CHICAGO – For the first time since the Great Coaching Staff Purge of 2017, Cubs manager Joe Maddon had his new staff together in public Saturday.
The Cubs convention was a bit of a “wow” experience for new third-base coach Brian Butterfield.
“It was electric,” he said of Friday night’s opening ceremonies. “That was a great eye-opener. Being on the other side and coming to Chicago, I’ve always understood it’s a very passionate sports town. Last night was unbelievable. I went back to the hotel and told my wife, ‘We’re in for some real fun here.’ ”
Last fall, Maddon and the Cubs fired hitting coach John Mallee, pitching coach Chris Bosio and third-base coach Gary Jones.
Bench coach Dave Martinez took the manager’s job in Washington, and he’ll be joined by former Cubs quality-assurance coach Henry Blanco. Assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske now is the top hitting coach of the Los Angeles Angels.
Chili Davis is the new Cubs hitting coach, and Chicagoan Jim Hickey is the new pitching coach.
Maddon said during last fall’s National League Championship Series that all of his coaches would be welcomed back, a sentiment echoed by team president Theo Epstein. But Bosio was fired soon after the playoffs ended, and Maddon later said the availability of Davis and Butterfield prompted additional changes.
He explained more Saturday.
“We’ve had a wonderful staff for many years,” he said. “I really believe that these guys are going to add a lot to us, energy-wise. They’re going to add a lot to us, obviously, intellectually in a baseball sense. You’re always looking to expand upon what you’ve done in the past.
“I really believe some of these coaches are the kind of guys that when you went undergrad then you go to graduate school, some of these guys can give us kind of that graduate-school kind of finishing touch. Again, the group that left was outstanding. They helped get us through these last three years very well. But the new group in place going into this year, I really believe is the kind of group that can put the finishing touches on a lot of our guys.”
Maddon inherited a coaching staff – except for Martinez – when he took over as Cubs manager in the fall of 2014. High-profile managers generally demand their own guys when they take a new job, but Maddon stuck by his old group through three years that included three straight NLCS appearances and a World Series title in 2016.
At least one new coach was surprised the Cubs made changes.
“As far as I’m concerned, Mallee I looked at as a really good hitting coach,” Davis said. “It was surprising to me that a team that had been to the playoffs three years in a row and had won a World Series with him here was going to make a change. The opportunity came up. I couldn’t have had a better opportunity.”
He talked a bit about his own approach.
“As far as the players, more so than swing mechanics, I think I bring – and I’ve always said it in the Oakland interviews I’ve had and the Boston interviews – a mentality, not as much a philosophy in hitting. Everybody has a philosophy. A lot of them, to me, match. I try to bring a mentality in how we approach games day in and day out. Trust is huge, trust in each other.”
Hickey, a South Side Cubs fan, worked under Maddon at Tampa Bay. He said he had other opportunities, but the idea of coming home was too good to pass up.
“Look around this room,” he said acknowledging the fans. “This is why. I was born and raised in Chicago, so that was a factor. My relationship with Joe was a factor, too, but actually coming to Chicago, meeting Theo, meeting [general manager] Jed [Hoyer], seeing the physical building that they had just erected next to Wrigley Field where it houses all the baseball operations, just getting a sense of the enthusiasm and the vibe in that building, that was really what tipped the scales.
“A chance to win, obviously, that’s what we all want. This organization is dedicated to winning, not just now and the foreseeable future but in perpetuity, I would think. Just a great group, just a great vibe, and it was a relatively easy choice. There were other ones, but it was almost a no-brainer for me.”