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Wedge should be wary wading into Cubs waters

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For more sports commentary, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1.

Few jobs in sports are more difficult than managing Cubs

Monday, October 28, 2013 - 5:07 pm

The Chicago Cubs might want Eric Wedge, but a much bigger question is whether Wedge should want the Cubs.

After all, Wrigley Field is where managers go to consider life after baseball.

Wedge stepped down after three seasons as manager of the Seattle Mariners. He had no long-term contract moving forward and apparently didn't see eye-to-eye with management on a number of issues.

Several media outlets have reported Wedge, a Fort Wayne native, will interview with the Cubs about their managing opening as early as this week.

It's an intriguing job, no question, because the Cubs are one of the most recognizable franchises in all of sports. Management appears willing to spend money to put the best-possible product on the field. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is desperate for a winner.

There's a definite upside to the job if Wedge could turn the Cubs into World Series champs. He'd end 105 years of futility, he could name his price in a subsequent contract and he could have a photo-op contract signing next to the statue they'll build for him.

That brings us to the downside of managing the Cubs. Let's go to the list, shall we?

Tradition of mediocrity

Players and managers come and go, but a history of failure and false hope has permeated the Cubs to the point where fans believe in curses and jinxes and all sorts of things that have nothing to do with baseball. The Cubs have not had much success and the success they've had, they've not handled well.

It's been a long decade since the Steve Bartman incident in 2003, a decade that has included managers Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Mike Quade and Dale Sveum.

Some sports franchises become mired in mediocrity and seem incapable of shaking out of it. The Cubs set the standard.

Impatient fans

Cubs fans have a right to be impatient, of course. They haven't made the playoffs since 2008 and their last World Series appearance was in 1945.

But they're a loyal demographic, filling Wrigley Field regularly, knowing the only guaranteed consistency is Budweiser and celebrity renditions of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” They're still a tough crowd to handle. They're so tired of losing, and any hint of it early in a manager's career puts that manager under pressure that just doesn't exist in other rebuilding projects.

Management said Sveum wouldn't be judged by just his won-lost record. A lack of development of players presumably led to his dismissal. Who's kidding whom? He was 127-197 in two years.

Impatient media

The Chicago media might be even antsier than the fans for Cubs management to produce a contender. They'll apply pressure to the manager to win immediately, question his tactics, dissect his every move and smother him with attention. Remember how Baker seemed to get more and more claustrophobic as his tenure went on? And he made the playoffs. Piniella is 14th on the all-time list of wins. Managing the Cubs drove him into retirement.

Media scrutiny has increased immeasurably over the last 10 years with the growth of online and social media. Every move the manager makes is fodder for analysts. This is true in any city, but Chicago is magnified. They ought to just change the nickname to the Second-Guessing City.

Career pressure

Wedge faces a pivotal turn in his career. He had a strong run with the Cleveland Indians, reaching the playoffs and earning an American League Manager of the Year award in 2007. He didn't have time to push the Mariners into contention and his health scare (a mild stroke) this season added another issue into the mix.

Baseball has a habit of recycling managers, and Wedge remains relatively young (45) for the position. So his next stop isn't necessarily his last.

But Wedge is far enough removed from his Indians success that his next stop needs to be a nice rebound stop in terms of wins. That's a tough task with the Cubs, who finished in last place in the National League Central with a 66-96 record in 2013.

I'm biased, having known him over the years, but Wedge has the baseball knowledge and insight to be successful anywhere, even if he'd be managing in the National League for the first time. He's confident enough in his abilities and approach after 10 years as a big-league manager. He knows how he wants things done, so discipline – for him and his team – would be plus in Chicago.

The fact remains that managing the Cubs is a job unlike any other in sports. No one has made it work, more than temporarily, over the last century.

Managing the Cubs is a great job in theory. Bright lights, big city. But with the Cubs, it's never long before you discover the Chicago blues.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.