Commentary

Dale Sveum eyes 2nd chance in Boston

After rocky tenure as Red Sox third-base coach, he interviews for job as manager

Updated: November 3, 2011, 10:42 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It's impossible to consider Dale Sveum's candidacy to be the next manager of the Boston Red Sox without first acknowledging that he was not just another third-base coach during his two seasons in Boston (2004 and 2005).

In a city famous for shredding its third-base coaches, ever since former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle wrote that if Sox coach Rene Lachemann had been an air traffic controller at Logan Airport, Boston Harbor would have been littered with fuselage, Sveum's notoriety may have eclipsed them all.

[+] EnlargeDale Sveum
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaDale Sveum (right) walks past Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington after meeting with the media following his interview for the manager's job.

How many third-base coaches of World Series-bound teams hear boos when introduced at home before a postseason game? Most get ignored, or are lucky to hear polite applause.

How many third-base coaches are the subject of a profile in the Sunday magazine of that city's biggest newspaper? Sveum was, with the headline, "He's Safe … For Now."

How many third-base coaches start getting second-guessed in their first weeks on the job after an often inattentive Manny Ramirez proves to have better judgment than the coach, stopping at third while the coach was waving him home on a throw that would have caught Ramirez not by inches but by yards?

How many third-base coaches provoke rants that last two weeks by sending a runner (Dave Roberts) who gets thrown out at the plate by Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli with no outs in the ninth and the Sox down a run in Tropicana Field, then a week later at Fenway Park sends two more runners to their demise -- on back-to-back plays! -- again cut down at the plate by Baldelli?

After that debacle, there were people willing to have Sveum in the coach's box only if he was turning on a rotisserie spit.

New Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who hosted Sveum at Fenway Park on Wednesday as the second candidate to be interviewed for the managing job, insisted that history shouldn't make Sveum a tough sell.

"I don't think so," he said. "We wouldn't be hiring him as a third-base coach.

"I don't see how it's relevant. I think he's done a lot of different things in baseball. He's been a third-base coach in the big leagues, he's been a bench coach, a hitting coach, he's managed in the minor leagues. Obviously, he played for a long time, so we're looking at an entire body of work.

"In some ways, his experience as a third-base coach is a benefit to him. He's been through some adversity in Boston. A lot of our candidates won't have been through that."

Sveum insisted at the time he wasn't rattled by the criticism he took, and he reiterated that position Wednesday, six years as a coach in Milwaukee (and 12 regular-season games as Brewers' interim manager) now separating him from those unintended horrors.

"I'll just say I'm glad I was scrutinized for being aggressive instead of passive," Sveum said late Wednesday afternoon, three weeks shy of his 48th birthday. "I'm not a very passive person. I'm a very aggressive person, I always have been. The thing about the passion of fans here and the media -- it was kind of, I don't want to say it was comical, but if you do the same thing in Milwaukee there's nothing really said about it."

You can almost hear a few fans reacting like the Joe Pesci character in "Goodfellas": "You think I'm funny?"

"Don't get me wrong," Sveum added. "I made a couple of decisions I'd like to have back, and maybe a comment or two in the paper that I'd like to have back after Dave Roberts got thrown out in Tampa. I don't want to say it didn't faze me. I know my baseball knowledge and I know most of those guys getting thrown out were just part of the game and how it all comes out.

"The dynamics and the odds of a guy throwing a ball that perfect to home from 250 feet away are very slim and it just happened to happen quite a bit in a two-week span. But being aggressive, some of those things you do for your players too. We've got a four-run lead we're trying to add on, throw him a bone, get him an RBI, these things come into play too."

Yes, they do, although no one on the outside really wants to hear that, either.

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez and Dale Sveum
AP Photo/Linda KayeIn two years as Red Sox third-base coach, Dale Sveum occasionally drew the ire of both fans and players, such as Manny Ramirez.

"If I'm getting beat up over being aggressive, I'm OK with that. It's much better than being passive out there."

Sveum will be, and should be, judged on more than a few bad reads at third base. During his tenure here, he was sought out by a number of Sox hitters, most notably Jason Varitek, for help at the plate. He also worked extensively with the team's infielders and enjoyed a close relationship with manager Terry Francona.

Sveum said he hasn't spoken with Francona about the Sox job, but said he intends to.

In his brief turn as Brewers manager, a job he inherited with 12 games left when a panicked owner ordered his general manager to fire Ned Yost, Sveum took Milwaukee to the playoffs, nosing out the New York Mets on the final day of the season for the National League wild card in 2008.

The Brewers were knocked out in the first round by the Philadelphia Phillies, who went on to win the World Series, and when it came time to hire a permanent manager, the Brewers passed over Sveum, hiring Ken Macha instead.

Sveum said the Brewers wanted someone with more big league managing experience. He remained on the Milwaukee staff, and was passed over again last winter when the Brewers hired Ron Roenicke, who had never managed in the big leagues. Roenicke, who had been Los Angeles Angels bench coach under Mike Scioscia, guided the Brewers to the NL Central title before they lost to the eventual champion Cardinals in the NLCS.

Big league managing experience is not an essential part of the dance card for candidates in Boston, said Cherington, who added that he has asked permission to talk to two more candidates but was still awaiting word as to whether it would be granted.

Cherington was farm director when Sveum was here, so he did not know him well, but spoke highly of his passion for the game.

"The constant message back from people, whether coaches or players he's been around, that he's played for, worked for, is that he has just a true passion for the game, a true baseball intellect," Cherington said. "There's a lot of substance to his baseball thought process, how he goes about teaching the game, making decisions during the game."

And he wouldn't be managing from the third-base coach's box.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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