Friday, October 22, 2010
It's been a couple days now, but it's worth noting that Mike Quade, not Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, was named the new Cubs manager. A lot of people here in Chicago are pretty upset about this. Phil Rogers was upset. Gene Wojciechowski was really freaking upset. Sandberg was a hero, obviously, and it was clear that he really wanted the job. Instead, they named some guy nobody had ever heard of before he was named interim manager (except the Cubs fans who noticed he was their third base coach), somebody who never made it out of the minors as a player.
Here's the thing, though: I don't think anybody has a clue whether Sandberg would be a better manager than Quade, or vice-versa. Not you, not me, not Gene or Phil, maybe not even Jim Hendry. Managing is a hugely opaque thing; there's no WAR or wOBA or FIP that's going to tell you if a guy is or will be a good manager. Winning percentage certainly doesn't do it. What you'd need to do, really, is watch the games as closely as possible to evaluate their decisions. And then interview their players, hang around the clubhouse, really get an idea of how they do at leading a team. If anyone did that, it's a lot more likely to have been the Cubs than, say, Wojciechowski or Rogers or the enraged fans next door.
Let's break down the fans' (and nostalgic hometown writers') arguments, as I see them, for Sandberg:
1. Sandberg was a great player. You really do hear this mentioned (it's in the Rogers article), as though it makes any difference at all. You don't need me to tell you that lots and lots of great players have been atrocious, or at least unsuccessful, managers. And, yeah, he was a great player for this team...but do the Cubs need the public relations boost? They've got the highest ticket prices in the league, and pack their stadium full (and sell lots of beer) even when they're playing terribly. They certainly don't need the short-term PR kick. To the extent that it matters at all -- and I'm not all that sure it does, with this club -- it would be better for the team to get back to winning a bunch of games than to have a manager people feel familiar with. If the Cubs think Quade gives them a better chance to win, that should really be all there is to it.
2. Sandberg wasn't one of these entitled great players; he paid his dues! I mean, this is true, right? Sandberg managed in the Cubs' minor league system for four years, for three different teams, winning the Pacific Coast League's Manager of the Year award for 2010. Many well-known former players who want to stay in the game -- just like the ones who think they can be broadcasters on television without any training for some reason -- do tend to walk right into high-profile positions based on their status alone. Not Sandberg. There's been a perception for a few years that Sandberg was a manager-in-training, and he's "done everything they asked of him."
But on the other hand, Quade reallllly paid his dues. He managed in the minor leagues for fifteen years, by my count (maybe more?), including four with the Iowa Cubs, and since leaving that post (and being passed over as a finalist for the managerial job, just like Ryno this year) in 2006, he's served as the team's third-base coach and then interim manager. If Sandberg paid his dues, Quade has been seriously overcharged, for years.
So here's my question: if you praise Sandberg's humility and effort and non-entitlement while ignoring all the work Quade has done to get where he is, aren't you just trying to give Sandberg his sense of entitlement right back?
3. He was successful managing in the minor leagues. I kind of covered this one above, but we don't really know whether that's the case. The Iowa Cubs won this year, but lots of teams manage to win with awful managers. Did they do better than we should have expected them to? Are there prospects that are better prospects now because they played with Ryno? Is there any reason to believe (other than the MOY award...but in the MLB, Dusty Baker has won three of those and might get another this year, so that's as far as that goes) that he was doing anything especially well?
4. He called out steroid users, including a former teammate, in his Hall of Fame speech. Seriously. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Wojciechowski, but he really said this. If Sandberg is willing to throw Sammy Sosa under the bus in public without mentioning his name in a way that makes it utterly impossible for Sosa to respond, then you know he can keep Carlos Zambrano in line! I just can't think of a single thing to say about this.
And that's it, as far as I can tell. I mean, there are some guesses, like that Sandberg (with his Hall of Fame "credentials") will demand more respect of the players and will be allowed more leeway in the long trip toward turning this team around. But how do we know that any of that is true? On the first point, you'd have to spend a ton of time with both of them to know which one demands more respect. On the second, do we know that Sandberg wouldn't be given less leeway because people would've expected more of such a well-known name (see, e.g., the treatment of Alan Trammell and the doomed team they handed him in Detroit)?
Look, I kind of wanted to see Sandberg as Cubs manager. It felt right, from the distant perspective of a non-fan who happens to live here and who has fond but vague memories of Ryno. But I have no idea whether he was right, and I don't believe you do either. The only party that is in any kind of position to get any sense for which of these two guys makes for the better manager is the Cubs, and even they may not have all the information they need to get it right. I guess we'll find out whether they did or not soon enough.