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The Cub Can Of Worms: The College Of Coaches

In several of the posts in this series, I've written: "It seemed like a good idea at the time".

Not this time. The ill-conceived and poorly-executed College of Coaches was a spectacularly bad idea. After the Cubs had lost 94 games in 1960 -- their seventh 90+ loss year in the previous 13 seasons, and that was harder to do with only 154 games rather than the current 162 -- P. K. Wrigley decided that it must be the manager's fault (even though he had already changed managers six times in that time span). He had, in 1960, engineered what up to that time was one of the most bizarre "trades" in major league history, sending WGN radio broadcaster Lou Boudreau (who, admittedly, had managed the Indians to a World Series title) to the manager's office and shipping manager Charlie Grimm to the radio booth during the season. Neither move worked. Boudreau went 54-83 and Grimm was awful on the radio, so after the season "The Good Kid" went back to broadcasting and Wrigley launched his hare-brained scheme.

photo via

The press of that era, generally pretty compliant, questioned Wrigley's judgment. P. K.'s response: "The dictionary tells you a manager is the one who bosses and a coach is the one who works. We want workers."

Notwithstanding the fact that statement doesn't really make any sense, the idea that any business wouldn't have an ultimate "boss" led this idea down the road to failure. You can see why, I think. The concept of having a system-wide group of coaches who would move up and down from the majors to the minors and thus would develop and teach a "Cub Way" that would be uniform at every level wasn't bad -- almost 50 years later, we still don't have that. But in execution, it never worked. The Cubs hired a retired Air Force colonel, Robert Whitlow, to develop a "plan" -- but they never had one. Players would complain that they'd just get settled in one place in the lineup and then get swapped out by the next "head coach" when he came in from Wenatchee, Washington (yes, the Cubs actually had a farm team there in the early 1960's).

In 1961 there were four head coaches, but eight changes at the top. Vedie Himsl went 5-6 and was replaced by Harry Craft, who went 4-8 -- before Himsl came back to post a 5-12 mark. Then El Tappe "head coached" two games (lost both) before Craft headed up the sinking ship for four (3-1). Himsl returned for three games at the top spot (0-3) and then someone -- who knows whether it was Whitlow, Wrigley or just someone they asked walking down Addison St. -- decided they needed a bit of stability, putting Tappe in charge for 78 games (35-43). Lou Klein followed with a 5-6 mark and Tappe finished the season going 5-11.

The end result was four more wins than the previous year. It got worse in 1962, when Tappe, Klein and Charlie Metro "led" the Cubs to the first 100-loss (103) season in their history. Meanwhile, Craft had moved on to manage the expansion Houston Colt .45s, who finished ahead of the Cubs at 64-98. You can see, I'm sure, why anyone with managerial aspirations wouldn't want to be near such a "system". (Imagine Lou Piniella being "replaced" for ten days by Alan Trammell, then Mike Quade, then maybe Ryne Sandberg, who would then be sent back to A ball.)

And that's not even mentioning the fact that the esteemed Buck O'Neil, who had become the major leagues' first black coach with the Cubs in 1962, never got a chance to become head coach. Even when a couple of the coaches were ejected in one 1962 game and O'Neil was the logical choice to take over, which would have made him technically (if only for a day) the majors' first black manager, pitching coach Fred Martin was called in from the bullpen (in those pre-bullpen coach days, pitching coaches often sat in the pen) to manage. At one point in 1962 the Cubs traveled to Los Angeles with nine coaches -- five in uniform and four in the stands. It didn't help -- they got swept, the seventh and eighth defeats of a 10-game losing streak.

The Cubs gave up on the rotating system by 1963, although Bob Kennedy (1963-64) and Lou Klein (1965) kept the title of "head coach". Finally, the experiment ended with the hiring of Leo Durocher, who said at his introductory press conference:

If no announcement has been made about what my title is, I'm making it here and now. I'm the manager. I'm not a head coach. I'm the manager.

Durocher also said, memorably, at that press conference:

This isn't an eighth-place team.

He was right. His 1966 Cubs finished tenth.