Chicago Cubs Baseball: Would Theo Epstein Have Had to Fire Ryne Sandberg
Few were surprised when new Cubs' President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein broke the news to manager Mike Quade this past Wednesday that he would not be retained for next season. Even as Quade claimed that he had no regrets and harbored no ill will towards the organization. He also said that he had done a good job in his one year plus as the Cubs' skipper, although many would disagree with this assessment.
Quade was derided for not handling his pitching staff properly, for not chastising underachieving, lackadaisical veterans, who reportedly took over the clubhouse while doing whatever they wanted, and for not playing minor league prospects in September, even though the Cubs had been out of the race since May. Even the man who endorsed him, Cubs' starter Ryan Dempster, was seen shouting and gesticulating wildly at his manager after he thought he'd been removed from a game prematurely. Not to mention yet another Carlos Zambrano fiasco: Quade had refused to keep a tight leash on his hot headed ace and paid in spades when Big Z melted under the Georgia sun after being bombed by the Braves. The Venezuelan was ejected after repeatedly throwing inside. He later left the ballpark in a rage while the game was still going on, ranting and raving that he would retire. Zambrano was suspended, but the damage to Quade's reputation was done.
Rewind to a year ago when Cubs' fans were clamoring for legendary Cubby second baseman Ryne Sandberg to take over the reins as manager from the departing Lou Piniella. But then general manager Jim Hendry, sighting Quade's experience, minor-league accolades, the Cub's strong 24-13 finish with Quade as interim manager the previous season and "a gut feeling" choose Quade to lead the team over Ryno. This came much to the chagrin of Cubs' nation.
But could Sandberg or anyone else really, have done any better managing the 2011 edition of baseball's most cursed team. After all, the Cub's lost 40 percent of their starting rotation for large parts of the season as Andrew Cashner blew out his arm and Randy Wells missed substantial time with a shoulder injury. Minor league call-ups like Casey Coleman and journey man free agents like Rodrigo Lopez were not adequate replacements. Starting center fielder Marlon Byrd was hit in the face by a pitch and missed nearly two months. But even in a perfect world with no injuries, no one had really expected the team to finish much over break even. Would a plus 500 record have been enough for Sandberg to keep his job had he been hired instead of Quade?
By all accounts Theo Epstein is a baseball traditionalist who doesn't know very much about the Cubs' tradition. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as most die-hards wish that they could forget everything about Cubs' lore: from the goat to the black cat, to Leon Durham and both Steves: Garvey and Bartman. Epstein doesn't really seem to care too much about the old ghosts, but the former Red Sox curse buster does seem to be clearing the table and cleaning the guns. Epstein may have a lot of respect for the Hall of Famer Sandberg as does most everyone, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't have pulled the trigger on him. People have to fire people that they have respect for every day and Epstein has already said that Ryno does not meet the criteria for his new club's managerial needs. It's hard to believe that the ax wouldn't have fallen on Sandberg also. Unless he somehow would have found a way to manage the Cubs into the playoffs and, in that scenario, Hendry would have never been fired and Epstein would have never been hired in the first place.
It may turn out to be a lucky break for Ryno that he didn't land his dream job. Now Cubs' fans can still hold him in a beatific light. They can still see him through the same ivy colored glasses that they've looked at their lovable losers through for over a century and counting. You have to have individual heroes when your team hasn't won the World Series since covered wagon days. At least now they don't have to remember that hero as a hopeless skipper scuffling through a dismal 71-91 campaign. Unless of course, he ends up donning the red and white uniform of the hated St. Louis Cardinals. Then he will be remembered, much like Brett Favre with a Viking’s horn on his helmet, as the ultimate Benedict Arnold.
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