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CHICAGO (AP) A bus ride to Wrigley Field this season ends with a recorded public service announcement from a member of the neighborhood. Mike Quade identifies himself as manager of the Chicago Cubs and then encourages patrons to take public transportation to the game. It’s an easy way to get around.
Not a lot has been easy for Quade in the first half of his first full season as manager of this storied franchise that comes out of the All-Star break 18 games under .500 and will most assuredly hit 103 years without a World Series winner.
Most everybody knows Mike Quade by now, even if they don’t notice him when he comes out the gate after a game at the neighborhood ball park and starts a short, brisk walk on the sidewalk to his living quarters a few blocks away.
“Hey, neighbor’” would probably not be the first thing Quade would hear if someone did recognize him. More like, “What the heck is wrong with the Cubs and why did you do this or that?”
And most of all: “How come the Cubs’ longest winning streak is a mere two games?”
Criticism is all part of the deal when you’re running a major league baseball team and so are difficult times. But Quade has been dealt plenty of both. He got the job last October, beating out a field that included Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.
“It’s a challenging job. A fun job, sometimes not as fun as others, but it’s OK,” Quade said near the end of the frustrating first half.
Quade’s decision-making comes under great scrutiny and he knew it would when he took the job fulltime after leading the Cubs to a 24-13 record late last season on an interim basis after Lou Piniella retired. Previously, Quade was a major league coach and a minor league manager for more than 2,000 games.
Why didn’t he intentionally walk Albert Pujols in an extra-inning game in St. Louis? The Cardinals’ star then hit a winning homer. Why did he leave starter Randy Wells in so long against the White Sox, resulting in another tough loss?
Those are just two examples. And when your team is playing as badly as the Cubs have, the second-guessing is magnified more than ever. Quade isn’t always easy on himself and he doesn’t consider questions about his strategy an affront.
“I’m not a closer and they are supposed to have short memories, so I better be close to one,” he said. “You think it through and look at it from every possible angle in case you missed any of the decisions you make.”
And explaining himself is no big deal.
“I love talking baseball, and I have reasons for what I do. People don’t have to like them,” he said. “I’m the hardest guy on Mike Quade in the world, so I don’t have to worry about anyone else being hard on me, but I would rather explain myself than say ‘I’m not going to talk about that.’ It’s what I do. I’m not that arrogant, or whatever. I’m just not that way. “
He’s also had to do a lot of shuffling because of injuries.
Four of his five starters have landed on the disabled list – Andrew Cashner, Wells, Matt Garza and Carlos Zambrano. Pitcher Ryan Dempster, who got in shouting match with his manager during last weekend’s series with the Pirates when he was pulled after five innings, had earlier in the month spent a night in the hospital with back and stomach issues.
The disabled list has been crowded – starting center fielder Marlon Byrd was hit in the face with a pitch in Boston and was out for six weeks. Second baseman Darwin Barney, catcher Geovany Soto, left fielder Alfonso Soriano, backups Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker and reliever Kerry Wood have all been on the DL.
Cashner and Wells went on in early April, leaving the Cubs desperate to fill in the back of their rotation. They tried reliever James Russell, Triple-A pitcher Casey Coleman and also turned to 30-somethings Doug Davis, Rodrigo Lopez and Ramon Ortiz.
So how has Quade handled what he’s been handed?
“I think as well as he could,” Johnson said. “Obviously, staying healthy is a big part of winning ballgames. You look at our record and you can kind of figure out the fact that we haven’t really been able to stay healthy – and that’s been a big part.
“With those things considered, I think we obviously feel we should be playing a little better than we are now – even with those things considered,” Johnson added
“It’s tough to battle those injuries, but we have to figure out a better way a handle those things in the second half.”
Zambrano, whose career has featured several emotional outbursts, voiced his opinion after a tough loss to the Cardinals when he criticized the pitch selection of teammate Carlos Marmol – the team’s erratic closer who has blown six saves – and said the Cubs were playing like a Triple-A team while embarrassing themselves, the fans and owner Tom Ricketts.
That it was Zambrano who jumped into the spotlight came as no surprise.
But when Dempster, the down-to-earth, affable team leader, got into it with Quade in the Pittsburgh dugout in front of cameras, that was a different type of implosion, one totally out of character. And it made it clear that things are not going well.
There have been some bright spots – the play of 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro and double-play mate Barney at second. Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena, signed as a free agent in the offseason, have shaken off slow slow starts and discovered their home run strokes.
But now the Cubs are in such a hole, who knows what they will do at the trade deadline later this month or what the futures of Quade and general manager Jim Hendry will be after the season ends.
“I think he’s been handling it the best he can. He’s tried to communicate with the players, but when you’ve got have so many injuries on your team – especially with your starting players, it’s hard for him to manage a team like that,” the veteran Lopez said.
“I think he’s taken on a lot this first half. Being a rookie manager, it’s going to take him a (while). He’s trying to do his best.”
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