We’re mere weeks away from the start of the season, and within a month Mesa will be hosting Cubs baseball. While the off-season has brought changes galore, perhaps the biggest change on the field is the bald guy with the weird last name that’ll be going out to change pitchers. No more searching the bowl of candy beans for the manager’s angry eyebrows – Sveum is definitely a new face though the casual fan might not notice the difference at first. Old, New. Still not clear? OLD, NEW.

Grammar Police Let’s get this right from the start, spelled S-V-E-U-M; E before U. For those scoring at home that’s a Castro (E; error) before a LaHair/Rizzo (U; unassisted). Pronounced sweɪm or swaym whichever makes visual sense phonetically – say it out loud, it still sounds funny. Let’s just call him Dale.

Dale the Player Not a particularly distinguished career. But let’s not undersell it either, most kids would kill for 12 seasons on an MLB team, 2800+ PAs, and anything more than one HR (Dale hit 69 HRs during his playing career). He broke in as a 22-year-old so he clearly showed promise; and yet earning a spot on the 1986 Milwaukee Brewers (of the American League) wasn’t terribly difficult, they had six position players aged 24 or younger. Dale was a 3B by trade, except the Brewers had a future HOFer (Paul Molitor) holding down that position. Sveum became an accomplished utility infielder, even getting the occasional game in LF.

Dale’s career line of .236/.298/.378 is far from impressive. But dig a little deeper into his OPS, OPS+, BABIP…nope, he still sucked. He played nearly everyday (mostly at SS) for the 1987 and 1988 Brewers; the rest of his career was spent as a wandering utility infielder. Part of that wandering can probably be attributed to an injury he suffered colliding with a teammate in September 1988. He spent a bit more time in the minors as he recuperated and at various points later in his career.  After his time in Milwaukee ended in 1991, Dale had stints with the Phillies, ChiSox, A’s, Mariners, Pirates, Yankees and the Pirates again. The closest he came to the post-season was as a member of the 1998 Yankees; however, they waived him in early-August.

Dale the Manager By 2008, those same Brewers – now in the NL Central – were fighting and scratching their way to the playoffs. They’d finish with 90 wins but the wild card was their only path to the postseason as the spent the regular season chasing the greatest Cubs team in at least 20+ years, perhaps since WWII. As the playoff chase heated up, so did Brewers manager Ned Yost. The Brewers had finished 2 GB of the Cubs in 2007 and then traded to acquire C.C. Sabathia at the 2008 trade deadline.  Sabathia was meant to be their ticket back to the playoffs for the first time since 1982. There was a lot of pressure to win, and Ned Yost felt it.

And it broke him. Yost’s troubles began September 1st when the Brewers started a stretch of 14 games in which they managed only 3 wins. They entered September with a 5.5 game lead in the wild card, when Yost was fired they sat tied with the Phillies after having just been swept by Philadelphia in a four game series. Perhaps the Brewers were having a sense of déjà vu. It was 2007 when Yost and his Brewers led the Cubs by 8.5 games in late June before succumbing and allowing the Cubs to take the NL Central crown for the first time. During that stretch in 2007, Yost was ejected from 3 games in the season’s final week and roundly criticized for every single decision he made (mostly because none of them worked out to the Brewers benefit). The Brewers were watching the same movie a second time, and they already knew the ending. With a highly unorthodox move, they canned Yost in 2008 with two weeks to go.

That opened the door for third base coach Dale Sveum. He steadied the ship, pitched Sabathia seemingly every day that ended in “y” and it yielded a 7-5 finish.  The Brewers secured the wild card, but they were aided by a season ending series against the Cubs who had already started to rest their players. In the playoffs they met those same Phillies (who had overcome the Mets to win the NL East) and lost the NLDS in four games. After a total of 16 games, Dale was 8-8.

Dale the Coach He returned to the Brewers the following season, as Ken Macha’s hitting coach. Ron Roenicke kept him in the same position after Macha departed following the 2010 season. Before his turn as 3B coach (and then interim manager) for the Brewers he had been their bench coach starting in 2006. But the current Cubs regime probably knows him best from his days as the Red Sox 3B coach in 2004 & 2005.

It is to Dale’s credit that he has been able to fill so many different coaching positions for multiple managers. Also impressive, he was able to deal with a promotion for two weeks that ultimately saw him passed over for the main job, and yet he remained on the coaching staff. I dare say a young Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker, or a host of other managers wouldn’t have been so magnanimous in similar circumstances.

Other Notes

  • During his career he played at various points for Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella, and Gene Lamont.
  • Former major league 1B John Olerud is Dale’s cousin.
  • He led the league in errors…at shortstop…in his second full season…at age 24…with 27 errors…in 127 games.  My guess is he won’t have a quick trigger with Castro.
  • Dale did, one time, hit three homers in a single game.
  • No word so far on whether he’s a horse racing enthusiast.
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