A brief look at the Cubs interview process: Picking the right person to be manager

Chicago is  a tough town with a tough media.

As Dale Sveum said, “This place will chew you up and spit you out”.

So is the solution to acquiesce and choose the media favorite?

Of course not.  But the Cubs do need to consider the media.  And like I said, it’s a tough one.   They’ll poke and prod. They’ll provoke.  They’ll dump 100+ years of frustration on top of you.  That’s their job.  That isn’t going to change.

The question is how do you handle it?

While we get bogged down in things like a name manager, reputation, and/or past record, the Cubs are looking for the right person for the job.  It has a lot to do with who that person is and how he handles himself and those around him.

I’ve mentioned in the past that a successful friend of mine once gave me some great advice.  If someone says or does something that makes you angry or frustrated — that’s not the time to communicate.  You wait.  And not just count to ten — give yourself at least 24 hours and if it’s still a problem for you, then you can address it and by then you will have removed yourself from the immediate emotional reaction.

While Sveum was laid back, it did get to him sometimes and all too often, he deflected the fire to his young players.  It’s a mistake he’ll have to learn from in future jobs.  Compare that to Terry Francona’s philosophy as stated in the book “Red Sox Rule: Terry Francona and Boston’s Rise to Dominance”

“He (Francona) admitted to Epstein that he was sometimes too protective of his players, but he didn’t believe in communicating with them through the media.  He was similar to Epstein in that he’d wait to make sure his emotions didn’t lead to an overreaction with his players and coaches.   Then, on a plane or bus ride or standing on the edge of the outfield grass the next day, he’d say what he needed to.  If the choices were talking tough to reporters and fans or working privately to make sure players were accountable to both him and their teammates, he always chose the latter.”

Sounds like my friend would have hired him too — and his company has nothing to do with baseball.

The interview process itself is very detailed and complex with question after question.  But here’s the kicker — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before from a teacher/evaluator — there are no wrong answers.

At worst it sounds like a trap.  At best it sounds like something designed to get you to relax.  But that’s not really it.  As someone who has done this kind of work in the past, I can tell you that any answer can be correct.  It’s about context and how you defend your answer that’s important.   The book pretty much says the same thing.  An example of a question and one possible answer in the book is, “What’s most important to you?”  One answer is D) Making sure your uniform looks good in the dugout.  It seems like an absurd choice, definitely the “wrong” answer. The natural reaction is to think this guy is some sort of narcissist… but maybe it’s about professionalism, maybe it’s about discipline and detail, maybe it’s about self-respect, or some other reason or reasons.  The point is how you defend your answer says more about you than the answer itself.

And if you’re looking for a tough guy to manage the Cubs, forget it.  Francona was once considered “too nice”, as we’ve mentioned before, but as we’ve seen in the quote above, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t hold players accountable for their mistakes.

Francona is truly a guy who cares about people — and not just his players, but everybody.  There was a story in the book of him studying the media guides and memorizing everyone who had a picture.  Everyone knows the stars, Francona wanted to know everybody from the guys behind the scenes in the office to the clubhouse manager.  Too nice? Maybe.  But when you get to know everyone on a personal level, then you’re far less likely to throw them under the bus.  There should be no wonder that teams will go through a wall for Francona and he never has to scream and shout to make them do it.  They do it because they want to do it.  They do it because they know he always has their back.

You can expect a similar quality with the next Cubs manager.  We don’t have the information the Cubs have after they go through their incredibly extensive process.  We as bloggers, fans or the media do not get to know the candidates that closely.  And while we worry about things that can sometimes be superficial and extraneous, we can be sure the Cubs will get to the core and hire the right person for the job.

The rest will take care of itself.


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  • Lets face it John. It is pretty obvious in hind site that Dale was a very poor communicator. And he failed to create a positive atmosphere for his team.
    To me that is the main criteria this team needs. People rave about a Joe Maddon. What he does more than anything is he tries to make the game fun for his team. Even when they were a last place team, this is what he did. Create a positive and fun situation and guys like Castro and Rizzo will thrive. Ballplayers are kids at heart.

  • Very true. They really are. And they're very loyal to each other and the team in general. All they really ask is that you have their back. I think that was Sveum's biggest mistake.

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    I don't think this is fair at all... All the players could talk about a year ago was how fun it was to come to work every day and that Dale was Mr. Even Kiel... Then they have issues with Starlin Castro hitting, and sure Sveum probably didn't handle the situation perfectly and everyone is suddenly all over the guy as a poor communicator... I think what truly happened this year was that guys in the club house got tired of being viewed as trade chips (Jeff S.) and that started to impact the vibe around the team. I think if anything Sveum was overly loyal to the FO and that started to rub players the wrong way. Sveum could have been they guy, we got caught coveting that which wasn't ours (Girardi) and now we have too justify it. Will they hire another solid guy? I think so, but I am disappointed in how Sveum was handled.

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    In reply to Jordan Dutcher:

    And the more I think about it... perhaps this is why so few guys can be the point A to point C guy... Trammel was point A to point B and Lleyland came in and took it from there... I think you almost cant help but lose your clubhouse when you have guys tying out for other GMs on your team. Which in fairness is exactly what Sveum had...

  • In reply to Jordan Dutcher:

    Well, I suppose it would be hard to entice Girardi without an opening, but I think that the decision on Sveum would have been reluctantly made anyway.

  • Nice piece.

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    As always, this is another very crafted post, John. Well done.

  • In reply to Phil James:

    Thank you Phil.

  • Someone has to instill that swagger. Matheny and Farrell seem like a couple of sticks in the mud. A couple of guys in the right place at the right time.

    Joe Maddon is a guy who seems like a manager. I would even give that quality to Dale in some cases. Lou Pinella was another guy who I think was just in the right place at the right time, Dusty Baker included.

    I would prefer a guy who goes 80 percent by the numbers and 20 percent on gut. I think we all tire of seeing a pitcher being left in too long because he "earned it" or some non sense like that. No more weird matchups late in the game that leave us screaming at the TV or pitching to guys we have no business pitching to.

    A manager that largely does things by the (Cub's) book, with a little flare, and a good healthy attention to analytics and development is going to be the one.

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    In reply to givejonadollar:

    I don't think Dusty was simply in the right place at the right time, he has managed 3 teams to the playoffs. His biggest quality is he's very loyal to his players and defends them. Can you ever remember Dusty ripping a player in the media? He's too professional for that, which is the quality ALL managers should have. That said, he drove me nuts with his managing the pitchers and bullpen, playing mediocre vets over kids, lineup construction, etc. But he didn't do what Quade and Sveum did and throw the team's players under the bus to the media.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    But to be fair, I don't think Sveum saying that he would send Castro or Rizzo down is "throwing them under the bus". It was a motivational tactic that is debatable on it's effectiveness.

    Commenters have also mentioned how Castro may benefit in the long term from the change in approach, albeit possibly becoming more selective.

    Sveum wasn't my favorite, but it was pretty clear they were going all in on Girardi, lost, and now have to patch the story up to make the pieces fit.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    Those kind of motivational tactics are archaic and pretty much looked down on in any progressive organziation. I've worked in the field and managers who call out employees in public were usually among the worst we've evaluated. It's a great way to lose your people. It never creates any trust or cohesiveness in a group or it's leader. Not really debatable among progressive thinking organizations and the Cubs are definitely that.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    Wow. That is not at all clear to me. I think that if Girardi did not exist, everything would have gone just as it has up til now. I don'[t doubt that they would probably have hired Girardi if he were available, but I don't see anything they have done that they would not have done absence Girardi. Sveum would certainly have been fired, and they certainly would have interviewed the same cast of candidates.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Exactly.... If they were all in on Girardi, they didn't have to terminate Sveum. Dales demise had nothing to do with Joe Girardi. Girardi was nothing more than the fans/media's, and possibly the FO's leading candidate. Dales destiny with the Cubs had already been determined irregardless of what was going on with Girardi.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Agreed. Well said.

  • In reply to Just Win:


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    In reply to Just Win:

    "Can you ever remember Dusty ripping a player in the media? He's too professional for that, which is the quality ALL managers should have."

    Frankly Dusty should have ripped his players in the media every so often. Like when Brandon Phillips busts in on a post game press conference and starts bitching out a reporter while Dusty sits there laughing. Or about half the members of the 2004 Cubs team like Todd Walker, Kent Mercker, Mike Remlinger, LaTroy Hawkins & Michael Barrett for spending most of their time fighting with the beat writers, Steve Stone and the Astros for no apparent reason.

    I know I'm probably in the minority here but yes a manager does need to throw his players, as a group or individually. under the bus publicly when the situation calls for it. Otherwise you get Dusty who always had his clubhouses get away from him at some point in every one of his managerial stops.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    The Cubs have all the analytics info any manager will ever need. ti's just a matter of him translating it to the field. I think Dale did an okay job with that and he actually did quite well with the defensive aspect.

    As for bullpen and lineup moves, I've never known a single manager not to get criticized for that because it's so easy to do. There was a actually a call to the ratio station criticizing John Farrell the day after he won the World Series. Mike Matheny took some criticism as well. I think that part will always happen no matter who is manager.

    To boil it down it's most simple explanation, what the Cubs really want here is a true leader who can communicate down from the front office down to every player and coach in the dugout. Flair or fire is what fans typically want, but it won't enter the equation here. None of the Cubs candidates have that kind of personality.

  • This post made me think about Marc Trestman with the Bears. All the media, and most of the fans wanted the "big name." Bill Cowher or Tony Dungy, etc. It was pretty clear from the start that the Bears weren't going that route. The fans got upset, unsatisfied with the candidates. But George McCaskey, Phil Emery, and the Bears front office did their homework. The process took weeks and weeks. They hired the best person for the job from their point of view. Trestman is statistically minded, experienced at the highest level, and has a reputation of developing players. He comes across a little nerdy, and his media interviews are not very entertaining. But I've grown confident in his ability to do the job in just half a season. The Cubs need to find their Marc Trestman. Who that might be, I'm not sure. Probably Hinch at this point.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    That's a pretty good analogy but in fairness, I think Lovie had some of that quality. He protected his players from the media to the point of where he himself was made fun of -- but he never wavered. Fans/Media never took to Lovie and his stoic style, but his players loved him for the way he had their back.

  • In Keith Law's chat today he had this to say when asked about Soler's ETA and what he thought of his future.

    "Somewhere between July '14 and July '15. I think he's a star. Guy has filled out physically already, big-time bat speed, great athlete".

  • In reply to Ryno23:

    Sweet. Like to hear that. He's always been high on Soler.

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    In reply to Ryno23:

    Boy is that nice to hear -- about the one of the big four with the fewest results to this point.

    Right now, I'm thinking Almora makes it as, at least, a defense first center fielder who hits enough to start. Bryant is a middle of the order force. Baez and Soler are wild-cards with two of the highest ceilings in the minors. I'm happy.

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    In reply to Ryno23:

    Wow! It would be exciting to watch what he would have to do to garner a July '14 call up! He certainly passes the eyeball test...absolute monster!

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    In reply to Ryno23:

    I really love to hear this, but this doesn't seem like this front office's style. I'd love to see him get a couple hundred AAA at bats at least. Not because I think it would be good for him, but because I live in Iowa and want to see him play. :)

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    I hope they get the pick right... but the fact that they are looking for manager number two, less than two years after they've arrived, I think that is something we have every right to question. So far they are batting .500 in picking the right guy. Small sample size? Yes, but that works both ways... I love what they've done to date for the most part. But the fact that they are walking away from Sveum already, is a little concerning to me...

  • In reply to Jordan Dutcher:

    Two things tell me the Cubs misjudged the org more than the man, though Sveum did make his mistakes. One is that they did not interview any of the available finalists from last time and secondly, they've pretty much said that they know what the organization needs now.

    Sure Sveum made mistakes, but it was his first job and I think sometimes he wasn't sure where he stood. I agree he spent a lot of time protecting the FO. What he should have been doing is protecting his players. I think the FO would have preferred they clashed with them on behalf of his players rather than the other way around. He'll know better next time.

    We have a good sample size on Francona and Joe Maddon, who were the finalists in their previous search. We don't have one on Sveum. For all we know, he will succeed after his failure the same way that Francona himself did. And as we've mentioned, Maddon was a losing minor league manager who got passed over for quite a few jobs. I don't think we should be so quick to judge.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    All very fair and well thought points. Although I will respectfully disagree that they get credit for a guy they didn't hire. I agree they deserve a little grace here. They've earned that from me.

  • In reply to Jordan Dutcher:

    They start with two pages of candidates and narrowed it down to Francona and Maddon, I'd say that's a pretty good final two and shows a pretty good process of elimination.

  • In reply to Jordan Dutcher:

    Like everything else in baseball, there's going to be mistakes. Not every trade will go your way. Not every draft pick will make it. Not every coach will either. I can't fault them for missing on Sveum. And I really don't think they made a mistake with him. No one would have won with our roster. I think it came down to, they decided he was not the guy to lead them into the next phase. Whether they made a mistake in hiring him is debatable.. But even if they admitted that, would you rather they try to cover up the error or severe ties and do something to fix it.

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I don't disagree with anything you said. I just am not going to blindly state that whatever decision they make will be the best... Because as you stated, all FO's have mistakes.

  • Hi John! I have been an avid follower for a long time and love the well articulated information. Thank you for all the work you do. I love the respectful comments from the followers as well. This is my first post and may be my last. I figure no one needs my two cents.

    However, I found an article today that shared a lot of my thoughts on the managerial search and thought this to be a good place to post. I have been frustrated by the slow process, but have said all along it doesn't really matter who we hire. The FO is making all the decisionsj anyway. The Manager is just the face for the media on game day. Theo and Jed are NOT going to let "middle management" mess this up for them. The post is from Tom Verducci on SI.com.


    Thank you again, John, for all your work and dediction to feeding the Passion we all share for the Cubs!

  • In reply to Cubs4Life:

    Thanks Cubs4Life. I appreciate the kinds word for the blog, the readers, and for me.

    And thanks for the link as well. We will post in the next news and notes piece.

  • Great article, John.

    Give me the guy who's the most fun to be around and play for. Hopefully they can find out who that is and then hire him. The game itself is so standardized that any baseball man along with collection of 5 or 6 other baseball men can manage a nine inning ball game. The separators are all the cross country flights and the pregame, post game, and off day atmosphere and the press conferences. That's where the Tito's and the Joe Maddon's have earned their stripes.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Thanks. You need a guy who earns respect and holds guys accountable. It's a long season and a lot of strong personalities, you need a guy who can lead them all while still being a guy they can trust...and yeah, even have some fun with once in awhile. Nothing wrong with being well-liked as long as you have the respect to go with it.

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    Just saw this tweet:

    Nothing going on between Cubs and DBacks on Jeff Samardzija. Teams talked in July about it Many teams will be interested in pitcher.

    John I saw you RT the comment. I was trying to think who else we might want to look at. Here's a thought. What about Noah Syndergaard of the Mets. Not sure i it would be a one for one trade but Syndergaard sure would look nice in a Cubs uniform....

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    It's really only repeating what we said yesterday -- that there is expected to be interest, but I think a lot of people take that to mean there are already active talks. That hasn't happened yet. Bruce is probably right -- but it doesn't contradict what we said yesterday.

  • Do you think Grand Panjandrum Epstein's Christmas present to his gullible fans will be a new manager?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    No, I think he think he should leave the decision up to you.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    LOL,That was good.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Now THAT'S funnyt

  • PSBJ News ‏@PSBJ 22m
    #Mariners will name Detroit Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon as their new manager, a source close to team says. Announcement soon.

    Are the Cubs the last job out there?

  • I'd agree that Francona is a pretty good manager and there is no denying his record of success but let's not forget one thing, his 2011 team quit on him, for whatever reason. Chemistry is a funny thing and it runs in cycles. A guy who everybody loves one year can wear thin on the same bunch the next year.

  • The proof is believed to be in the pudding. Beckett gone,even after licking his chicken licking and beer drinking clubhouse endeavors don't know if Crawford or Gonzalez fit into that situation.Got to hand it to Lucchino and Cherrington for the end results and saving 21 million in the process ,pretty gutsy move and great results.

  • John, Doesn't this leave us with the question as to how much freedom the new manager will have? He can't just be a yes man to the FO. He can't throw the players under the bus with the media. And then there's rumor or fact that the new manager can only name 50% of his coaches. What can be expected from the new manager under these circumstances?

  • John, superb job as usual!

  • Lovullo is rge one that's hurt by this whole thing. He didn't deserve iy. I hope he gets out of Boston and gers another shot at managing. This is going to impact Boston's free agents and anyone else working for Boston.

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