Cubs general manager Jim Hendry made the right call Tuesday in announcing that Mike Quade would manage the team in 2011.
Quade reportedly agreed to a two-year contract worth $1.8-2 million.
Ryne Sandberg may have been the people's choice, but the 53-year-old Quade was the choice of the players, who played with a lot of passion over the final portion of their schedule long after there was anything to play for.
"I hope that he's here managing," veteran pitcher Ryan Dempster said during the final week of the season. "I think that he has done a great job. I know he knows the game of baseball really well. He's a really good baseball man. We've all enjoyed having him so far, and hopefully he's given a real good shot to manage because I'd like to see him be our manager for sure."
Quade thanked his players for not "mailing it in." The Cubs were 24-13 overall and 17-5 in road games under the direction of their interim manager.
"We're talking six weeks. We're not talking six days or two weeks," Quade said. "These guys did a hell of a job in what amounts to one-fourth of a season."
The team's performance down the stretch was a positive reflection of Quade's performance, but also an indictment of the disconnect that existed between the manager's office and the players during the final days of the Lou Piniella (they lost 20 of their last 25 under Uncle Lou) regime. Quade's passion made it obvious to the players that he had their back, but it also made it clear that he was holding them accountable.
The lines of communication were always open. Players remained informed on their roles and starters were often notified two or three days prior to getting a day off. Lineups were posted six hours before game time. Everyone knew where they stood and that is the mark of a good boss.
"He's been a great communicator so far ... He's done a really good job as far as letting guys know when they're playing, when they're doing well," Dempster said. "He's going to be the first guy to jump somebody's seat if they didn't do something right, but he's also going to be the first guy to pat them on the back and tell them what a good job they're doing."
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said that Quade was chosen over two other finalists - Sandberg and former Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge. A disappointed Sandberg told the Tribune that he would explore other major league managerial and coaching positions. Hopefully, he will be part of Quade's 2011 coaching staff. Wedge was named the Seattle Mariners skipper Monday.
In choosing Quade, the Cubs hired a permanent manager from within the organization for the first time since Jim Marshall replaced Whitey Lockman during the 1974 season.
The choice of Quade certainly pumps me up more than had the Cubs braintrust settled on a retread like Wedge.
When he took the reins of the Cubs from Piniella on Aug. 22, I did not know much about Quade other than that he was team's third-base coach and that he had done well in his three-plus years in that position. Unlike Wendell Kim, Quade went about his business without being noticed. It's a telling trait for third-base coaches and umpires.
But I soon discovered that Quade had an accomplished career as a longtime minor league manager and major league coach:
* His teams won 1,213 minor-league games in 17 seasons.
* He was twice named his league's Manager of the Year - at Double-A Harrisburg of the Eastern League in 1991 and Triple-A Ottawa of the International League in 1993.
* He led Class A West Michigan to the Midwest League title, Aguilas Cibaenas to the 1996-97 Dominican Winter League championship, and Vancouver to the Pacific Coast League crown and Triple-A World Series title in 1999.
His performance in his short tenure as the Cubs' interim manager was also impressive.
Quade gave many of the team's younger players a chance, particularly pitchers. Hurlers like James Russell, Scott Maine, and Marcos Mateo were called upon in clutch situations and, more often than not, got the job done. Cubs relievers closed the season with 28 straight shutout innings. The bullpen posted a 1.19 ERA in its final 25 games.
He cracked the whip with shortstop Starlin Castro, benching the rookie phenom for two contests for a series of mental mistakes he made in a game against the Mets on Sept. 5.
Quade also laid down the law with veteran players as a blog post from WMVP-AM's Bruce Levine last month illustrated:
"One veteran player was supposed to report for therapy with the training staff two weeks ago at 10 a.m. before a night game," Levine wrote. "Instead, he showed up at 2:30 for his treatment. Afterward, he found out his name wasn't in the lineup. When the player approached Quade to find out the reason for his benching, he was told that off-the-field preparation was to be taken as seriously as batting practice or the game itself."
The best part of the discipline was that it was handled behind closed doors. Quade made his point with the veteran and his teammates without embarassing the un-named player.
Quade also seemed to be more involved than Piniella, always leaning forward in the dugout, taking his walks to the mound in purposeful passion, and even continuing with his teaching roles he filled as a coach. I don't think Piniella, if ever, hit pregame fungoes as Quade regularly did.
Quade's energy rubbed off on his players.
"You rarely don't know what I'm thinking," Quade said Tuesday. "That doesn't mean you're going to like it and it doesn't mean that things will always work in my favor. But at least you'll know where I'm coming from. Whether it's athletes or just people, handling people is the most important thing. If (players) can't handle that, then I'm not right for them or vice-versa."
My only two beefs with Quade were:
* His insistence on playing Koyie Hill instead of rookie Welington Castillo after Geovany Soto was shut down on Sept. 18. Castillo, who made just three of his five starts, after Soto has shoulder surgery hit .300 with a .983 OPS. Hill, who is not likely to be a Cub in 2011, hit just .214 and walked five times as much as he struck out in 2010. The 31-year-old switch-hitter was just 6-for-36 (.167) with one double and no RBI in 11 starts after Sept. 18.
* His failure to give Tyler Colvin some playing time at first base.
But both of those quibbles are minor.
I understand that the Cubs fell out of contention long before Quade took over, but the difference in how the team went about its business late in the season was startling.
It's easy for a team to go through the motions under an interim manager and to quote Dallas Green, several Cubs teams have quit with a capital "Q" under interims: Charlie Fox in 1983, Frank Lucchesi in 1987, Jim Essian in 1991, and Bruce Kimm in 2002.
"Mike's work the last six weeks of the season was outstanding in every facet," Hendry said Tuesday. "It was hard to be critical in any area."
Sandberg has paid his dues, but Quade has been doing so for much longer and his short but impressive major league track record gave him the nod.
Quade and Hendry will discuss the 2011 coaching staff Wednesday. Larry Rothschild will return for his 10th season as pitching coach and hitting instructor Rudy Jaramillo has two years left on his contract.
Levine reported Tuesday that Washington bench coach Pat Listasch is expected to be the bench coach or third base coach under Quade and that bullpen coach Lester Strode is expected back.
Current bench coach Alan Trammell is expected to fill the same role with the Arizona Diamondbacks under manager Kirk Gibson. Gibson was Trammell's bench coach when he managed in Detroit.