The other side of the phone goes silent, the starter’s pistol fires, and immediately I know it’ll take about a minute for the greyhounds to cover the nearly 900 meters that separate me from the answer to my question.
“Never shoulda bet on Baker’s Dozen, he doesn’t do well from the fourth position,” is the next thing I heard over the phone. “What was the question again?”
Getting to Mike Quade, a little more than a year after his tenure as Cubs’ manager ended, isn’t the hard part; it’s keeping his attention that I find elusive. I’ve connected with Quade while he was on an outing to Mardi Gras Casino in the Miami area, one of the few places he can get to “watch the doggies turn left during winter,” he tells me. A noted horse racing enthusiast, it’s little surprise to me that he fancies racing of most any kind.
“Well, that could’ve been worse, I had my beard bet the back marker to show so at least I’ll get that.” It’s a phrase that doesn’t mean what I think it means, and it wouldn’t be the last. Quade seems comfortable in retirement, a man at peace with the fact that he is no longer part of the game that’s consumed his life. “Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine I’m Alan Potts or Terry Ramsden nailing the trifecta at the derby.” There isn’t the hint of the man who faced the Chicago media on a daily basis, forced to explain away the struggles of a club mired in mediocrity.
My question is if Quade misses the game, I repeat it. He says, “look kid, I’m headed over to Hialeah later today, and I’m gonna buy the rack. I’ll probably end up getting shut out because some lug-in coughs up a furlong lead to a miler. It doesn’t matter, the worst day at the track is better than any day as manager. I got ulcers in Chicago…no one’s second-guessing how I managed to buy three straight colts that spit the bit. Losing isn’t so painful here.”
I hear the starter’s pistol again. It gives me another minute to ponder what I’m beginning to understand. Quade loves the competitiveness, especially when the losing doesn’t gnaw at him night and day. He’s a baseball lifer and yet I can’t get him to say two words about it – he has a single focus, the game at hand. Racing.
As he gleefully explains his victory (I think) on the latest race, I ask him what he disliked the most about his time in Chicago. “They gelded me.” (I look it up later, it seems unlikely he means that literally.) “I was thrust into the block when Lou left, and no one bothered to look at the sorry bunch of nags they left me with…I was responsible for the losing even though I’d been saddled with a team of wash outs and maidens. It was a long shot from the start.” It seems to be the furthest he’ll deviate from horse-racing speak. (It wasn’t until I’d transcribed it that I realized how wrong I was).
“Sure, I can answer that, but then I need to be on my way. I gotta settle up and get to the taxis before Margaret and Dolores.” What he says next explains it all, “some guys need to be in charge, it’s an ego thing. That’s not me, I was happiest standing in that 3rd base box sending signs in before the pitch. And after I took a few months off, it was obvious that I was even hap…wait Clem, I’m coming hang on.” I heard a bit more, Clem and Mike swapping victory stories of races from their last outing, fighting over who ate the last candy bean and wondering if they could get some more before the first race at Hialeah; Mike had neglected to hang up and I was listening from his pocket. All I heard was the joy of a man without a care in the world, except for the starting time of the next race. He was happy.
*Apparently it’s not as funny as I thought; or maybe just a bit too believable. THIS IS NOT A REAL INTERVIEW.