Last week I was having an adult beverage with a fellow Cub fan. While drowning our sorrows over this year’s squad, the conversation turned to the first days of our fandom—the early 1980s.
As we chatted about some of our favorite players from that era (Bill Buckner, Lee Smith, and Rick Reuschel to name a few), we reflected on the assembly line of managers over the last three decades. I’d honestly forgotten about a few of them (Charlie Fox and Rene Lachemann for example).
Our trip down managerial memory lane seemed like a decent idea for an article. With that in mind…
- Preston Gomez (1980): Certainly a name I’d forgotten about. Gomez was canned after a 38-52 start. He’s probably best known as the first-ever manager of the San Diego Padres.
- Joey Amalfitano (1980-1981): It was back to the future for Amalfitano, as he also wore the interim crown in 1979. He took over for the departed Gomez in July of 1980. The Cubs were especially bad in those days. Amalfitano’s record in his return was a dismal 64-111. His tenure included the 1981 baseball strike.
- Lee Elia (1982-1983): Elia was hired by GM Dallas Green to turn around a team in turmoil. While he didn’t rack up wins in Chicago (127-158), Elia’s legacy includes one of the city’s best managerial meltdowns. Elia went off on Cubs fans, calling them every name in the book for booing his sorry bunch. The R-rated tirade is worth finding on line.
- Charlie Fox (1983): It’s no surprise that Elia didn’t make it through 1983. Fox got the call as interim manager after Elia’s firing, but the results weren’t much better (17-22).
- Jim Frey (1984-1986): The former Royals’ manager took over in 1984 and led the Cubs to a division title and the doorstep of the World Series. The stars aligned in that first season under Frey, who is given some of the credit for developing Ryne Sandberg’s power stroke. Unfortunately, Frey and company couldn’t recapture the magic of 1984. Injuries killed the Cubs that next season, and they finished in fourth place. One year later, he was unemployed. Though his Cub experience didn’t end well, Frey piloted the Cubs to their first postseason appearance since 1945. His overall record was 196-182.
- John Vukovich (1986): “Vuk” stepped in for one whole day after Jim Frey was shown the door. He managed the Cubs for both games of a doubleheader, which they split.
- Gene Michael (1986-1987): The former Yankee inherited an awful team in 1986. The ’86 Cubs were old, slow, and defensively challenged. John McGraw in his prime couldn’t have won with this team. Michael didn’t last long in Chicago, compiling a record of 114-124.
- Frank Lucchesi (1987): Another place holder, Lucchesi finished up the 1987 season. The former Rangers’ and Phillies’ manager was 8-17 in Chicago.
- Don Zimmer (1988-1991): “Popeye” was beloved by Cubs’ fans, partly for his contagious personality, partly for his unorthodox decision-making, but mostly for leading his team to the playoffs in 1989. That season saw an interesting, energetic, and extremely likable Cubs team (known as “the Boys of Zimmer). The charismatic skipper often made fans scratch their heads (I once saw him intentionally walk three batters in the same inning), but frequently his gambles would pay off. As always, all good things must come to an end. Popeye sailed out of Chicago in 1991, finishing his term with a record of 265-258.
- Joe Altobelli (1991): A coach under Zimmer, Altobelli wore the interim hat for one game. The Cubs lost.
- Jim Essian (1991): Essian was a rising star in the Cubs organization, and he was tabbed to turnaround the scuffling Cubs. Things didn’t go as planned. The Cubs continued to struggle under Essian, who was given the boot at the end of the year. The chosen one finished his Cub career at 59-63. He never managed in the Majors again.
- Jim Lefebvre (1992-1993): The former Mariners’ manager had his hands full in 1992. That Cubs team was loaded with out-making specialists (Rey Sanchez, Steve Buechele, Derrick May, and Joe Girardi). A solid pitching staff took a big hit the next season, as Greg Maddux departed via free agency. Somehow the Cubs hung in there, finishing 1993 with 84 wins. It wasn’t good enough for management, and Lefebvre was gone the next year. His two-year record was 162-162.
- Tom Trebelhorn (1994): I’ve heard this story more than once, so I’m assuming it’s true. During his interview, Trebelhorn was asked, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” His reply, “A Cubs Tree!” That answer alone should have knocked him out of contention. Instead, “Cubs Tree” captained the ship right into the ground. The Cubs finished the strike-shortened season at 49-64. Trebelhorn didn’t return.
- Jim Riggleman (1995-1999): After three losing seasons in San Diego, Jim Riggleman took over in Chicago in 1995. His up and down tenure was highlighted by a postseason appearance in 1998. That team was propelled by the long ball, combining for 212 home runs (including Sammy Sosa’s 66). The Cubs were swept out of the playoffs by Greg Maddux and the Atlanta Braves. Riggleman had some success in Chicago, but his overall record was 374-419.
- Don Baylor (2000-2002). I met Don Baylor at a Central Illinois Cubs Convention in 2000. He was wearing the ugliest sweater I have ever seen. Enough about fashion. Baylor came to Chicago with a winning resume. He compiled three winning seasons in Colorado, including a playoff appearance in 1995. That success didn’t follow him to Wrigley Field. Baylor’s Cub teams went 322-326 and didn’t sniff the postseason. He was fired during the 2002 campaign.
- Rene Lachemann (2002): Lachemann kept the manager’s seat warm for one game, which the Cubs lost. Baseball fans may remember that he was the first manager of the expansion Florida Marlins.
- Bruce Kimm (2002): Already in the Cubs system as a minor league manager, Kimm took over for the rest of 2002. He fared no better than his predecessors that year, going 33-45.
- Dusty Baker (2003-2006): Baker was an interesting choice to lead the Cubs. Many fans praised his work in San Francisco, leading the Giants to the World Series in 2002. Others frowned on the Cubs’ selection, noting how Baker tended to pile up pitch counts for his starter pitchers. In any case, the hire looked brilliant in 2003. Baker and the Cubs finished strong and made the postseason that year. They knocked off the mighty Braves and looked like a sure bet for the NL pennant. Of course, we all remember how that turned out. Baker’s Cubs never duplicated the success of 2003. Odd excuses seemed to follow his team’s performance (the heat was my favorite). Injuries to his young pitchers began to pile up. Rightly or wrongly, Baker was often blamed. His contract was not renewed after the 2006 season, and Dusty left town with a record of 322-326.
- Lou Piniella (2007-2010): Piniella’s track record was certainly impressive. He won a World Series with the Cincinnati Reds and led the Seattle Mariners to multiple postseason trips. The Cubs returned to the playoffs in Uncle Lou’s first season, but were swept out of the first round. 2008 was a powerhouse team that led the NL in runs scored and victories. Unfortunately, they collapsed in the Division Series vs. the LA Dodgers. Expectations were high in 2009, but Piniella’s Cubs underachieved. They finished with 83 wins and watched the playoffs on TV. The next season was a disaster. The Cubs lost early and often. Many fans blamed Piniella, saying that the game had passed him by. He resigned that summer to care for his ailing mother. Piniella’s Cub record was 316-293.
- Mike Quade (2010-present): Already serving the Cubs as a coach, Quade took over for Piniella in August of 2010. His team finished strong that summer, and Quade was officially named manager for 2011. Injuries have plagued his first full season at the helm. As of this writing, the Cubs are 12 games under .500.
That’s quite a list, no matter how you slice it. As I review the last three decades, I’m reminded how many rotten seasons Cub fans had to endure. Fortunately, the high points were extremely high. 1984, 1989, and 2008 will always stand out for me.
Obviously, I wish Mike Quade nothing but the best of luck. He certainly has his share of challenges this year. Will he be a long-term fit in Chicago, or another blip on the radar screen?