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The College of Coaches was an unorthodox strategy employed by the Chicago Cubs in 1961 and 1962. After the Cubs finished 60-94 in 1960, their 14th straight second-division finish, Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley announced in December 1960 that the Cubs would use eight coaches as managers, rather than the traditional one-manager approach. Wrigley argued at the time, "Managers are expendable. I believe there should be relief managers just like relief pitchers." He also contended that the manager system led to constant turnover.

Contents

Overview

In addition to the College of Coaches, Wrigley also borrowed from American universities the concept of hiring an "athletic director" to coordinate the system. He hired Bob Whitlow, a former United States Air Force colonel with no baseball experience, to fill the post, although team vice president John Holland remained the club's nominal general manager.[1]

Whitlow was disliked by the players for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that he decided to improve the batters' background at Wrigley Field by constructing a fence atop the wall in straightaway center field and allowed the ivy to twine its way up, thus forming a solid background of ivy. This resulted in several would-be home run balls staying in play, and after Whitlow resigned in 1964, the so-called "Whitlow's Wall" was removed.

The Cubs front office argued that under this system, players would be exposed to the wisdom and experience of eight coaches instead of just one field manager. Four would serve in the minors, while four would serve with the Cubs. Each member would serve as "head coach" before rotating back to the minors. The original "faculty" of the College of Coaches included El Tappe, Goldie Holt, Bobby Adams, Harry Craft, Verlon Walker, Ripper Collins, Vedie Himsl and Charlie Grimm.

The original idea was for the eight men to rotate through the entire organization from the low minors all the way to the Cubs, ensuring that players would learn a standard system of play. However, in practice, players were often confused by this system. There was no discernible pattern in the coaching rotation, and occasionally the various coaches were at odds with each other. Each coach brought a different playing style and a different lineup.

Without firm and consistent leadership, chaos reigned in the Cubs' dugout. The head coach position rotated between four different men in 1961 and three more in 1962 — two were holdovers from 1961 — and all seven had losing records, despite managing teams with future Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, and Lou Brock.

In 1961, the Cubs finished with a 64-90 record, and took seventh in the National League, which was actually a slight improvement over the previous year. However, the 1962 season brought the worst record in Cubs history, as they finished 59-103, in ninth place in the expanded NL. Only the first-year New York Mets, who lost 120 games, finished lower. Chicago finished 6 games behind the expansion Houston Colt .45s in the standings. In addition, during 1961-62 most of the Cub farm teams employed multiple managers because of the College of Coaches concept. One coach, Lou Klein, found himself leading teams ranging from Class D to the MLB Cubs during the 1961 season.

After the 1962 campaign, Wrigley designated one member of the College, Bob Kennedy, as sole head coach for at least two seasons. Under Kennedy, the Cubs went 82-80 in 1963, their first winning record since 1946. This led Kennedy to assert a more traditional managerial authority over the team, though the experiment nominally continued until 1965. However, they would sink back toward the bottom of the NL standings the next season.

Kennedy was replaced by Klein in June 1965, who finished out the season. In November, Wrigley hired Leo Durocher to replace Klein. At his press conference, Durocher emphatically ended the College of Coaches experiment by declaring himself manager, with Wrigley's blessing.

The College of Coaches, which has never been attempted by another Major League Baseball team, remains widely ridiculed and is often cited as a prime example of the ineptitude of the Cubs' front office over the past 60 years. However, the concept of a "system" throughout all levels of the farm clubs, and of a significant number of specialty coaches, is used by every major league club today.

Members of the College of Coaches

Craft, Himsl, Klein, Lockman, Tappe and Walker also served as Chicago coaches either immediately before or immediately after the College of Coaches experiment.

Head Coaches

1961

  • Vedie Himsl, 10-21
  • Harry Craft, 7-9
  • El Tappe, 42-54
  • Lou Klein, 5-6

1962

  • El Tappe, 4-16
  • Lou Klein, 12-18
  • Charlie Metro, 43-69

1963

  • Bob Kennedy, 82-80

1964

  • Bob Kennedy, 76-86

1965

  • Bob Kennedy, 24-32
  • Lou Klein, 48-58

Sources

Preceded by
Lou Boudreau
Chicago Cubs manager
1961-1965
Succeeded by
Leo Durocher

References

  1. ^ Sports Illustrated, April 8, 1963
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The College of Coaches was an unorthodox strategy employed by the Chicago Cubs in 1961 and 1962. After the Cubs finished 60-94 in 1960, their 14th straight second-division finish, Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley announced in December 1960 that the Cubs would no longer have a manager, but would be led by an eight-man committee. The experiment was widely ridiculed in baseball circles, and was effectively ended in 1962 before being completely abandoned in 1965.

Contents

Concept

After the 1961 season, Wrigley went to backup catcher and coach El Tappe for his input on a successor to Charlie Grimm. Tappe said years later that he suggested Wrigley not allow the manager to bring in his own coaches, as was standard practice. Rather, he suggested Wrigley bring in eight veterans from the Cubs organization as coaches--four for the minors and four for the Cubs. Tappe believed that if the coaches remained the same during inevitable managerial changes, the franchise would still have some consistency. Wrigley liked this idea, but added a twist--one of the coaches should also fill the manager's role.[1]

The Cubs officially rolled out the College of Coaches during 1961 spring training. The original "faculty" included Tappe, Grimm, Goldie Holt, Bobby Adams, Harry Craft, Verlon Walker, Ripper Collins and Vedie Himsl. Each coach would serve as "head coach" for part of the season. The original concept called for the eight coaches to rotate through the entire organization from the low minors all the way to the Cubs, ensuring a standard system of play. Additionally, Wrigley argued that it would be better for the players to be exposed to the wisdom and experience of eight men rather than just one.

In announcing the experiment, Wrigley argued, "Managers are expendable. I believe there should be relief managers just like relief pitchers." He also contended that the manager system led to constant turnover.

Chaos (1961-1962)

However, there was no discernible pattern in the coaching rotation, and occasionally the various coaches were at odds with each other. Each coach brought a different playing style and a different lineup. Additionally, according to relief pitcher Don Elston, the other coaches didn't bother to help the "head coach," leaving whoever was in charge to fend for himself.[2]

Under the circumstances, the result was predictable. Without firm and consistent leadership, chaos reigned in the Cubs' dugout. The head coach position rotated among four different men in 1961 and three more in 1962 — two of whom were holdovers from 1961 — and all seven had losing records.

In 1961, the Cubs finished with a 64-90 record, seventh in the National League, which was actually a slight improvement over the previous year. The 1962 season brought the worst record in Cubs history, as they finished 59-103, in ninth place in the expanded NL, as only the first-year New York Mets, who lost 120 games, finished lower. Chicago finished six games behind the second expansion team, the Houston Colt .45s, in the standings. One anonymous player told the Chicago Tribune that he'd never been on a club with lower morale in his career.

Most of the Cubs farm teams also employed multiple managers because of the College of Coaches concept. For instance, Lou Klein, who joined the College midway through the 1961 season, found himself leading teams ranging from Class D to the parent club during the 1961 season.

Stability and one winning season (1963-1965)

Before the 1963 season, Wrigley designated one member of the College, Bob Kennedy, as sole head coach for at least two seasons. As early as the 1961-62 offseason, however, Wrigley had hinted that the Cubs might have a single head coach for an entire season.

At the same time, Wrigley borrowed from American universities the concept of hiring an "athletic director" to coordinate the system. He hired Bob Whitlow, a former United States Air Force colonel with no baseball experience, to fill the post, although team vice president John Holland remained the club's nominal general manager.[3] Whitlow was disliked by the players for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that he decided to improve the batters' background at Wrigley Field by constructing a fence atop the wall in straightaway center field and allowed the ivy to twine its way up, thus forming a solid background of ivy. This resulted in several would-be home run balls staying in play. To the minds of players, sportswriters and fans, this was proof that Whitlow was in over his head.

Under Kennedy, the Cubs finished 82-80 in 1963--their first winning season since 1946. However, they would sink back toward the bottom of the NL standings the next season.

Kennedy was replaced by Klein in June 1965, who finished out the season. In November, Wrigley hired Leo Durocher to replace Klein. At his press conference, Durocher ended the College of Coaches experiment by declaring himself manager, with Wrigley's blessing.

The College of Coaches, which has never been attempted by another Major League Baseball team, remains widely ridiculed to this day. Despite having several Cubs legends and fan favorites in the lineup during this time--such as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo--the Cubs never finished higher than seventh during the four-year experiment, and were never fewer than 17 games out of first.

However, the concept of a "system" throughout all levels of the farm clubs, and of a significant number of specialty coaches, pioneered by the Brooklyn Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, and other teams before the College of Coaches was created, is used by every major league club today.

Members of the College of Coaches

Craft, Himsl, Klein, Lockman, Tappe and Walker also served as Chicago coaches either immediately before or immediately after the College of Coaches experiment.

Head coaches

1961

  • Vedie Himsl, 10-21
  • Harry Craft, 7-9
  • El Tappe, 42-54
  • Lou Klein, 5-6

1962

  • El Tappe, 4-16
  • Lou Klein, 12-18
  • Charlie Metro, 43-69

1963

  • Bob Kennedy, 82-80

1964

  • Bob Kennedy, 76-86

1965

  • Bob Kennedy, 24-32
  • Lou Klein, 48-58

Sources

Preceded by
Lou Boudreau
Chicago Cubs manager
1961-1962
Succeeded by
Bob Kennedy

References

  1. ^ Neyer, Rob (2006). Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders. New York City: Fireside. ISBN 0743284917. 
  2. ^ Golenblock, Peter (1996). Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs. New York City: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312156995. 
  3. ^ Sports Illustrated, April 8, 1963

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