Sveum's first season with Cubs a hit with players
Strong communication proves critical to navigating rocky season
DENVER -- Cubs manager Dale Sveum didn't say anything to Joe Mather after his baserunning gaffe on Wednesday night. He didn't have to.
"I think [Sveum] knows that I know I messed up," Mather said about trying -- and failing -- to advance to third on a fly ball to left. "I have to take the blame, 100 percent of it is mine. I think if Dale says something, he does, but everyone knows I messed up."
Sveum will most likely pull Mather aside before Thursday's game. That ability to know when to say something -- and when not to -- has impressed the Cubs players in Sveum's first year as manager. You may not be able to tell it from the sound bites, but one of Sveum's strengths is how he talks to the players.
"The communication is there with everybody," Chicago second baseman Darwin Barney said. "If you want a straight answer, he'll give it to you, and if you want to talk about situations in the game and why it happened, he's open door for that.
"We're happy with Dale and the job he's done and excited about the future. He's handled a really tough situation well. Keeping relationships and good relationships on a team that's struggling is tough to do, and I feel he's done that, top to bottom."
Forget Sveum's record this season. The Cubs' front office knew it would be a tough year, and so did Sveum when he took the job. They're building for the future.
"What's going on right now has nothing to do with Dale and the staff," pitcher Jeff Samardzija said of the Cubs possibly losing 100 games for the first time since 1966. "A lot of things that have gone our way, Dale has a lot to do with that. We've put him through a lot with roster changes and young guys -- a lot of young guys cutting their teeth out there.
"He gets us to come play hard every day for him. I'm really excited when this thing is going the way it's going, and he's a part of it, because he's going to be a big part of it, that's for sure."
Sveum has been even-tempered through the roller coaster season, which has included a 12-game losing streak, a winning July, and a dismal August.
"I like how professional he is," outfielder David DeJesus said. "He expects guys to do their job. He doesn't go out of his way with all the team meetings -- we had a couple, but I think those were needed. I think he respects from the players' side, being a [former] player, that you have to go do your job and prepare yourself and be reliable and go out and play everyday.
"That's why I love playing for him. I talk to him, but I don't have long conversations because he knows what I'm doing and he knows I'm ready every day to play for him, and I hope he feels that way, too."
Barney has spent hours in Sveum's office after games.
"He likes talking baseball, he's old school, he likes hanging out after the game," Barney said. "There's no rush to leave. It's looking good for the future in that regard. Once we get the pieces together, it'll only get better."
Samardzija wasn't always happy when Sveum pulled the pitcher from games earlier than he would have liked. But those disagreements were handled quickly and efficiently.
"The best thing about Skip is he's a man about things," Samardzija said. "If you have something to say, then you talk about it and iron it out and go from there. Any time we've had an issue, it's been something that's been handled within the next 30 seconds because we both feel we're grown up to talk about a situation and handle it like grownups.
"Nothing good comes when someone runs into the clubhouse or someone runs to the other end of the dugout and starts saying stuff. It's better to handle it then and there."
Other managers may be on the hot seat after such a dismal season, record-wise, but not at Wrigley Field. Sveum has made a good first impression.
It started in Spring Training with the bunting tournament. He wore a "He-Man" outfit for super hero costume day. It's all been an effort to create good chemistry. And he's gotten the respect of the players.
"As a manager, you have to know when to push and when to pull, and he knows when that time is right," Samardzija said. "He understands the importance of a team for sure."
Sveum doesn't want the focus on him. The players have noticed.
"Nothing's about him," Barney said. "When things go well, he's quick to give recognition and when things go bad, he's real about it. He's not pointing fingers, but he talks the truth and takes blame if it's on him and lets you know what needs to change.
"The communication is there as best as I've seen at this level and at any level, really, by a manager with the players. It's been really good."
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.