Nothing that Theo Epstein said that day and nothing that has happened in the 4 ½ months since has made ex-Cubs manager Dale Sveum feel any different about the firing he said on the day it happened “blindsided” him.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t caught off guard,” the Kansas City Royals’ third base coach said as his new team prepared to open spring camp, “just because of the plan that we all thought was put in place. I think we were all caught off guard that day in Milwaukee when all the hoopla came out about everybody’s being evaluated and everything.”
Sveum, who landed his new gig when KC manager Ned Yost called him the day after his Sept 30 firing, was referring to the day two weeks earlier that team president Epstein told reporters Sveum’s job status would be evaluated at the end of the season, despite a year remaining on his contract.
With Sveum long gone after talking to reporters in the parking lot the day of the firing, Epstein pointed to the struggles of core players such as Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro and to communication issues being at the root of the final evaluation – and said Sveum shouldn’t have been blindsided because they’d discussed the issues at midseason.
Sveum said he remains on good terms with Epstein and respects him. But he also doesn’t see it the same way.
“I ain’t gonna sit here and say we weren’t caught off guard. Yeah, we had the meeting,”he said, “but it was more constructive stuff at the time – I felt anyway. It was just talking about things that we needed to get better at, that I needed to get better at. Nothing super critical that you thought of at the time.”
If he believes after the fact that hidden agendas were in play, he’s not saying.
But sources say business president Crane Kenney’s side of the operation began making a strong play for Joe Girardi, the Yankee manager in the final year of his contract, well before the end of the season – that they, in fact, boasted they’d be able to land him.
A source this month confirmed that Girardi was offered through back channels a bigger deal than the four-year, $16 million he got to re-sign with the Yankees.
Does Sveum believe that could have played into his firing? “I have no idea,” he said.
Did he get a fair shake?
“You’d be lying if you said, yeah. Just because of your own ego,” he said. “But you understand bosses and how things work and selling tickets and where the organization’s going and the development of players. And that’s their [prerogative] to say that’s my fault. But there was an awful lot of good development with the Travis Woods and the Paul Maholms and all these guys. … Welington Castillo’s getting ready to possibly be something special. So there’s some good things that happened, too.”
Players such as Jeff Samardzija, who is on his fourth manager in five years, defended Sveum last fall and isn’t certain now why he was fired.
“We all like Dale. We all supported him,” Samardzija said. “We all thought he was a good dude and a good manager. … That’s the way the game goes. I’m sure Dale understands that. It’s just not always the easiest thing to swallow.”
Sveum says he has no regrets about taking the job and says the experience should make him better in the second managing job he hopes to get.
He still bristles at the notion that something was wrong with the player development side of his work.
“I’ve had a track record of developing pretty good young players,” he said of coaching stints in Milwaukee and Boston. “You can lead horses to the water; you can’t make them drink all the time, either.”
He remains proud of the staff’s and team’s work ethic under him and the fact the team on the field played hard to the final day he was on the job, he said.
“That’s what I was brought in here to do and those things did pan out,” he said. “The other part of it, that’s a business decision that we all have to live with. We know going in, no matter what longevity of contracts we sign, we can be fired. And you respect that.
“I don’t have any hard feelings for anybody like [Epstein]. It’s part of the game.”
Pitching coach Chris Bosio, a close friend of Sveum and one of three coaches retained after the firing, said he’s sure Sveum will manage again.
“In a lot of aspects, Dale should be proud of what he accomplished,” Bosio said, referring to some of the successes with players the Cubs were able to trade for well regarded prospects now in the system.
As for what he might do differently as Cubs manager given the chance, Sveum said he’s not sure.
“People want you to do things maybe one way or the other, and, sure, you probably would like to have some things back,” said Sveum, who raised eyebrows in April when he suggested Castro and Rizzo were candidates for demotions to the minors. “But as far as communication and all that stuff – that’s the way I am.”
His only advice for new manager Rick Renteria is to have patience.
“I had never really been around something that lost that much,” said Sveum, whose stripped-down, stop-gap roster led to a two-year franchise record 197 losses in his tenure. “It’s tough to lose like that, man, I don’t care who you are. For some people, it’s just no big deal. But it wears on you. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”