Girardi had his named bantered around."

In the end, however, it was Quade who got the job.

Now his challenge is to keep it.