We have this thing about the Chicago Cubs, this great national sympathy. Unless it's empathy. Doesn't matter, probably, except that Monday comes around, the day there are no more Cubs games to endure, and the Cubs are in last place again, and now the Cubs have fired their manager, because, well, because this is the Cubs we're talking about, for 105 years running.
There are good reasons for axing Dale Sveum, presumably, from the whole last-place thing to the backsliding young players to the way he was always getting tobacco juice all over everything. It can't be the sustained failure of the system, of course, because the Cubs have a new one of those. Sveum was around for only two seasons of it, lost 197 games, and now joins the dozens like him to be prodded from the Wrigley Field manager's office by the tines of a pitchfork. Some were good field leaders, others weren't, and Sveum seemed to fall somewhere in the middle, but we'll never know, because his teams – waiting on Theo Epstein's wizardry – were terrible.
Maybe the front office believed these Cubs should have been slightly less terrible, and perhaps they would have been had the front office not traded away their best player (Alfonso Soriano) and two of their better pitchers (Matt Garza and Scott Feldman) at midseason.
Partly as a result, the Cubs were 8-20 in August and 9-18 in September. They lost 14 of their last 18 games. Not two weeks after telling reporters there were "no alarm bells to ring" regarding the future of Sveum, who had a season left on his contract, Epstein rang the alarm bells.
His statement: "Today, we made the very difficult decision to relieve Dale Sveum of his duties as Cubs manager. Dale has been a committed leader for this team the last two seasons, and I want to thank him for all of his dedication and hard work. I have a lot of admiration for Dale personally, and we all learned a lot from the way he has handled the trying circumstances of the last two years, especially the last two weeks, with strength and dignity."
Epstein went on to say that Sveum would be better for the experience, that he was not the scapegoat here, that the major-league product was his own fault (and general manager Jed Hoyer's), and that the system – which now boasts "one of the top farm systems in baseball" – would prevail. He seeks "a dynamic new voice" to lead the Cubs into whatever comes next, which leads to the other part of this story.
By coincidence, the New York Yankees' season expired Sunday as well, as did the contract of Yankees manager Joe Girardi. That the Yankees were a third-place team was due primarily to Girardi, which is intended as a compliment. He's a guy from East Peoria, Ill. He played college ball at Northwestern. He was drafted by the Cubs, broke into the big leagues as a Cub and returned years later to grow old as a Cub. And now, managerially speaking, he's a free agent.
So, when the news came that Esptein had rung the bell in Chicago, you wondered if the peal was heard in the Bronx. There are more "dynamic" voices than Girardi's. He does, however, have great energy and a sneaky guile and a knack for keeping a clubhouse together and pointed in a reasonable direction. He survived a year in New York that would have left others in puddles, and the Yankees were relevant for months longer than they should have been, and he has won a lot of ballgames, and with those Chicago roots he carries the Yankee brand.
Does a man leave the Yankees for the Cubs? Kind of depends on which Yankees. The Yankees who bludgeon teams with superstars and bottomless resources? Or the Yankees whose core is growing old or already retired, whose second-generation owners aren't as willing to exchange profits for wins?
Sunday in Houston, before Sveum had been fired, Girardi told reporters he was undecided about a return to New York and that Chicago, since the passing of his parents, hadn't the previous allure. Yankees management appears to favor a Girardi return. He said he would speak first to his wife and three children.
"I wouldn't think it would go too long," he told reporters. "It's not my personality to drag things out. I'm always a guy that likes to know what I'm going to do the next day."
Well, interestingly enough, the next day has arrived, at the same time Sveum's did. At the same time the Cubs' did.