9:22 AM CDT, June 6, 2012
Did somebody get to Dale Sveum? Specifically, did somebody in Cubs management tell the manager to stand down after his comments about threatening to bench Starlin Castro because of exasperating mental mistakes in San Francisco?
Reading comments out of Milwaukee in Wednesday’s paper, it sounds as if Sveum got chastened by a boss. Either that or we’re learning that Sveum’s no-nonsense voice can come out with a lot of nonsense.
To back up to Monday, Sveum threatened to bench Castro for embarrassing mental gaffes in two of the four losses in San Francisco over the weekend, once stopping short of second base on a steal attempt, then forgetting how many outs there were.
“It’s the last straw,’’ Sveum said Monday. “He better start getting his head in the game, period.’’
Sveum went on to make clear that “it's something obviously that's unacceptable at any time. Whether we could’ve turned the double play or not is irrelevant to not knowing how many outs there are in the most important part of the game.
“It’s not acceptable. These things have got to stop happening, or we’re just going to stop playing him.’’
OK, so we have “last straw’’ and “these thing have got to stop happening, or we’re just going to stop playing him.’’ Big talk by the first-year manager, threatening to bench his best hitter.
By Tuesday, however, the first-year manager perhaps realized what he said, or someone above him realized it for him. Whatever, Sveum was saying that some people were making a “big thing out of” the incident.
But wait. Didn’t Sveum make it a “big thing’’ to start with by threatening to bench Castro?
Why, yes, I believe he did. So, was it a “big thing’’ or just big talk?
“Was it a big thing? Of course it was,” Sveum told reporters Tuesday. “But veterans do the same things too sometimes, so it's not a case of being young and all that. Everybody on this team and everybody who's 22 years old still has played a lot of baseball. There are certain things that happen that people get embarrassed by, and he feels horrible about it.
“But there's no (excusing it because of age) or anything like that. You're not going to bench a guy for something like that. You're going to bench guys for not playing hard or not preparing, things like that.’’
Hold on a minute. What happened to “last straw’’ and “these things have got to stop happening, or we're just going to stop playing him’’?
How did he suddenly get to “you’re not going to bench a guy for something like that’’ by the next day?
But wait. Sveum had more apparent double-talk.
“I’m not reneging on what I said,’’ Sveum said Tuesday, “and he knows that. It’s the last straw, meaning a number of things, not just a ‘brain fart’ on the field. It’s the whole package of doing everything you can to make yourself and the people around you better.’’
How can you have more than one “last straw’’? And if something is the “last straw,’’ then there wouldn’t seem to be any other straws or “a number of things,’’ as Sveum put it.
Double-talk, contradicting himself -- what is going on with a manager who has Jim Leyland’s voice and a similar unvarnished honesty?
Here’s what I think is going on: Sveum was told to pipe down about benching a young player -- THE young player -- who could bring a motherlode in a trade.
Theo Epstein certainly would consider dealing Castro, no matter what he said last week. Castro will hit for average, but he doesn’t appear inclined to show the patience to work deep counts and run up the OPS+ the way Epstein’s new administration wants.
What’s more, some people don’t think Castro is best-suited at shortstop, suggesting third base or perhaps even center field a la Robin Yount.
But either way, Epstein cannot have his manager -- his rookie manager -- hurting the kid’s trade value by trying to act like, well, a manager.
I could be wrong about this. Sveum could’ve walked away form his stinging postgame threat Monday thinking he went too strongly on the kid.
But I don’t think so, and here’s why: That doesn’t sound like the Sveum who has been clear about what he expected from players even before he was hired. Remember, Sveum chided the Mike Quade Cubs for lollygagging. Given that backdrop, it doesn’t seem as if Sveum would think he came down too hard on Castro.
No, it reads more like someone thought it for him. That, in turn, leads to a conclusion that we might be seeing a manager being compromised. What Sveum wanted to do as manager might not be as important as what someone above him wants to do for the franchise. It’s just a theory, and I could be wrong, but it sure feels like check and mate.
Look, Sveum had a right to be mad about Castro’s mindless weekend. He had the right to say it. He had a right to bench Castro if he so chose. That’s what managers do.
Except maybe not this one.
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