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Sveum wonders about future with Cubs

On the final day of the worst home season in Cubs history, the rooftop billboard across Sheffield Avenue mocked the mere presence of a late-September baseball game at Wrigley Field.

“Now entering Bears country,” the beer ad proclaimed.

You don’t have to tell Dale Sveum. The avid fantasy-football player — and Cubs manager for at least the next four days — was once one of the top high school quarterbacks in the Bay Area. He packs a football whenever the Cubs go on the road.

If he knew anything as he rode his motorcycle out of the parking lot after a 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, it’s that he has never felt the chill of a football season more with three games left in a baseball season than he does now.

“I’m not going to sit here and lie and say that you’re not wondering what’s going to happen in four to five days from now. That’s just human nature,” said Sveum, whose job status for next year has been in limbo since team president Theo Epstein said last week he’s still “evaluating” Sveum’s performance. “But there’s nothing you can do about it or control those decisions. So you just keep plugging away.”

Even before the Cubs closed out their home schedule by avoiding a sweep with the help of Darnell McDonald’s three-run homer in the sixth inning, they had lost more games at home (50) than in any previous season.

With three games left this weekend in St. Louis against the division-leading Cardinals, the Cubs are just two losses shy of tying the three-year franchise record for losses (287 from 1960 to ’62).

Sveum won’t be judged on the losing. Epstein said that’s on the front office.

But the miscommunication with Kevin Gregg last weekend, the player-development questions with Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney and the way Sveum inexplicably said in April that Castro and/or Rizzo were subject to minor-league demotions if they didn’t produce will factor into Sveum’s evaluation.

Some players, such as Rizzo, have publicly supported Sveum and his staff. Others privately have had issues with how they’ve been used, according to sources. Although, as one player said, “Do you know any managers who haven’t had a problem with a player or two?”

Possible replacement Joe Girardi? Ron Gardenhire? Mike Scioscia?

The front office is expected to have a decision for Sveum before knowing whether any of those managers would be available. In the least, a coaching-staff shake-up appears likely.

“I’m not going to do anything different than I have in the past two years, managing,” Sveum said of his final few games of the season. “The evaluation is up to them, and I don’t think four games is going to change anything.”

Sveum has one year left on his contract, plus a club option for 2015.

“You take these jobs when you know things are not going to be all that good at the beginning, in the development part, and hope you’re around when things turn around,” Sveum said. “That’s what we do this for, to win and be here when we’re getting to be very competitive.”

NOTE: The smallest announced crowd of the season’s final homestand brought the Cubs’ 2013 total to 2,642,682, their lowest in 15 years.

The Cubs suffered their fifth consecutive year of declining attendance, from a team-record 3,300,200 in 2008 — a 19.9 percent drop since the Cubs’ last playoff appearance.

The 240,074 drop from last season is the steepest from one full season to the next since the 1994-95 labor stoppage drove away fans nationwide. It also represents more than $17 million lost in gross revenue based on internal estimates of per-fan spending, according to sources.

Cubs attendance declined by 434,653 from the 1993 season to ’96.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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