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Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Updated: July 21, 9:37 AM ET
Quade appears blinded by the light

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

Mike Quade might have earned himself a new nickname Wednesday. It's more of a sobriquet, really.

Ol' Copernicus.

Like: "Remember that one season the Chicago Cubs had Ol' Copernicus as manager? Whatever happened to that dude?"

After yet another desultory loss -- 9-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies -- on a day on which the temperature on the field was in the triple digits, Quade pointed out that Starlin Castro losing a ball in the sun in the first inning set the tone for a miserable afternoon for the fans and Quade. And really, for baseball in general.

Mike Quade
The Cubs' putrid defense finally got to Mike Quade during Wednesday's loss.

Sadly, I missed the game, depriving myself of heatstroke, a free chip-and-dip platter and the beginning of the denouement of Quade's brief managing career.

We've seen this show before. Managing this team could turn our calm, cool president into Howard Beale from the movie "Network."

The crux of Quade's dissatisfaction stemmed from Castro waving off his double-play partner Darwin Barney before the pop fly dropped in for a hit with one out in the first. The Phillies scored two runs in the inning. It was ruled a hit, but to Quade it symbolized all the ills of his pathetic 39-60 team.

"The sun's been in the same damn spot for however long Wrigley Field's been here," Quade told reporters following the game.

That prompted ESPN Chicago reporter Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) to tweet: "It's good to hear Quade support Copernicus by saying the sun doesn't move, take that 16th century nonbelievers!"

Zing.

To be fair, Quade's rim-shotter came in the middle of a worthy monologue about defense. He didn't yell, he just told it raw and honest.

"We've got to stop. Ball's in the sun, we've got to communicate," he told reporters. "Cassie thought he had that all the way. I look back at this whole game to that play. The sun's been in the same damn spot for however long Wrigley Field's been here. Those are the kind of mistakes -- there are certain ones you will expect, there are other ones that have to be taken care of. Those are two talented kids in the middle of the diamond, and we make enough mistakes around [here] that we need to clean them all up. But it's so important for those two to play well. Everything goes through them, I mean everything, relays, double plays, and if we're going to be good pitching, we've got to be good up the middle."

That's a pretty sensible complaint, if you ask me, and if it came from say, Ozzie Guillen, it would be looked upon as fiery advice from a one-time Gold Glove shortstop.

And if Castro and Barney weren't the only two bright keepers on a team full of overpriced veterans and spare parts, fans wouldn't be so up in arms about some basic criticism.

But from Quade, who has come to symbolize this lost season, it seems like the desperate acts of a man sinking with his ship. He's a good man but I feel like this is another step toward his eventual fall off the Cubbie cliff.

Hey, it's happened to better managers here. Wrigley Field, after all, is a great place to get drunk. Fans do it during the game. Surely, managers have considered it afterward to soothe the pain.

Quade's implosion as manager isn't all his fault. He's had to deal with injuries, underperforming veterans and a general lack of cohesion. Nice clubhouse, but bad team. The Cubs, which haven't won three in a row all season, are like a dying horse that gets a new shoe, when it should be put down.

Sixty losses by July 20? That's epic, even for this franchise. I hate the culture in which we blame the manager or head coach for everything; it's always the player, especially in baseball. But as they say, you don't fire the players.

Despite his once-beloved personality and straight-shooting mentality, Quade hasn't done much to rally the team (see Dempster, Ryan) or assuage the fans. He'll make it through the season, but if the Ricketts family brings him back, they're asking for a revolt.

Now, let me be clear: Whatever you think of him, and judging by Twitter and talk radio, it's not much, Quade's no fool. He's a sharp guy, a baseball lifer, and I respect his honesty and knowledge. But it's obvious he doesn't have the clubhouse, and he's still learning on the job. He's great with a quip, but bad with the pitching staff. I'd rather it be the other way around.

Personally, I'm fine with him calling out his best player, because we all know Castro's defense isn't cutting it right now. He can look great at times, but he's too erratic to play shortstop for a winning team. But after a 9-1 loss and another losing series, it comes off poorly to blame a 21-year-old All-Star who is the only good thing about this entire misbegotten franchise. Even if it's true. Hell, Castro threw away a ball in the All-Star Game. Quade was there, hilariously.

"I'm happy with Starlin's progress, to a certain extent," Quade said. "There will be some mistakes along the way, and I'm OK with that. I understand that. … You get to be here so long, you should be able to understand the ballpark, the surface you're playing on and everything else. The two kids are so good together and understand each other so well, there should be very little that gets by them. They need to understand the awesome responsibility of playing second and short at the big league level. I think they do, but it's more than understanding. You gotta perform."

Now Quade, as reporters noted, didn't just issue his feelings to reporters. He talked to Castro and Barney after the game, coming into the interview room after a 25-minute delay. Quade's communication skills are partly why he got the job after Lou Piniella got an early checkout from this asylum last season.

And Quade also praised some of his veterans, oddly enough, maybe to thwart a total mutiny. Barney played good soldier, according to Bruce Levine's story.

"I agree with him 100 percent," Barney told reporters. "We handle every ball, relays, throws into the infield. Everything goes through us. We have to be more energized. You look at this team and you say to yourself that you have to decided, 'How can we be better?'"

Upstart teams build around defense because they can't afford hitting. The Cubs can afford hitting -- their hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo makes more than Castro -- but they can't field. This was the ninth straight game with an error. The Cubs rank last in baseball with 85 errors and a .977 fielding percentages. I know those stats are simplistic, but they are backed up by the newfangled metrics as well.

And it does go through the middle, but that's the risk you take with young players. Castro and Barney both need work, but that's to be expected. Castro is 21 and Barney, 25, is a rookie. The Cubs get more out of their bats than gloves right now. Castro has great range and a rocket arm, but he's prone to wild throws and mental gaffes. Barney is heady, but average athletically, from a major league standpoint.

If you look at both traditional (read: outdated) defensive stats and the so-called advanced metrics, both players are near the bottom of baseball at their position.

Defense is the new hot metric, and it's obvious the Cubs are behind the curve, from Alfonso Soriano in left field to Aramis Ramirez at third base. Their pitching staff isn't being helped by the defense (check out the Pittsburgh Pirates as the Cubs' polar opposite), but they're not quite holding their own either.

I'll tell you one thing, Andrew Friedman won't stand for any of this when he takes over next year.

Just kidding, Cubs fans, though I know you're frothing at the mouth for Tampa Bay's GM, who could be his own free agent this offseason, to take over for Jim Hendry.

Friedman's attention to defense helped the Rays put together a team that reached the World Series in 2008, while the Cubs foundered in the divisional series.

In some ways, I wish Quade would have made this stand earlier, maybe it would have resonated. But now it's looks to be too late and borne out of frustration and weariness.

Next summer, Castro will get another play just like the one he botched Wednesday and as he stares into the sun, he'll wonder, "Whatever happened to that Mike Quade guy, anyway?"

Hopefully he'll make the catch, because as Quade once said, "Bottom line, you gotta catch that ball."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.