As we continue our way through Cubs history, we find an intriguing season for the Cubs with a losing record, a unique managerial approach, and a former Rookie of the Year contender whose career was in its declining stages.
Standing: 7th in the National League
Manager: Vedie Himsl, Harry Craft, El Tappe, and Lou Klein
While the 1961 season represented an improvement over the previous year’s 60-94 record, it wasn’t exactly a shining year for the Cubs. They drew a mere 673,057 over the full season, second to last in the league. More notably, they went through a whopping four managers with Vedie Himsl getting 31 games, Harry Craft getting 16, El Tappe getting the bulk at 96 games, and Lou Klein finishing the season off in its final 11 games.
This strange system was actually by plan, with P. K. Wrigley implementing a system called the College of Coaches. The idea was that no single manager would run the team, and rather a selection of eight coaches would rotate responsibility throughout the span of the season. This system, showing modest improvement over 1960, would continue on into the 1962 season.
Dick Drott was not a one-and-done Cubs player, so if you were around and remember the late 1950s and early 1960s Cubs seasons, his name might ring a bell. The first of his five seasons with the Cubs was undoubtedly his best. At age 20, the young right-handed pitcher pitched in 38 games and had an impressive 15-11 record (impressive, given the Cubs had a 62-92 record that season, so a pitcher with a winning record stands out). His 15 strikeouts against the Braves May 26, 1957 stood as the team record for a nine-inning game until Kerry Wood broke it with his 20-K game in 1998.
After 1957 both his performance and use began to decline due to arm injuries, and by the 1961 season his days as a starter were all but finished. He started in eight games for the Cubs that season but was largely used as a reliever, posting a 4.22 ERA in 35 games, 12 of which he finished. He actually posted the lowest WHIP of his career in 1961, at 1.286. Clearly Drott was serviceable, but never quite lived up to the exciting expectations of his rookie season.
Drott had a memorable moment from his 1957 Cubs season in which he was ejected from a game because he wheeled Moe Drabowsky to first base in a wheelchair because Drabowsky claimed he was hit in the foot by a pitch. This begs a LOT of questions, like “How on earth did Drott get a wheelchair so fast?” According to the book We Got to Play Baseball: 60 Stories from Men Who Played the Game by Greg Olson and Ocean Palmer, the whole prank was Drabowsky’s idea, though Drott was the one who got suspended for it. This of course brings up even more questions about how far in advance this whole thing was planned, but my goodness what a mental image.
Drott spent the final two years of his major league career with the Houston Colt 45s after being selected by Houston in the expansion draft after the 1961 season. Following his retirement from baseball he went on to run community baseball programs with the Chicago Park District from 1965 until his death.
Drott passed away in 1985, far too young at the age of 49 from stomach cancer, and was survived by his wife JoAnne.