Time to Revisit the College of Coaches
Submitted by Arizona Phil on Wed, 09/06/2006 - 10:31am
According to Bruce Miles in the Daily Herald, the Pirates "commandeered" Wrigley Field for some extra batting & fielding practice prior to last night's game. So Bucs manager Jim Tracy apparently had a novel idea: How about some extra practice during the season? And Paul Sullivan in the Chicago Tribune reports that Cubs #1 prospect Felix Pie is upset that he didn't get a September recall, and that he is being sent to Fitch Park in Mesa to work one-on-one with hitting instructor Von Joshua and base-running instructor Bob Dernier instead of getting a chance to strut his stuff at Wrigley Field in September. Many of you know that back in 1961, Cubs owner Phil Wrigley introduced the infamous "College of Coaches," where about a dozen proven teachers and instructors (a few ex-MLB players, some former minor league players, and one ex-Negro Leaguer--former KC Monarchs player & manager Buck O'Neill) were hired to rotate throughout the Cubs organization during the season, continually instructing and teaching players as needed. Some of the coaches also served as scouts. An "Athletic Director" (a retired U. S. Air Force Colonel) was appointed to oversee the operation, and the position of "Field Manager" was changed to to something called "Rotating Head Coach," where members of the College of Coaches would take turns "managing" the various teams in the Cubs organization, including the big club. An engineer by training, Wrigley liked to solve problems by invention. He was partly motivated to implement the College of Coaches because of the insanity resulting in 1960 when WGN radio broadcaster Lou Boudreau & Cubs manager Charlie Grimm switched places during season, only to have the team's morale disintegrate. But PK had apparently been thinking about a "College of Coaches" for some time previous. At that time (1961), the Cubs had a lot of young players on the rise and on the make (Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Ken Hubbs, Lou Brock, Dick Bertell, Danny Murphy, Nelson Mathews, and a host of young pitchers), and providing intensive coaching and instruction seemlessly throughout the organization all the way up to and including the big league club seemed like a good plan. The idea was to unify instruction & teaching throughout the organization, and bring teachers and instructors all the way up to the major league level. By eliminating the traditional "manager" and the manager's accompanying cronies and flunkies (AKA "coaches"), Wrigley hoped to instill a college spirit to the New Young Cubs, unadulterated by the influences of an "Old School" manager and his drunken pals. Well, it didn't work. MLB players need to have a manager, a strong figure running the team like a conductor of a symphony. And a Rotating Head Coach was counter-productive to that aim. But the idea of a College of Coaches, where instruction is emphasized and which pre-dated the instructional camps and leagues that became common-place in the 1970's (and continue today), was a good idea. What Wrigley should have done was keep the manager and junk the Athletic Director, but otherwise maintain the College of Coaches, rotating the instructors throughout the organization during the season as needed. A good example of how a College of Coaches would be used today is the case of Ronny Cedeno. Quite obviously Cedeno is backsliding. He needs help. And yet the people most able to help him are rotating through the minor league system helping Nathan Samson, Dylan Johnston, and Jonathan Mota improve their shortstop play and hitting. But wouldn't it make more sense to have instructors "on call" to go to Chicago and join the Cubs for as long as is necessary to help any player who needs additional instruction and coaching? And if one instructor doesn't get through to the player, you call on a different instructor. While I agree that a manager is necessary, I also believe traditional MLB "coaches" are not. It's time to reactivate the College of Coaches. If not exactly "rotating coaches," I would hope that next year the Cubs MLB coaching staff is more of a "teaching" staff, with guys like Von Joshua, Alan Dunn, Bob Dernier, and Bobby Dickerson on the staff, ready to help young players as needed, rather than a group of flunkies and cronies who get their jobs because they are gin rummy pigeons or drinking buddies with the manager. And if it becomes necessary to rotate some of the coaches back & forth between the minors and the big league club during the season to assist certain players in need of particular help, that's fine, too.