By Brad Thompson–
While pitchers and catchers start practicing in sunny Arizona and Wrigley Field starts thawing out from the blizzard, hope springs eternal for Cubs fans.
The Cubs offseason had its share of moves and deals, but none loom larger than the decision to hire Mike Quade instead of Ryne Sandberg.
Quade’s task is to resurrect one of baseball’s most troubled and beloved franchises. Cubs fans got a snapshot of Quade’s style and potential during his stint as interim manager last season. His grounded approach and steady demeanor remind me of another Chicago coaching newcomer – Tom Thibodeau.
Now I understand that comparing a baseball manager to a basketball coach may seem like apples to oranges, but it’s Quade’s attitude and mindset that likens him to Thibodeau for me.
Neither guy comes from prolific professional playing career. Quade was an infielder drafted out of the University of New Orleans, but never made it beyond Single-A. Thibodeau’s was a team captain at Division III Salem State University and entered the coaching ranks immediately after that.
Both coaches paid their dues and waited to catch their big break. Thibodeau spent 20 years as an assistant coach on the NBA sidelines. Quade spent 19 years in the minor leagues amassing over 1,200 wins as a manager.
Each coach has been labeled as a “players” coach.
Heck, even their hairstyles are similar.
And probably the most important attribute they share is the respect of their players. The Bulls bought into Coach Thibodeau’s defensive philosophy, which is a main reason why they are 36-16 and sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference. Rose and company’s improved defense is allowing the second fewest points per game in the league at 92.3.
Quade had a 24-13 record after he took over for Lou Piniella. And it’s easy to point out that the season was over for the Cubs and the games were meaningless, but what can’t be argued is that Quade gained the respect of his players.
Pitcher Ryan Dempster shared how he feels about Quade.
“He did a really good job of communicating with us, and we all enjoyed playing for him,’’ Dempster said. ‘‘We were all big advocators of him.”
The businesslike approach that Quade and Thibodeau share has led to the respect from the players. They shy away from the spotlight and remain focused on improving the team. They weren’t the big name hires that might come with a position in a market like Chicago. They don’t have proven track records or accomplishments on the biggest stage, but for Cubs and Bulls fans they might be just what’s needed.
Sure the Bulls success this season can be tied to the players acquired in free agency during the summer or the unbelievable play of Derrick Rose, but the Bulls were without Boozer for a month and Noah missed the next two months. All this points to the fact that hiring Thibodeau was the most significant move the Bulls made in the offseason.
Cubs fans are hoping the same is true for their team. An improved pitching staff and lineup should lead to more wins, but if Quade’s approach can lead the Cubs to the kind of success Thibodeau’s had with the Bulls, then Chicago will not only have a winner on the North Side, but a foundation to build on.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.