#Hot Corner

Baseball's first Information Services Coach

When I was at the SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix last month, somebody on one of the panels -- and I think it was probably this one, led by Brian Kenny, but I can't be sure -- suggested that the job of baseball manager has gotten so big that it's foolish to think that one man can really do it all. That perhaps future managers will delegate the tactical decisions to a sort of supersized bench coach and the various communications responsibilities, especially with the media, to someone more suited to that role.

Well, the latter sort of thing would not be unprecedented.

In 1969, Leo Durocher's Chicago Cubs famously blew a big late-season lead over the Mets. In '71 the Cubs were just decent, and during a clubhouse meeting, first baseman Joe Pepitone reportedly said to Durocher, "You're the dumbest manager I ever played for." Other players were similarly complimentary, and all this got into the newspapers, leading to plenty of talk about about Durocher getting the axe. He didn't, but this note appears in the 1972 Official Baseball Guide (published before the season):

On November 16, Harry (Peanuts) Lowrey, who had been Durocher's third base coach, warned Wrigley, in a story published in The Chicago Sun-Times, that the firing of Durocher would be a victory for the "crybaby" players. Said Lowrey: "I was surprised and ashamed by some of the stuff that was going on last season. Some of those guys should have cried less and played ball more. If they fire Leo, that means the players got his job and they'll be laughing up their sleeves."

Durocher's contract was renewed two days later and included an unprecedented maneuver. To help him appease his players and the press, the Cubs hired former major league pitcher Hank Aguirre and gave him the unique title of "Information Services Coach."

Aguirre, who was to be in uniform, would have a locker in the clubhouse and would sit on the bench during games. But his function primarily would be as a public relations man between Durocher and his players and Durocher and the press, a tacit acknowledgement that Durocher was an "executive manager" who required an assistant to maintain the peace.

Go ahead and laugh. After all, this is the same organization that gave baseball the ill-fated College of Coaches. But Phil Wrigley's Cubs also brought computers to the game; they were just a few decades early. And this might be the same thing; can't you imagine Mike Matheny being named "Executive Manager" someday? Because I sure can.

According to an obscure biography of Aguirre,

Hank had excellent listening skills, and the players trusted him. There were a bunch of younger players on the team at the time, and Leo scared them. They'd just freeze up trying to talk to the man, or their words would come out all wrong. If a player had a bad game, Leo was right in his face. There were no excuses. Hank, with his years of experience in the big leagues, could foresee clouds gathering, and he was able to detect those tiny wisps of trouble before they developed into thunderstorms.

Aguirre wound up working as the Cubs' pitching coach in 1973 and '74; by then Durocher was gone, having finally resigned (under pressure) in late July; just a month later, he took the reins of the Astros, but lasted just one full season in that job before leaving the game for good.

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