Last December Philip K. Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, said that the club, in a violent divorce with baseball tradition, would have no manager this year. Instead, a panel of coaches would direct the team, dividing their time between the Cubs and the minor league farm teams and taking turns acting as head coach. Hearty laughter greeted the innovation and echoed through the winter, so loudly that Wrigley last month released to the press a 21-page booklet explaining in detail the club's new philosophy (everything will be directed towards developing better players), comparing it to modern business-management ideas (IBM computers have replaced blackboards), defending it (the Cubs have not been out of the second division in 14 years despite their use "of every type of manager from inspirational leader to slave driver"), and chiding the press for its sarcastic criticism of the experiment. Here is a report from the Cub training camp on how Wrigley's experiment is working out.
Elvin Tappe, coach, sat on a trunk in the locker room of the Chicago Cubs' training camp in Mesa, Ariz., filling out a lineup card for the day's exhibition game. When he finished, he passed the card to Verlon Walker, coach. Walker read it and nodded. "One vote," said Tappe, grinning. He passed the card to Harry Craft, coach. Craft okayed it. "Two votes," said Tappe. Then he gave the card to Vedie Himsl, coach. Himsl nodded. "Three votes," said Tappe. "Say, this is a good day."
That was all the votes Tappe got for the moment, because Bobby Adams, coach, Rip Collins, coach, and Goldie Holt, coach, were not present. Anyway, it wasn't really Tappe's own lineup. He had written it down on the orders of Charlie Grimm, coach, who for that day was head coach. The next day Tappe would be head coach and could make out his own lineup. On the day after that it would be Craft's turn. And it wasn't really a vote either, but merely an exchange of opinion among the coaches who were jointly managing the Cubs in spring training. The head coach of the day was merely a prime mover; not until the regular season began would the manager pro tern act like an old-fashioned manager and then only during his tenure in office.
All this seeming nonsense began last winter when Phil Wrigley, owner of the Cubs, decided to eliminate the job of manager and create instead a faculty of coaches. John Holland, the general manager, admits he thought Wrigley was nuts. Charlie Grimm says that, coming from the old school, he was skeptical. The press made fun of it—an attitude Wrigley resents—calling the coaches the "enigmatic eight" and the team "the unmanageables." There are still many who question Wrigley's motives.
April 10, 1961
"It's just a ploy to counteract all the publicity Bill Veeck got with his scoreboard in Chicago last year," said one sportswriter.
"Wrigley loves to be the nonconformist," said another Chicago man. "That's why he hasn't installed lights in his ball park and that's why he's doing this thing now."
Perhaps these men are right. Certainly Wrigley and the Cubs received fountains of publicity this spring when normally the team, always a solid choice for the second division, would have been lost in the shadows of the cactus around Mesa. And yet, in theory at least, there appear to be a number of practical advantages to Phil Wrigley's new idea.
The Wrigley system—rule by a group of coaches with equal authority—is aimed primarily at developing the young players on Chicago's "associated teams." ("We don't call them minor leaguers," says John Holland. "They're all Cubs.") The coaches will circulate through the Cub organization during the season. Four coaches will always be with the major league Cubs, one of whom will be head coach. The other coaches will be with the "associates." During the season, every coach will spend some time with the Cubs and some in the minors. The changes will be made according to need. "Suppose," said Elvin Tappe, one of the four—the others are Craft, Adams and Himsl—who will be with the parent club at the start of the season, "suppose a young catcher on the San Antonio club is having trouble blocking pitches in the dirt. I'm a catching coach. If I happen to be with the Cubs at the time, even if I'm head coach, I'll just fly down to San Antonio for a while and change places with the coach there. He'll join the Cubs."
The Cub front office picked the coaching staff as deliberately as President Kennedy chose his cabinet. "We had to be careful," said Holland. "We couldn't hire a Durocher or Stanky, although they're good baseball men. We didn't want the type of guy who wants it done his way or else. We needed harmony, men who can be overruled and not take it personally. We needed men of varying personalities and capabilities. And that's what we got."
From Grimm to Himsl
As players, the eight coaches, who gathered in Arizona at the beginning of spring training, ranged from very well known: Grimm and Collins—to known: Adams and Craft—to unknown: Himsl, Holt, Walker and Tappe. Each coach has a specialty; Grimm and Collins worked with first basemen, Tappe and Walker with catchers, Himsl and Holt with pitchers, Adams with infielders and Craft with outfielders.
"It's quite a cross section," said Tappe, the youngest of the group at 31. "Grimm and Collins, they're the jolly type. That's good. If we have a boy in Wenatchee who's in a slump, we'll send Charlie down to take him out to dinner and cheer him up. Himsl, Craft and Holt are more serious. You need that, too. Sometimes you have to give a boy a little kick in the pants."
The Cubs feel that by rotating their coaches through the organization, the young players may develop faster. "Most minor league managers," said Holland, "can only help a boy a couple of ways. If the manager is an old pitcher, he can't very well tell a second baseman how to make a good pivot. We'll be able to do that. I think that our system should improve the morale of our young players. Sometimes in large organizations a kid feels lost, out of touch with the men at the top. That won't happen with us. Our coaches will know all our players and the players will know the coaches."
Since all of the players will have performed in front of the coaches during the season, it may eliminate a problem that occurred this spring.
"We have a young pitcher named Curtis," said Holland. "He's slow and left-handed, like Eddie Lopat. He's won 39 games in the minors in two years. This spring, the first time out, he starts throwing as hard as he can. He gets hit pretty bad because his fast ball isn't very fast. Finally someone who had seen him throw last year told him to stop trying to impress the coaches and go back to his normal style. Now he's pitching well. That's the sort of thing that shouldn't happen in our camp again."
Those skeptics who arrived at the Cubs' camp in Mesa expecting to find it wallowing in a sea of coaching confusion were disappointed. No pitcher was ordered to throw twice in one morning. No batter was given the hit sign and the take sign on the same pitch. Coaches didn't bump into each other in the dugout. Everything was very well ordered. The coaches were divided between Rendezvous Park with the Cubs and the high school field with the associated clubs. Workouts at both places began and ended at the same time. The same pickoff plays and cutoffs were practiced.
"If we bring a young pitcher up from San Antonio at midseason," said Grimm, "we won't have to teach him how we work our pickoff play. He'll know. It'll be the same one he's been using all season." While the new system is obviously popular among the younger players, most of the older Cubs, the established major leaguers, would rather wait before commenting ("How many times during a season do you see the pickoff play work?" asked one). In Mesa most of the veterans simply smiled or shrugged.
"You can't knock it so far." said Glen Hobbie, the team's best pitcher. "We've had less idle time in training this year. But it will be interesting to see how it works when the season begins."
"One thing I can guarantee," said John Holland. "No one man will run the Cubs this season, no matter how well he's doing. In fact, Mr. Wrigley said he'd love to see a head coach win nine straight and then step down. I'm sure that won't happen, at least not this year. But if this thing works—and I'm beginning to think it will—you may see the day when a pennant winner is managed by eight men."