clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

David Ross: 55th manager of the Cubs... or 61st manager of the Cubs?

New, 19 comments

It depends on how you look at the 1961-65 Cubs era. Plus, statements from Ross, Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

News item, from the Cubs official Twitter account:

But wait! Baseball-reference.com’s list of Cubs managers has 61 names.

So why the discrepancy?

P.K. Wrigley’s infamous “College of Coaches” is the reason for the discrepancy. Wrigley had tired of losing by 1960, when Lou Boudreau came down from the radio booth to manage a team that lost 94 games, at the time the franchise record. Boudreau wanted a multi-year deal, Wrigley wasn’t inclined to give one, so Lou went back to radio and Wrigley decided to try a different concept.

The Chicago Cubs would not have a manager for 1961. Instead, Wrigley proclaimed, they would have a “College of Coaches.” Before fielding the inevitable hard questions from the press, and trying to inject some humor into the situation, he’d placed a placard on the table in front of him, which read: “Anyone who remains calm in the midst of all this confusion simply does not understand the situation.”

The theory behind the College of Coaches, according to Wrigley, went more or less like this: Each of its members, or coaches, would serve as the Cubs’ nominal manager (or head coach) on a rotating basis. Initially, the College would be composed of Ripper Collins, Goldie Holt, Verlon Walker, Charlie Grimm, [El] Tappe, Harry Craft, Vedie Himsl and Bobby Adams. Over the next several months, additional coaches would be brought in.

These coaches were also supposed to rotate through the organization, giving instruction in the minor leagues as well as the major leagues. Sort of a primitive version of “The Cubs Way,” I suppose.

In practice this was a disaster. Players would become accustomed to the style of one “head coach” and then he’d be gone. In 1961, four men rotated through the “head coach” position. Tappe was there the longest, 96 games. The team went 64-90. It was worse in 1962, when the Cubs lost a franchise record 103 games. Three men “head coached” that team. Charlie Metro — not even mentioned in that quote above — held the spot for the final 112 games.

The scheme was finally dumped after 1962 when it was clear it wasn’t working. Bob Kennedy, later to be the Cubs GM in the 1970s, took the top job to begin the 1963 season and held it through June 13, 1965, when he was fired and replaced by Lou Klein. Those three years, the Cubs were led in a more traditional manner by one man, though the title of “head coach” was never officially changed. The Cubs scorecards from 1961-65 don’t even differentiate the “head” coach — all the coaches are simply listed as “Coach.”

Famously, when Leo Durocher was hired by Wrigley and introduced to the assembled press on October 25, 1965, he laid the title “head coach” to rest forever:

“If no announcement has been made of what my title is, I’m making it here and now,” he boomed. “I’m the manager. I’m not a head coach. I’m the manager. You can’t have two or three coaches running a ball club. One man has to be in complete authority. There can be only one boss.”

Durocher was right, of course. But at least for 1963-65, and arguably for the previous two years, there was one man in charge, at least ranking above the other coaches as “head coach,” even for the short periods of time in the first two years of the ill-fated “College.” These six men were serving as manager even if they didn’t have the title: Vedie Himsl, El Tappe, Harry Craft, Lou Klein, Charlie Metro and Bob Kennedy.

So I’m going to go with 61st manager of the Cubs for David Ross, whether “official” or not. It’ll be for at least the next three seasons — and hopefully longer. I wish him complete success.

Now that we have that cleared up, I present to you statements from Cubs executive chairman Tom Ricketts, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, and new manager Ross:

Executive Chairman Tom Ricketts

My family and I congratulate David. He’s a proven winner and we look forward to him leading our team back to the postseason.

President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein

We are thrilled to name David Ross as the 55th manager in franchise history. David is as gifted a leader as I’ve ever come across, and I expect him to become a great manager. He is a natural connector with a high baseball IQ and a passion for winning. David has always stood out for his ability to cultivate the ingredients of a winning culture — accountability, hard work, hustle, competitiveness, trust, togetherness, and team identity.

David’s connection to the organization and his relationships with his former teammates could be assets initially, but they were not factors in our decision nor will they be critical to his long-term success in the role. He earned the job on the merits, and he will move the team forward in a new and different direction. We are excited to have David as our manager and look forward to working together to foster a winning culture and build the next Cubs championship team.

Manager David Ross

I’m honored by this opportunity to be the next manager of the Chicago Cubs. My time with this organization has been special since the day I joined, so to continue with the club in this role is a blessing for which I’m so very thankful. We have accomplished so much together since 2015, and my desire to lead this organization to another World Series championship could not be any stronger.

A lot has been made, and rightfully so, of my connection to the 2016 World Series team, and the notion that I’ll now be managing players I once counted on as teammates. Having those relationships going into this will be a bonus, no doubt about it. But those guys know I’ll be the first to hold them accountable, the first to demand their best daily effort and the first to let them know about it if they give anything but their best. I never had a problem dishing out a lot of tough love as their teammate, and that won’t change as their manager. We’ll have our fair share of fun along the way, but working hard as a team, playing fundamental team baseball and winning a lot of games will be our top priorities.

There will be people I want to thank on Monday, but for today I’d especially like to thank my family and two of my mentors, Bobby Cox and Joe Maddon, for their guidance and support throughout the years. I’d also like to thank the Ricketts family, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs for this opportunity of a lifetime. Now let’s get to work.