Sveum takes team’s spring-training joke in stride

Willing target of prank

Caption
(AP)
Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum kept his sense of humor through a 101-loss season in 2012. His humor may not stay so good if the team does not improve in 2013.

MESA, Ariz. – Dale Sveum doesn't plan on wearing the bright orange hunting vest with the large bull's-eye on the back anytime soon.

At least not until after his second season as Cubs manager.

About halfway through his opening speech at spring training, Sveum noticed Chicago's players peeling off their jackets and jerseys to reveal orange hunting tops. Soon, many of the Cubs were also sporting matching orange caps in a playful dig at their manager, who was accidentally shot by Hall of Famer Robin Yount, his close friend, while hunting quail during the offseason.

Sveum enjoyed the joke.

"It's nice that maybe they're saying they don't want to lose me in a hunting accident," he said with a loud laugh on Tuesday.

Hey, least the guy didn't lose his sense of humor after a 101-loss season.

But beyond being a well-planned, well-executed prank, the Cubs' trick on Sveum was a sign of respect for the 49-year-old, who guided a young Chicago team through a rough year on the field.

"Most 101-loss teams or even most last-place teams have a lot of controversies and a lot of brush fires and we had none last year," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I think some of that credit belongs to our players, but a lot of it should go to Dale and his staff. They kept a positive atmosphere.

"We weren't talented enough, that's why we lost all those games. But we were prepared, our guys had a good attitude and that will help us a lot down the road."

With his straight-talking, confident approach and an ease in his manner, Sveum has endeared himself to Chicago's front office and players. The Cubs enjoy playing for Sveum, who was a journeyman shortstop for seven teams in 12 major league seasons.

Maybe his nomadic playing career played a part in in molding him as a manager, but Sveum said he's just being himself.

"The key for anybody is to not do anything that's outside your personality and don't try to be someone else," he said. "You have to be brutally honest at this job, but in a calm and collected way. That's what I try to do. I don't try to be anybody else. That's all I can do, otherwise, these guys are grown men and they see through anything like that."

Sveum's goal in his first season with Chicago was to create a setting where accountability was paramount, where actions were evaluated. There would be rules, many of them basic ones: hustle, be on time, respect the game, don't take any shortcuts, work hard.

Don't think Sveum is all work and no play.

For the second straight spring under Sveum, the Cubs are holding a team-wide, 64-man bunting tournament. It's a way to break up the monotony of camp, build camaraderie, practice a skill that could win a game and be competitive. Sveum pitched a few rounds each of the past few days before a blister on his finger forced him to bring in a reliever.

On his way back to the clubhouse after he was eliminated, Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva said one of the reasons he signed with Chicago was because of Sveum. Villanueva was with Milwaukee in 2008, when Sveum, the club's hitting coach, took over as manager after Ned Yost was fired and led the Brewers to the playoffs.

"After that season, there wasn't one guy in that clubhouse that didn't want him to come back and manage the next year," said Villanueva, who signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs last month. "We were pretty disappointed he wasn't hired, but every guy in there wanted him and loved him and one of the bigger reasons why I came here is because he's at the helm.

"It was a no-brainer."

How have recent Cubs managers fared in second season with team?

Lou Piniella

After leading team to division title in 2007, Piniella followed that up with a stellar 97-64 record and another division title. Like 2007, the Cubs were swept in the first round of the playoffs.

Dusty Baker

After getting the Cubs four outs from World Series, Baker's second squad actually had one more win in his sophomore season (89-73), but they finished third in division. 

Don Baylor

Baylor suffered through a 65-97 record in his first year, he led team to an 88-74 record in 2001. He was fired midway through his third season. 

Jim Riggleman 

Riggleman couldn't pull team out of mid-1990s rut after taking over in 1995. In 1996, his club with 76-86 and finished fourth in division. 

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