Dale Sveum studied the way Joe Torre communicated in the dugout. He sensed that Tony La Russa was always thinking several innings ahead. He noticed how Jim Leyland was able to motivate.
As a player, Sveum pulled pieces from all those managers. He was once the hotshot prospect, an injury case, a fringe player, even sticking around after he was released as a bullpen catcher on the 1998 Yankees team that won the World Series.
Sveum played with future Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor in Milwaukee. He worked for Terry Francona and navigated the superstar culture around the Red Sox. He watched Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun develop and get the Brewers back into the playoffs.
The guy nicknamed Nuts believes that, deep down, 99.9 percent of all players want to be looked in the face and told to get their crap together.
Thats what Sveum told the media last November, after the Cubs introduced their 52nd manager in franchise history. Soon it will no doubt be the message in Arizona, where he will run his first big-league camp.
When the guys arent hustling, you make them accountable for it, Sveum said last month. I dont really care how much money theyre making, or how many years they have in the big leagues. Theyre still embarrassing the team and theyre embarrassing the organization.
Everybodys treated the same. I dont care if youre a rookie or a guy that has 15 years in the big leagues. If youre doing something I dont like or youre embarrassing the organization, Im going to say something to you. It might come to where you have to bench guys. Thats just the bottom line.
Those applause lines were like throwing red meat to the diehards at the Cubs Convention. But will the players listen?
Pitchers and catchers officially report on Feb. 18. A group has already gathered at Fitch Park in Mesa, a short ride from Sveums offseason home. Even if the players dont yet know their new manager all that well, several have done their research.
From talking to players that (hes worked with), they have nothing but great things to say, pitcher Matt Garza said. Hes a players guy. Hes been through the grind and he knows what its like and he knows what its gonna take to win. And thats what Im excited about.
The players once lobbied for Mike Quade, another first-year manager who promised to drive home fundamental play (and didnt last).
Sveum should benefit from the instant credibility that comes from playing 12 seasons in the big leagues. He was also able to have a voice in assembling his coaching staff. He wont have to deal with Carlos Zambrano.
Perhaps most importantly, everyone knows that Theo Epstein picked Sveum to be the front man for this rebuilding project.
Sveum played for some great managers, but people have almost described him as an NFL coach with the countless hours spent breaking down video and obsessively charting plays. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin got used to showing up at his Miller Park office and finding Sveum already at work.
Sveum knows that information might yield an advantage only once a series. But all that adds up and certainly resonates with the Cubs president of baseball operations.
(Sveums) somebody who believes in hard work, preparation, respecting the game, having your teammates back, Epstein said. Whats really hard in todays baseball for managers is to connect with players and win their respect and admiration without enabling them and coddling them. Thats a typical players manager that you hear sometimes. Basically, he lets the players do whatever they want.
Often times, that becomes a popular manager, but it doesnt necessarily create the type of discipline that you need. (But) Dales been the best of both worlds. Players get to know him in that he works so hard. (They) like him and they play so hard for him. At the same time, he holds them to really high standards.
I guarantee you every single player is going to run as hard as they can, 90 feet, down to first base.
Thats what the Cubs will be selling after a winter in which they passed on the big-ticket items. Right now, this team is mostly nameless and faceless in Chicago. But it wont stay that way forever.
At the convention, a fan asked Sveum about Nyjer Morgan, an instigator for a Brewers team that wasnt shy about talking trash or choreographing over-the-top celebrations. For an organization looking for an identity, the answer was revealing.
You have to have some cockiness on the field, Sveum said. You dont want to take anything away from guys.You have to throttle it. (But) when you do irritate the other team, (it) means youre doing something (right).
You never show the other team up. But when you come to play, your team should have some kind of identity (instead) of being a vanilla team (where) youre just going out there and going through the motions. It makes a big difference to have some guys out there with personality and showing some emotion.