50 years ago today, Charlie (“Jolly Cholly”) Grimm managed his last game for the Chicago Cubs. Following a 6-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates (eventual champions that year), Cubs management replaced Grimm with Lou Boudreau, who had been broadcasting the team’s games.
Handing a team over to the announcer is not always a bad move. The L.A. Lakers did it with Pat Riley and succeeded wildly under his leadership. And unlike Riley, Boudreau had already experienced managerial success (as well as failure), havng led the Cleveland Indians to World Series victory in 1948 as a playing manager at the age of 31.
But this move did not work out. The Cubs, 6-11 under Grimm, went 54-83 under Boudreau.
Neither Grimm nor Boudreau should have been managing the 1960 Cubs — it should have been Bob Scheffing. After he took the reins in 1957, the club improved its win total in each of the next three years (from 60 wins in 1956 to 74 in 1959).
The Cubs nonetheless sacked Scheffing after the ’59 season. As I wrote here, the only explanation I’ve been able to find is that management wanted media attention because the White Sox were becoming Chicago’s favorite team.
The baseball gods were bound to punish this attempt to grab cheap publicity. In 1960, the Cubs record returned to precisely its pre-Scheffing level of 60-94.
As for Scheffing, he would return to dug-out as manager of the Detroit Tigers in 1961. That year, the Tigers won 101 games, 30 more than they had in 1960.
But Scheffing would surely have struggled with the 1960 Cubs. During the off-season, management had traded three of the team’s best pitchers — Bill Henry, Dave Hillman, and John Buzhardt. This helped them acquire big-name players Richie Ashburn and Frank Thomas, which meant more buzz.
However, the three pitchers had combined for more than 400 innings in 1959, and Henry had been one of baseball’s best relief pitchers. Amazingly, the Cubs did not obtain a single pitcher in the three deals that sent Henry, Hillman, and Buzhardt packing; nor did they obtain a major league quality hurler in any other off-season deal.
But Grimm, not the front office, must take the fall for the handling of Glen Hobbie, the Cubs best starting pitcher. Coming off of a 16-13 3.69 record as a 23 year-old in 1959, Hobbie began his 1960 campaign with a brilliant performance, shutting out the defending champion Dodgers. But of Hobbie’s next six appearances for Grimm, three were in relief (an attempt perhaps to compensate for the loss of Henry). In those outings, he gave up 11 runs in 5 innings. Pitching out of rotation, Hobbie was also ineffective as a starter (15 innings, 17 runs, 13 of them earned).
In Grimm’s hey-day as a manager, the late 1930s, it had been common practice to use top pitchers as both starters and relievers, and this was still done in 1960. Scheffing, in fact, had used Hobbie 13 times in relief (out of 46 total appearances). However, the practice was fading, at least for pitchers who had established themselves as quality starters, which Hobbie had done in ’59. Jolly Cholly’s misuse of Hobbie at the start of the ’60 season was thus out of line with the practice of the day.
Ironically, in Boudreau’s first game in charge, he too used Hobbie in relief. The big right-hander gave up 2 runs in 21/3 innings and took the loss. Boudreau soon wised-up, however, and Hobbie pitched relief only 4 times during the second half of the season. Hobbie rewarded him by leading the team in victories (16 of team’s 60, but with 20 losses). Unfortunately, Hobbie would never win more than 7 games in a season after 1960.
1960 would be the end of the managerial road for both Grimm and Boudreau. In 1961, the Cubs, perhaps again seeking publicity, used 8 coaches (the “college of coaches”) to manage the team on something like a rotating basis. Grimm was part of the “college,” but never rotated into the head coach position.
I look forward to writing about the college of coaches oddity next year.
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