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Just because: The Cubs and the 'College of Coaches'

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

MORE: Renteria gets three-year deal in Chicago

Last week, my swashbuckling colleague Matt Snyder headlined a piece on the Cubs' hiring of new manager Rick Renteria by using the words "unexciting" and "strong." So as long as the topic is the Cubs and their dugout leaders, let us explore the opposite of Mr. Renteria -- i.e., that which is "exciting" and "demonstrably not strong at all."

The Cubs have a cornucopia to sort through when it comes to managers who didn't work out as hoped, but towering beneath all is former owner Phil Wrigley's absurdly conceived "College of Coaches" experiment in the early 1960s.

Coming into the 1961 season, it had been 14 years since Wrigley's Cubs had enjoyed a winning campaign. This grim streak prompted Wrigley to shake up his managerial structure in a novel way. The Cubs, you see, would not have a "manager" in the traditional sense. Instead, they would have a hootenanny of nine coaches (eight, according to some accounts), each tasked with overseeing a certain phase or phases of the game and with a rotating "head coach" to make those game-to-game decisions typically under the jurisdiction of the manager.

As originally designed, a new head coach would be named for each month of the regular season, and others on the staff would be cycled through various levels of the minor leagues in order to provide instruction.

So here's Mr. Wrigley and almost his entire college of coaches just prior to the 1961 season ...

(Image: Just One Bad Century)

That's the look of an unwieldy division of labor!

Of course, those eight baseball minds would not be without the latest in magma-hot baseball technology, as this AP headline from April 5, 1961 makes apparent ...

You see, the IBM machine -- which was unfortunately a computer and not a robot with a red light bulb for a nose -- would take data and spit out hitter-versus-pitcher stats for use by the head coach, which sounds rather quaint to these modern ears.

Anyhow, in the first season of Wrigley's experiment, he officially used four different head coaches en route to a 64-90 record: Vedie Himsl (10-21 on his watch), Harry Craft (7-9), El Tappe (42-54) and Lou Klein (5-6). As you may have already surmised, the original plan of "one head coach per month" was not adhered to. In fact, it was even more scrambled than those overall records would suggest. Here's an excerpt from a 1986 Jerome Holtzman retrospective in the Chicago Tribune:

Dick Ellsworth (with help from [reliever Don] Elston) and Don Cardwell won the May 30 double-header against the Pirates. Himsl was then replaced by Tappe, who directed a two-game sweep over the Phillies. Craft took over in Cincinnati and presided over the final two victories. There were now different head coaches for every series. Himsl returned for his third and last term on June 5 for a four-game series against the Cardinals. The Cardinals swept the series.

Needless to say, the players didn't exactly cotton to this approach, as each head coach had a pet lineup and tactical playbook, which, by extension, meant inconsistent playing time and toggled roles for many. In fact, veteran infielder Don Zimmer ripped the idea on a pre-game radio appearance and was shortly thereafter left unprotected for the expansion draft.

Also not appreciated by the players was the utter glut of authority figures hanging around. Catcher Sammy Taylor phrased these concerns best of all: "I can't even fart without one of the coaches hearing it."

The experiment lived on for the 1962 season, as Tappe, Klein and Charlie Metro filled head coaching duties. Unfortunately for the College of Coaches, the Cubs lost 103 games -- still tied for the most in franchise history -- and finished in ninth place, behind even the expansion Houston Colt .45s (but thankfully ahead of Zimmer's new and horrid Mets).

In essence, Wrigley abandoned the idea after that 1962 season, but he wasn't yet ready to have a "manager" in the dugout. For evidence of this assertion, please regard Exhibits A and B ...

(Images: Wrigley Wax)

Those are the '64 and '65 Topps cards of Bob Kennedy who skippered -- but did not manage -- the Cubs for 1963 and 1964 and then part of the 1965 seasons. You'll note that he is the "head coach" and not, in keeping with your typical MLB organizational flowchart, the "manager."

Prior to the 1966 season, though, the Cubs brought on the famed Leo Durocher to lead the team, and in case there were any doubts as to whether an ego as booming as Durocher's would countenance any title less than "manager," he quickly put them to rest. From the UPI on the occasion of Durocher's introduction ...

Leo the Lip has spoken, lads, and there shall be no more of this "coach" business.

And with that, the College of Coaches was relegated to history. Unless, of course, Marlins saboteur Jeff Loria reads these words and takes a sudden fancy to the idea, which, truth be told, sounds vaguely plausible.

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