At Wrigley, Cubs make Sveum hire official
Search culminates with introduction of club's 52nd manager
CHICAGO -- About one hour into their first interview with Dale Sveum, both Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer had a "wow" moment.
Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, and Hoyer, the general manager, had been peppering Sveum with questions, and then took a quick break. Sveum was prepared, but it wasn't as if he had scripted his answers and practiced in advance.
"Dale provided extremely well-thought-out answers to nuanced baseball questions instantaneously, answer after answer after answer," Epstein said. "We came up for air and took a break and [Hoyer and I] looked at each other and said, 'Wow.' This was not the type of thing you could fake.
"It wasn't that he prepared for the interview," Epstein said, "but [Sveum] spent a lifetime as a very intelligent person observing the game with an open mind to come up with his own baseball philosophy on how to win, and it was very impressive."
It paid off, as Sveum, who was the Brewers' hitting coach, was introduced on Friday as the 52nd manager of the Cubs.
"I think the passion he has for the game is so obvious -- and the knowledge he has," Hoyer said. "It wasn't that he prepared for the interview; he prepared for this [job]. This is what he had done his whole life."
Sveum, who will turn 48 on Wednesday, received a three-year deal with an option for a fourth year. His managerial resume includes a stint as a Double-A manager in the Pirates organization, plus 12 games in September 2008 with Milwaukee and four more in the National League Division Series that year. He has 30 years in the game, and that's what counts.
The Red Sox also pursued Sveum, who had lunch last week with the Boston ownership.
"I sensed [they would offer the job]," Sveum said of the Red Sox. "I met with the owners, so you sensed it, but it never happened. The Cubs offered me the job, and it was irrelevant at that point."
A few Brewers players, unhappy their hitting coach would be leaving to join one of their rivals, jokingly sent texts to Sveum, saying, "Anybody but the Cubs."
"It's all been kind of the same thing," Sveum said of the response he's gotten. "Probably the best [text] was Ryan Dempster texting me, telling me, 'Your first day on the manager's job, I'm going to try to stay out of jail.'"
Sveum inherits a team that went 71-91 and finished fifth in the NL Central, 25 games behind the Brewers. Any concerns taking the job?
"I think when you take a managing job, there are no concerns," Sveum said. "No matter where you're taking the job, you're going to have issues, obstacles, things in the past that have a chance of coming up again.
"Obviously, it's a new year and there are new challenges all the time. Things in the past, you hope they don't pop up again, but we all know that's not the case with some people. We have to deal with that as it comes along."
Things like dealing with volatile pitcher Carlos Zambrano. Sveum joked that Zambrano would make a good power-hitting first baseman. However, the Cubs need Zambrano the pitcher.
"We all know his nine [lives] are up," Sveum said. "Talking to Theo, [Zambrano] realizes that and he knows it, and he knows he has to win back the respect of his players as well as management. At some point, we'll sit down and talk. Hopefully, it's face to face."
Epstein and Hoyer both knew Sveum when he was a Red Sox coach from 2004-05 but still did their homework, talking to as many players as they could about him.
"Players know best," Epstein said. "This is about the players in the end. The thing that really stood out with Dale is he was able to hold the players very accountable, hold them to high standards, get in their faces at times if necessary, disagree with them, drive them to be their very best, but at the same time also win their respect and admiration.
"He was universally loved by the players he's had, without enabling them in the slightest degree," Epstein said. "That's a hard thing to pull off in this game. It makes him a very impactful person in the clubhouse."
Sveum won't let anything fester. He believes in man-to-man communication, face to face, and says he'll treat the players as if they're his sons.
"In all my dealings in baseball, 99.9 percent of all players want to be looked in the face and told to get their crap together, so to speak," Sveum said. "Whether it's a singled-out incident or just not getting it done, they appreciate that, and a lot of times if they've done something not so good, they'll apologize and get back to work."
That's what Epstein and Hoyer want to change when it comes to the culture of the Cubs -- players to know, Sveum said, that losing isn't OK, not running a ball out isn't OK.
"This organization's got to change, as far as how this game is played on an every-game basis -- play this game like it's the seventh game of the World Series every day," Sveum said.
Cubs fans don't know what that's like.
Sveum may be a little unconventional. He believes in a five-man infield in certain situations. He may use his closer in the eighth if that's the best matchup. He's prepared and very thorough, which is what impressed Epstein and Hoyer.
"It's about winning the game," Epstein said. "Everything with Dale, when it comes to baseball, is well thought out."
Sveum, who played parts of five seasons in Milwaukee from 1986-91, a tenure interrupted by a major leg injury, had been on the Brewers' staff since 2006 as a third-base coach, bench coach and most recently as hitting coach.
He does know the Cubs well. As for young Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, Sveum said the Brewers couldn't figure out how to get him out. But his defense? Sveum admitted Castro "needs a lot of polish there."
One of Sveum's approaches in Boston was to have players take 100 ground balls. Castro may get quite a workout.
"There are different ways to skin a cat," Sveum said. "Everybody's not the same guy. That's what makes coaching so unique. Some guys you overpower with hundreds of ground balls and other guys are more technique and making them understand."
Being named the Cubs' manager will give Sveum one more reason to celebrate this week. He was planning on going to Milwaukee even before the Red Sox asked him to come for the interview because he's the best man for one of the Brewers' clubhouse attendants, who is getting married. Part of the festivities include a Packers game on Sunday.
Sveum may have to switch allegiances now that he's in Chicago.
"I'll still be rooting for the Packers," Sveum said. "I'll just have to root for the Bears, too."
Deep down, he's a Raiders fan.
There's another thing you need to know about Sveum, whose nickname is "Nuts:" It's the tattoos. He has five, all but two related to his father, who was a Marine and died in 1992.
There's one of an American eagle with "Thanks" in honor of the sacrifices by the military.
"Each day when I see it, it reminds me to say 'Thanks' to all the troops and everybody who has fought for this country to give me the ability to have something like this happen and play baseball," Sveum said.
There is a message his father would give him when he went to play football or baseball, and that is to "Give 'em hell." That, Sveum acknowledged, was a big one.
"The other one is something he always said: 'Pain is inevitable, suffering is just an option,'" Sveum said. "You're going to go through pain, whether it's physical or mental. Suffering is your option. You don't have to suffer. It's your own option if you want to whine or cry about it."
There's another tattoo that should endear Sveum.
"I've got a tattoo on my wrist to remind me of my wife and my anniversary that I tend to forget every once in a while," Sveum said. "I said, 'Heck, I'm just going to tattoo it on my wrist.'"
Now, it's time for the Cubs to focus on their roster. The Red Sox are still looking for a new manager while Sveum joins the Cardinals' Mike Matheny and the White Sox Robin Ventura as the new kids on the block. It was a hectic week for Sveum as he considered the Cubs and Red Sox openings.
"The head was probably spinning, but I think the arrow fell on the right spot," Sveum said. "Whenever you've got two places like that and you're in the running, your head is spinning. When it came to it, this is the better fit."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.