Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010
By Patrick Mooney
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - It's beyond last call and the lights are on in the hotel bar and you're talking about how you were fired from your last job.
The lobby of this Walt Disney World resort is filled with people who desperately want to break in - or get back into - the game.
There are college kids looking for unpaid internships and coaches hoping to latch on with another organization. Even Gary Sheffield showed up Tuesday and told reporters he isn't officially retired and could still hit 20 to 30 home runs.
The winter meetings are baseball's ultimate networking session. Mike Quade managed 2,378 games in the minor leagues and had to wait until the age of 53 before he ran his first one in the majors. He was once the type of anonymous baseball lifer you'd see here roaming the hallways.
"When you have a passion for what you're doing, nothing's going to deter you," long-time pitching coach Rick Peterson said of Quade, whom he knew as a Class-A player and later worked with on the Oakland A's staff. "It becomes your life's work. It's not a job."
On Tuesday, Quade met the media as the 51st manager in Cubs history. He didn't promote himself to get here. And he understands the faction of Cubs fans that wanted Ryne Sandberg in his place.
"I don't blame them. I get it. It's a heck of a deal when you have a guy that meant so much to the city," Quade said. "(But I) needed to find out in my own mind. I believed I could do it. Now I just need to keep proving to myself.
"(The) people of Chicago (have) always been great fans and great people. They appreciate hard work and a good job."
The Cubs are hustling to identify a new first baseman. They have met with agent Scott Boras about Carlos Pena and are scheduled to do so again.
One team source described a report that they were on the verge of agreeing to a deal with Adam LaRoche as inaccurate. They want a left-handed bat and there's a chance that could wind up being Tyler Colvin.
The Cubs continue to check in with Brandon Webb's representative, though sources say the one-time Cy Young Award winner still has lingering shoulder issues that could cause teams to hesitate. There are also rumors that Tom Gorzelanny is being shopped around.
Whatever direction the Cubs decide to take, Quade will adjust. That's what he's done his entire career.
"Whether it's my training for a thousand years in the minor leagues," Quade said, "I think you need to stay flexible.
"You find a way to get it done however you can do it, whether it's mixing and matching, (or) a trade, (or if) they do have some money - one way or another, I'm going to manage the club that was put together when I get there. I don't think it does me any good (to) fool around with lineups. You get your heart set on something and - bang! - a trade comes. So I like the group I finished with. I owe them a lot."
That 24-13 close to an otherwise disappointing season brought out contrasts to Lou Piniella, a legendary manager Quade also feels indebted to. If Piniella refused to put the Triple-A Iowa manager on staff some four years ago, Quade might just be another guy in jeans and a blazer wandering around the Swan and Dolphin resort.
"Mike's a good, (solid) baseball man. He's young. He's got a good rapport with the players," Piniella said. "With the team going younger, that's one of his strengths."
No matter how it ended, the Cubs will remember Piniella as the right man for the right time. The franchise opened the checkbook, got two division titles and thought it had a team built to win it all in 2008.
That seems like a very long time ago. The Cubs aren't looking for quick fixes in free agency. It is a different job now, one Quade has been quietly preparing for in the shadows.
"My nature is never to be satisfied," Quade said. "We'll take that confidence. (A) whole bunch of guys realized they could do this. And now we got to build on it. We will not rest on it. We've got to get better."
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.