Friday, November 18, 2011
The book on Dale Sveum
By Gordon Edes
BOSTON -- So, what is it about Dale Sveum, recognized in these parts mostly as a third-base coach with baserunners' blood on his hands, that made him so attractive as a manager to both Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington?
There are clues. And even though Sveum isn't coming to the Boston Red Sox, having been introduced Friday as the new manager of the Chicago Cubs while the Sox switch to stealth mode in their search, we figured Sox fans might want to hear a little about the one who got away.
A good place to start is with Joe Torre. Sveum played for Torre with the 1998 New York Yankees, the team that won 114 games on its way to a World Series. Sveum did little on the field, batting just .155 while playing a handful of games as a backup infielder. But even after the Yankees released him, Torre decided to keep him around, giving him a job as a bullpen catcher. Why?
"We just felt players liked having him around," Torre said this week in Milwaukee. "He was such a good guy and a good teammate, the guys wanted him around, and I'm sensitive to that. He was just very comfortable in the clubhouse. A real good baseball mind, a guy who really pays attention. He had the respect of the guys in that clubhouse."
Including Derek Jeter. "Not just Derek," Torre said. "Derek doesn't let too many people inside, but Derek did show a trust of Dale Sveum."
Hall of Famer Paul Molitor was on the disabled list in 1987 when a hot-hitting No. 1 prospect named Dale Sveum was called up by the Milwaukee Brewers to fill in for Molitor at third base. Sveum made such an immediate impact -- his walk-off home run in a come-from-behind win is still fondly recalled in Milwaukee as the "Easter Sunday Miracle" -- that the Brewers wound up reshuffling their lineup when Molitor came back. Sveum moved to shortstop, with another future Hall of Famer, Robin Yount, moving from short to center field.
The three have remained good friends ever since.
"When Dale came in he was an interesting player," Molitor said. "He wasn't really fast, but he was athletic, and he wasn't fazed by the spotlight. He was on the rise before a very ugly incident, the one I got to see up close and personal, when he broke his leg. Pop fly down the line, I was playing third, he was playing short. I pulled up, and Dale slid."
Sveum collided with Brewers outfielder Darryl Hamilton and fractured his leg, which didn't heal properly and, as Molitor recalled, had to be refractured again a year later. Sveum never achieved stardom, but lasted 18 years in the big leagues.
"Dale is the type of guy who won't be outworked by anybody in anything he does," Molitor said. "And he was a very intense teammate.
"When you're forced to sit back [by injury], you can gain a broader understanding of the game. Dale looked beyond how a shortstop sees it and learned how a game is managed and run. He developed a vision of the game and [how to] run a game, and has been around people who share that vision."
John Wehner, now a broadcaster for the Pittsburgh Pirates, admits to a bias. Sveum is his best friend in baseball, going back to their days when they lived together in Calgary, Alberta, while playing for the Pirates' Triple-A franchise.
"We were pretty much baseball nuts," Wehner said. "We'd play a game, then go have a couple of beers and break it down, what went right, what went wrong. Go to bed, get up and have lunch, go back to the ballpark."
Wehner played for Jim Leyland in Pittsburgh. He played for Gene Lamont. When Sveum became manager of the Pirates' Double-A team in Altoona, Wehner joined him as his hitting coach. Sveum, he said, "has as bright a mind as I've ever come across in baseball."
And, he added, Sveum has adapted to the changes in the modern game, and the modern player. He hungrily devoured as much statistical data as he could find, and showed a knack for relating to his players, even if they grew up in an era far removed from the blue-collar ethics of the Molitor/Yount Brew Crew.
"In Boston," Wehner said, "he was amazed at the access he had to information about outfielders' arms, and infield alignments, and all kinds of things. He got beaten up for some of the decisions he made as third-base coach there, but I guarantee he was as prepared as any coach can be.
"The guys I know in Boston loved Dale Sveum. I've never met a guy who didn't like him. And he's not afraid of anybody. He'll offer his beliefs, he's not afraid to admit when he's wrong, and he's not afraid to take the opinion of others. And he had relationships with everybody. He might have lunch with Derek Jeter, and that night go have dinner with the bat boy.
"And whoever it was, he got respect. He didn't demand it, he received it."
Funny story about Sveum. He'd been in the big leagues for 10 years the day he went to Atlanta's Turner Field and the security guard refused him entry, not believing he was a ballplayer. Sveum tried everything to convince him, including showing him his driver's license.
Finally, he said, with not just a touch of irony: "Doesn't everyone know who Dale Sveum is?"
If Theo Epstein is right, they will soon enough.
|Hall of Famer and Brewers legend Paul Molitor holds former teammate Dale Sveum's baseball acumen in high regard.|
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.