Off year for the Chicago Orgs

Organized to beat the band, the Cubs rarely beat anyone except their five-man coaching staff
August 05, 1962

For Philip K. Wrigley, chairman of the board of the Wrigley chewing gum company and owner of the Chicago Cubs, it has been a miserable summer. He had to work without air conditioning in his new office in the Wrigley Building for six weeks (the help couldn't get the new unit operating). He split his fingernails trying to open a closet (the door knobs were late in arriving). Then Newsweek mistakenly reported, error of errors, that he had made the gum sticks smaller so the pack could be kept to a nickel. And, finally, the press has been all over him because of the Cubs. Unlike other magnates, who would seek to end their troubles by lopping off heads or filing law suits, Wrigley has taken it all as a matter of course. He is accustomed to criticism.

Ordinarily, the Cubs would be a dead issue, at least at this time of year. Chronic losers, they are now crawling around eighth place, with virtually no chance of climbing any higher. But the Cubs are very much alive, as an issue anyway, because of their unique coaching system (SI, April 10, 1961). A year and a half ago Wrigley got tired of changing managers ("You hire a manager until he goes crazy, or you fire him for public opinion") and installed a system of rotating coaches, ostensibly designed to get the most out of the Cubs and the farm teams as well. As a semipermanent second-division club the Cubs would have nothing to lose. The experiment, Wrigley said, would last at least three years.

Now that the midway point has passed, and the Cubs show no signs of climbing higher in the National League, one would imagine that Wrigley might be ready to give up. Far from it. Naturally, he is disappointed by the club's showing ("The team was cleaning up in the Cactus League, then the season opened and no pitching at all"), but he is highly pleased with the coaching system and has no plans to abandon it. "I think that what we started out to do has been extremely successful," he says, "and that is to develop young ballplayers. We have Cal Koonce, the pitcher, and we have Ken Hubbs (at second) and Lou Brock (in center field). They've jumped several classifications, and they're outstanding ballplayers. You can't trade for a ballplayer. You can't buy them. All you can do is raise them. And if you look at the system, you'll have to admit that it's working. What we have to do now is win more ball games. As far as the fans are concerned, nothing succeeds like success." Should it be suggested that the Cubs would win more if they had a manager, Wrigley retorts with what he considers the perfect answer: "Look at the Mets! They've got the best manager in the world!"

Although Chicago sportswriters have been quick to condemn the coaching system as another manifestation of Wrigley's eccentricity, it actually is an attempt to inject into baseball some of the principles of business management. To Wrigley, for instance, it is ridiculous to call the Cubs a ball club when, in his words, they are really "a corporation organized for profit." Whereas other teams use a statistician to compute averages on individual players, the Cubs use an IBM machine which digests and summarizes all sorts of data, e.g., ground balls, fly balls, right- or left-handed pitcher, weather conditions, etc., on the entire squad. Instead of being disorganized, as some critics have charged, the Cubs are organized to the nth degree. They are organization men in the truest sense of the term; indeed, it would be more accurate to call them the Orgs instead of the Cubs.

The Org coaching system has undergone a number of changes since its inception. (All these changes are catalogued, in appropriate organization-man fashion, in a booklet privately printed for Cub brass, Duties and Functions of the Management Team, now in its 12th edition.) At present there are five coaches on the Cubs proper, each of whom, in theory anyway, takes a turn in running the team as head coach. Unlike last year, these five—except for the pitching coach—have not been rotated from Chicago. Instead, the Cubs have five other coaches, each signed to a major league contract as a status symbol, who tour the minor league clubs (called "associated teams" in organization jargon) tutoring specific players the underdeveloped Cubs want to bring up fast. Every coach, with the Cubs or the farm system, is primarily a teacher. Wrigley fears that if the team had a regular manager the youngsters would not be brought along as quickly. A manager, Wrigley says, may be impatient with a youngster because of the pressure to win. A rotating head coach, who knows the job is temporary, is not under this pressure. "If you've got security," Wrigley says, "you can take a much less selfish point of view."

El Tappe, who tutors the catchers, served as head coach the first three weeks of the season, but when the Cubs faltered, Wrigley, John Holland, one of the team's vice-presidents (there is no general manager), and other brass decided Tappe should step aside for the nonce. But even if the Cubs had been going well, Tappe might have left anyway. That is the way the organization works; it is the system more than the individual.

Lou Klein, ex-Cardinal infielder, replaced Tappe and lasted five weeks. Again there was no stigma attached to his removal. "The coaches don't lose their status at all," says Holland. "They're not losing the chance to come back as head coach. We've certainly learned from two wars that when men become battle-weary you can pull them back for a rest and send them up again refreshed. You just don't want to let a fellow go run the club until he ruins his health." Klein now handles the first-base coaching box. When Tappe, who is on the active list as a catcher, singled in a recent game, Klein warned, "Don't take too big a lead." Tappe quipped, "If I hadn't listened to you before, I'd still be running the team."

Charlie Metro, onetime Philadelphia A's outfielder, has been head coach since Klein's return to the ranks. A longtime minor league manager, Metro caught the eye of the Cubs with the young players he helped develop for the Orioles and the Tigers, e.g., Chuck Estrada, Ron Hansen, Steve Boros, Jake Wood. By his own definition, Metro is a "bitter loser." When he took charge of the team, he forbade the players to shave in the clubhouse after a game. But the other coaches got together for a vote and overruled him. The defeat rankles, but Metro has gone along with the decision: he is, as befits an organization man, a firm believer in positive thinking. Two books, Magic of Believing and TNT: The Power Within You, both by Claude Bristol, have left a lasting impression on him. "They are positive books," he says. "Everything is positive thoughts. A positive thought makes a positive action. Visualize winning, and you win."

The ready knife

Although all the coaches openly profess admiration for the system ("I wouldn't be here otherwise," "It's wonderful," "When one gets praised, we all get praised, and we're going to get praised," etc.) there have been reports of dissension. The situation is perfect for bench jockeys. "Got your knife ready?" is a frequent taunt, and so is, "Who's in charge today?" If any of the Cubs are unhappy with the system, none show it outwardly. Last year, the team got rid of veteran Don Zimmer, who didn't care for it, and the ranking veteran on the team now, Ernie Banks, thinks the system is just perfect. Of course, Banks is an organization man through and through. Every year he picks the Cubs to win the pennant. He is serious. "I still think we have a chance to finish in the first division," he said recently, handing a reporter a pack of Wrigley's Spearmint gum.

Zimmer, now with the Reds, concedes that the coaching system is of value to youngsters, but he frankly doubts that the Cubs have effective leadership on the field. "In my own heart," he says, "I can't feel that the coaches are pulling for each other. I didn't like the setup, I wanted to get away and I did get away. I said the way I felt about it. You got coaches over there I know that feel that way. A ball club needs a manager."

All such criticism leaves Wrigley unmoved. "I began this coaching system by saying that he who explains is lost," he says. "And I'm right."

PHOTODOWNCAST COACH Charlie Metro of the Cubs says, "The truest test of a man is pressure."