Sveum remains cool under pressure

Sveum remains cool under pressure

As the playoffs begin, MLB.com gives you a look at what drives the eight managers looking to guide their clubs to a World Series title.

MILWAUKEE -- The "beer is half empty" crowd -- this is Milwaukee, after all -- will say that acting Brewers manager Dale Sveum was thrust into an awful situation. He took over a team off to a 3-11 start to September that had just lost its hold of the National League Wild Card, then made a stunning late-season managerial change with only 12 games left.

The "beer is half full crowd" says Sveum was handed a gift. How many skippers, after all, get to take over a team that is 16 games over .500 and tied for a postseason spot?

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Whatever their view, those fans agree on one thing before downing the rest of their beer. Sveum's two-week managerial tryout has been interesting, to say the least.

"If anyone can handle it, he can," said Hall of Famer Robin Yount, Sveum's best friend. "He is the right guy, I'm telling you. I've known him too long and he has the personality for this. He's unflappable, and he's like that all the time."

The Brewers have certainly needed that attitude.

Sveum replaced Ned Yost as manager on the morning on Sept. 15, an off-day for the Brewers in Chicago. It was an unprecedented move for a contending team so deep into a playoff race, and it stunned Yost. The Brewers had just been swept in a four-game series at Philadelphia, and a 5 1/2-game Wild Card lead at the start of the month had vanished.

Sveum instituted some changes. He moved veteran free swinger Mike Cameron to the top of the batting order and was more strict than Yost about platooning Ray Durham and Rickie Weeks at second base. He bounced struggling left-hander Manny Parra from the rotation and instituted an "all hands on deck" mentality to pitching. In other words, be ready to pitch in any role.

At first, it was more of the same. The Brewers continued to slide under Sveum, losing two of three games at Chicago and then the first two games of a series at Cincinnati. By the morning of Sept. 21, the Phillies had taken the lead in the NL East, so the Brewers trailed the Mets in the Wild Card standings by 2 1/2 games. Milwaukee was three back in the all-important loss column.

Eight Men In

They beat the Reds that day, then watched the Mets lose two in a row to cut the deficit to one game with six to play. The Brewers ultimately extended their winning streak to five in a row, briefly took a one-game lead and then settled into a tie with New York entering the final regular season game. With CC Sabathia pitching on three days' rest, the Brewers beat the Cubs, 3-1, and a short time later, the Mets were defeated by the Marlins, giving Sveum's crew the NL Wild Card playoff berth.

"He hasn't changed at all, which is a good thing," said Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has worked extensively with Sveum since Sveum rejoined the organization as a coach for the 2006 season. "He definitely knows what he's doing. I don't think there is anybody in this clubhouse who questions him."

Sveum himself is in the "beer is half full" crowd.

"I got a chance to come in here tied for the Wild Card," he said. "That doesn't happen very often."

That kind of unflappable optimism is Sveum's trademark, say those who know him. His ties to Milwaukee go back to 1982, when the Brewers drafted him in the first round, and he played five big league seasons in Milwaukee from 1986-91.

Sveum hit a career-high 27 home runs in 1987, including his famous Easter Sunday shot, but his playing career was derailed in '88, when Sveum suffered a broke leg in a collision with Brewers outfielder Darryl Hamilton. The injury opened a door for Gary Sheffield at shortstop, and Sveum never hit more than 12 home runs in his remaining years as a big league player.


"If anyone can handle it, he can. He is the right guy, I'm telling you. I've known him too long and he has the personality for this. He's unflappable, and he's like that all the time."
-- Robin Yount, on Dale Sveum

"When you have a career-ending-type injury like I had, it's important to be very positive," Sveum said. "I had to do that for two years.

"I've always been about what's going to happen in the next few minutes than about what just happened. It's a drain on our energy to worry about what just happened."

But he remained highly competitive, according to Brewers radio broadcaster and longtime friend Bob Uecker. Sveum can crush a golf ball, Uecker said, and brings the same fire even to less outwardly competitive offseason endeavors like fishing and hunting.

Sveum found a similar brand of quiet competitiveness in Yount, a teammate during his seasons with the Brewers and now Sveum's bench coach. They became fast friends.

"They're always on the positive side of things," Uecker said. "It's like, 'It's not a problem. Just go out and win.' And I think everybody is on that same page now. Dale is one of the most positive guys I've ever been around in all my years.

"But I don't care what it is," Uecker added, "he's a competitor. He wants to beat you."

Good luck getting him to show it. If Yost was mellow in the dugout during games, Sveum is a statue.

"I don't show a lot of emotion, whether good things or bad things happen," Sveum said. "That's what I have to bring to a team in this kind of situation, where we're basically playing a playoff game every night. So far, they have reacted pretty well."

Sveum got his first taste of a championship in 1998 with the Yankees. He played only 30 games that season for manager Joe Torre and was released on Aug. 3 in favor of 26-year-old rookie Shane Spencer, a move that would prove auspicious for the Yanks when Spencer delivered 10 home runs -- three of them grand slams -- in 27 regular-season games, then hit two more home runs in the American League Division Series.

"That was one of the better moves of all time," Sveum joked.

Torre surprised Sveum by asking him to remain as a coach. Sveum accepted, and spent the rest of the season as an extra catcher in the bullpen.

"I was still with the guys the whole year," Sveum said. "Nobody claimed me on waivers, and it was so close to the end of the season, so it wasn't like I was going to go play somewhere else. It was a great experience."

He won another ring with the Red Sox in 2004, when Sveum was the third-base coach for manager Terry Francona.

"I was fortunate," Sveum said. "Only a couple of us have a Yankees and a Red Sox World Series ring. Those are two institutions."

He would like to add a Brewers ring to the collection as he leads Milwaukee into the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.

"Obviously, life changed a few days ago," Sveum said. "We started off not so good and fell three back in the loss column in the Wild Card race. Our backs were against the wall, but we came back to the forefront. We're blessed."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.