Major League Baseball has 29 managerial jobs — then there’s the Chicago Cubs.
Managers are hired to be fired, as the saying goes, and we’ve seen them come and go on the North Side.
Joe Maddon, who was the franchise’s winningest manager in more than a century and the only one with a World Series championship since Frank Chance in 1908, didn’t get a pass. He ended the curse on Nov. 2, 2016, when the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series. But he was out a few years later.
Now, after abruptly firing David Ross to bring in Craig Counsell, the Cubs are looking to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2020, Ross’ debut season as manager.
Here’s what happened with the managers who preceded Counsell in the Wrigley Field dugout.
Leo Durocher: 1966-72
“I just gave myself a title — manager — not head coach. I don’t mean I’m going to be a dictator. I never was. One man can’t do the entire job, but one man has to be in charge. I’ve always taken advice from my coaches.”
The Cubs had some talent in place, with a nucleus of Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo, prompting Leo Durocher to utter, “This is not an eighth-place team” when he was hired in 1965 — and he was right. The Cubs wound up losing 103 games and finished 10th, but they improved to third place in ‘67 and ‘68. They made it interesting in 1969, blowing a 9 1/2-game lead over the Mets in August and finishing eight games back.
They underachieved in 1971, prompting a clubhouse rebellion against Durocher, including a shouting match with Santo during which Santo had to be restrained from attacking his manager.
In September, owner P.K. Wrigley bought ad space in all the Chicago newspapers to print his open letter to Cubs fans: “Leo is the team manager, and the ‘Dump Durocher Clique’ might as well give up.”
Durocher lasted into July of ‘72 before “stepping aside” at the All-Star break during a 9-17 skid.
Whitey Lockman: 1972-74
“I’m sure (the players) have given their best. There are times, I know, though, when you can get psyched out subconsciously and have a letdown on the field. But a player never does that consciously. I don’t think the Cubs have consciously let down in the past and I know they won’t in the future.”
The 1972 Cubs were 46-44 and 10 games behind first-place Pittsburgh, but Lockman — who was previously the team’s the team’s director of player development — was undaunted.
“So what?” he said his first day on the job. “It can be done. Remember, we had a 9 1/2-game lead a lot later than this in 1969 and we lost. I was on the New York Giants in 1951 when we were 13 1/2 games behind in August and we did it. It can be done.”
But not by the 1972 Cubs, who finished 85-70 and 11 games behind the division-winning Pirates. In an eerie repeat of 1969, Lockman’s 1973 Cubs built an eight-game lead on June 29 when they were 15 games above .500. But they slumped in July and lost 11 straight in August, eventually finishing in fifth at 77-84.
General manager John Holland traded Santo, Fergie Jenkins, Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley to rebuild in 1974, and Lockman quit in midseason to become Holland’s assistant.
Jim Marshall: 1974-1976
“I like to think I’m mild-mannered without all my emotions showing. But if something happens, you can count on me being out there, whether it’s a player or an umpire. I like action.”
The low-key third-base coach took over for Lockman after some called for the hiring of Banks. Wrigley argued he didn’t want Mr. Cub to be placed on the firing line.
“Becoming a major-league manager is like being a kamikaze pilot,” Wrigley said. “It’s suicide.”
The 1974 Cubs went on to lose 96 games, and Wrigley continued the purge of the 1969 Cubs after the season, sending outfielder Billy Williams to the A’s for Manny Trillo. As the first Cubs manager in the era of free agency, Marshall believed he was stymied by Wrigley’s tightfisted ways.
“Salaries were just starting to escalate, but our organization was not willing to compete,” Marshall said years later. “I got the same story time after time when I went to the front office about a player who was demanding more money — ‘He’s not worth that much.’ I’ve always believed a manager is only as good as his material.”
Herman Franks: 1977-79
“My goal for the Cubs is simple — win games and win a pennant before I retire.”
GM Bob Kennedy lured Herman Franks out of retirement at 63 in 1977, well after his four stormy years managing in San Francisco from 1965-68. The tobacco-juice-spewing Franks had made a fortune in real estate and had been out of the game since 1971, prompting concerns over his ability to relate to modern-day players.
“I don’t have any problems handling players,” Franks said upon his arrival. “Don’t believe that stuff about a communication gap because of age. You’ll never see me rip a player in the newspapers either.”
Franks’ Cubs got off to a hot start in ‘77 and once led by 8 1/2 games, but they fell out of first on Aug. 4 and wound up losing eight of their last nine games to finish 81-81 and in fourth place. After a 79-83 season in ‘78, Franks quit on Sept. 24, 1979, with a 78-77 record, leaving Joe Amalfitano in charge as interim manager. The team fell apart: Ted Sizemore, Barry Foote and Dick Tidrow called the organization “cheapskates” for not supplying enough wine for the players at a team-sponsored dinner.
Franks ripped into his players on his way out the door. He claimed Bill Buckner was “jealous” of Dave Kingman, that Kingman was “flaky,” that Mike Vail was “a constant whiner,” that Sizemore’s “trouble was always his mouth,” and that he was “sick and tired of (Foote) telling me `how we did it on the Phillies.’”
Preston Gomez: 1980
“A lot of people say I’m too tough. I always believe you have to have a certain amount of discipline. In any business, you have to be organized and you have to have discipline.”
Cubs fans clamored for Whitey Herzog to be named the new manager, at least according to a newspaper poll. But Kennedy went with Gomez, whom he called “one of the smartest men in baseball.”
Gomez had managed the expansion Padres to three straight seasons of sub-.400 baseball before being fired in ‘72, and his Astros teams were a combined 33 games below .500 in the two seasons he managed in Houston. Though out of work since 1975, Gomez was Kennedy’s choice, and the GM looked like a genius when the Cubs burst out of the gate with an 11-6 record.
But after going 27-46 in their next 73 games, Gomez was fired and replaced by Joe Amalfitano, who had replaced Franks.
After his dismissal, Gomez admitted he had doubts as early as the second day of spring training: “We had more unhappy players than I had seen on any team … and no kind of an organization. I asked myself, ‘What in the hell are you doing here?’”
Lee Elia: 1982-83
“I’m not the kind of man who enjoys turning players’ ears red, but if I see something wrong happen on the field where people are paying to see big-league baseball, I’ll take action.”
“Building a new tradition” was the slogan of the first full year of the Tribune-owned Cubs, with new GM Dallas Green and manager Lee Elia running the show. But the “old tradition,” losing baseball games, never really went away. Elia became infamous in Cubs lore for his postgame tirade on April 29, 1983, at Wrigley Field, when he ripped into Cubs fans for booing his players.
“They really get behind you around here,” Elia said sarcastically. “What am I supposed to do, go out there and let my players be destroyed every day and be quiet? For the nickel-and-dime people who show up here every day? They don’t even work. That’s why they’re out at the ballgame. About 85% of the world is working, the other 15% come out here.”
Surprisingly, Elia received only a slap on the wrist from Green after he was told to apologize for “losing it.” The final straw came on Aug. 22, 1983, a few days after Elia uttered another thoughtless postgame comment. Green said he was upset that Elia had said “We’ve never heard of this guy Gerald Perry” after the Braves rookie homered and drove in three runs to beat the Cubs.
“That was an embarrassment to the team and the whole organization,” Green said. “Lee should’ve known better.”
Jim Frey: 1984-86
“I know about the Chicago syndrome, but I don’t go for that stuff. I don’t care if people think I’m popping off. The Cubs are going after the kind of players with winning attitudes and we’ll do everything we can to win.”
Jim Frey was known as a no-nonsense disciplinarian who worked for years under Earl Weaver in Baltimore.
When asked to predict how many victories the Cubs would have in 1984, he replied: “We may win 80 games, we may win more. I don’t know how many games we’re going to win. But I will tell you quite frankly that Jim Frey is not afraid to do whatever it takes.”
Frey’s first year changed the course of Cubs history. They won the East with a 96-65 record and went up 2-0 on San Diego in the National League Championship Series before losing the final three games. No matter how the Cubs performed on the field after 1984, Wrigley Field became the trendy place to be. Frey’s pitching staff was injured en masse in 1985 and he was fired in June 1986 with the Cubs 16 1/2 games behind the Mets.
He resurfaced as GM in 1988.
Gene Michael: 1986-87
“I’m not going to go crazy with the umpires anyway. I’m more interested in finding out what the league is about and what my team can do.”
Gene Michael, who was ejected from his first game as manager of the Cubs, was known as “the Stick” for his long, slender build. He came in with a reputation as a disciplinarian, which he didn’t deny.
“I’m not going to kick the players all over the place,” Michael said. “But I’m not going to let them get away with things. I’m not a genius to know what every player wants.”
Michael guided the Cubs to a 46-56 record the rest of the 1986 season and was 68-68 when he quit with three weeks left in the 1987 season. The marriage between Green and Michael did not end happily. Michael was upset that left-hander Steve Trout had been traded to the Yankees without GM Dallas Green informing him about it.
After a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Sept. 7, Michael announced in a radio interview with reporter Bruce Levine that he was quitting.
“It’s nice he told somebody,” Green said. “He didn’t tell me.” Michael told Levine: “I haven’t said anything about it because nobody asked me.”
Don Zimmer: 1988-91
“When I walked up those steps today where the telephone operators are in the front office, I kind of had an eerie feeling. The last time I walked up those steps, I was fired. This is a crazy game. When we left here a year and a half ago, you’d never think this could happen.”
After being fired along with manager Jim Frey in June 1986, Don Zimmer was hired from his job as Giants third base coach by none other than Frey, his longtime friend who had succeeded Dallas Green as Cubs GM.
“I know this is not a last-place club,” Zimmer said, echoing Durocher in 1965.
Zimmer was right. The 1988 Cubs finished fourth. Zimmer came in touting a “let’s have fun” philosophy, and he warned about his unconventional strategy. He was probably the most popular Cubs manager since Durocher, mostly because of his unpredictable style and his ability to take a team of overachievers to the NL East title in 1989.
During a nationally televised night game against the Giants in July 1989, Zimmer engaged in a heated argument with a Cubs fan that was caught on cameras.
“Sit your butt in your seat,” Zimmer yelled. “If you don’t like the way I manage, get out of the park.”
In 1991, the Cubs spent lavishly on free agents Danny Jackson, George Bell and Dave Smith but started poorly again. Zimmer was fired May 21, after giving Cubs President Don Grenesko an ultimatum to renew his contract. Grenesko told Zimmer he would be evaluated at the end of the season, forcing his premature exit.
“What am I, a piece of garbage in Lake Michigan?” a bitter Zimmer said after his departure.
Jim Essian: 1991
“Probably the biggest advantage is that they responded to me in the past, and I think they’ll respond to me now. I just hope to be received by the players and that the impact will be immediate.”
Jim Essian preached “positive attitude” when he was called up from Triple-A Iowa to take over the Cubs.
“I’m under no great pressure at this point, feeling that I have to make great changes or use pseudo-psychology,” he said. “It’s my job to provide a spark.”
Essian’s first big move was to install shortstop Shawon Dunston as his leadoff man. Dunston rarely walked and had a .238 on-base percentage at the time. The Cubs won their first five games under Essian but eventually went 59-63 during his brief reign.
“It is with great sorrow I learned I was being replaced as manager of the Chicago Cubs,” Essian said in a statement upon his firing. “One strength of the team was their work habits and attitude. They possessed a great desire to win. However, there is an inevitable gap between desire and ability.”
Jim Lefebvre: 1992-93
“The tradition of the Cubs is long. Every baseball person I know of dreams of becoming part of the Cub organization. My dream comes true today.”
Jim Lefebvre was referred to as the “high-energy” hire of new GM Larry Himes after three years of managing the Seattle Mariners.
“He’s a little on the hyper side,” Himes said. “You have to calm him down a little, but that’s all right.”
After being hired, Lefebvre said his doctrine was “the philosophy of no philosophy.” Say what? “We don’t want to be predictable,” Lefebvre said. “We want to let opponents know we’re going to do anything at any time to win this particular game.”
The Cubs finished in fourth place in both of Lefebvre’s years, going 78-84 in 1992 and 84-78 in 1993, giving him perfect Cubs symmetry and a perfect .500 record.
Tom Trebelhorn: 1994
“Well, it’s a plan, anyway.”
Trebelhorn, a former Milwaukee Brewers manager and a coach under Jim Lefebvre, was hired on Oct. 14, 1993, edging out Cubs bullpen coach Tony Muser for the opening. A former high school social sciences teacher, Trebelhorn said upon his hiring that mental preparation was the key for his players and that he would stress “a very comprehensive, very repetitive — to some people a very remedial — type of approach” to baseball.
“We’re not going to reinvent it,” he said. “We’re just going to play it at a more consistent level.”
Trebelhorn insisted the Cubs “match up with anybody,” but they were winless in their first 12 home games in 1994, the worst home start in team history. After loss No. 9, Trebelhorn held his infamous “firehouse chat” with angry Cubs fans at Fire Co. 78 on Waveland Avenue.
“I felt like I was in the middle of the French Revolution,” he said.
The speech didn’t placate the fans or improve the Cubs, who were 49-64 and 16 1/2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds when the players strike ended the season in August. But that was the end for Trebelhorn.
Jim Riggleman: 1995-99
“I used to think managing was 75% strategy and 25% motivation and discipline. Now I know it’s closer to 50-50.”
New GM Ed Lynch worked with Jim Riggleman in the San Diego organization, where Riggleman managed the Padres to a 112-179 record from 1992-94, the worst record in baseball during that stretch. But the Padres had been dismantled, leaving Riggleman with a rebuilding effort.
Upon his arrival in Chicago, Riggleman immediately announced: “I’m not a disciplinarian. I’m just a manager.”
He then echoed the words of his predecessor, saying: “I’m not trying to reinvent the game. We’re hoping to play on a consistently hard level every day. It’s a long season. It can’t be all hugs and kisses for 162 games.”
After his team broke a National League record by starting 0-14 in 1997, Riggleman guided the Cubs to the 1998 playoffs, winning a wild-card tiebreaker at Wrigley against Dusty Baker’s San Francisco Giants before losing three straight to Atlanta in the division series. But the 1999 Cubs went down the tubes, losing 95 games and going 6-24 in August, the team’s worst August in the 20th Century. Riggleman argued that month that Cubs fans weren’t as loyal as advertised.
“We’re not loved that much,” he said. “There is electricity in our park every day, and the fans get very disgusted with us at times. It’s not all love there.”
Riggleman and most of his staff the day after the season.
Don Baylor: 1999-2002
“I’m always asking favors, so I’ll ask right away.”
Don Baylor asked everyone at his introductory news conference to say a prayer for Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, who died that day.
Baylor said he would use an aggressive offensive philosophy, with runners always in motion, and addressed the issue of the volatile Cubs clubhouse.
“A lot of times I don’t like to hear anything (after a loss),” he said. “And if I hear music, I can tell you I keep a bat in my room and I know what I can use it for now — and it’s not to hit baseballs.”
After a 96-loss season in his debut, Baylor’s Cubs turned it around in 2001, going 88-74, the biggest one-year improvement in the National League. But when the hitting went into the gutter in 2002, Baylor was criticized for his sacrifice bunts and double switches. He was fired July 5 with a 34-39 record.
Dusty Baker: 2002-2006
“Rarely am I stumped by a question, but when my daughter was little she asked me: ‘Daddy, why must you win all the time? I didn’t really have an answer other than: ‘I’m supposed to win.’”
Dusty Baker brought the Cubs within five outs of a World Series, closer than any manager had done in 71 years.
The 2004 season spelled the end for Baker in Chicago. The fighting between players and broadcasters Chip Caray and Steve Stone, as well as a late-season collapse that dropped the Cubs out of the National League wild-card race in the final week, combined to make Baker an unpopular figure and a target for sports-radio callers.
Baker’s exit was telegraphed in July 2006 when general manager Jim Hendry said he would evaluate the manager, coaches and players during the All-Star break. Over the final three months, there was endless speculation on talk radio and in the newspapers about who would replace Baker, creating a huge distraction.
Baker later implied the Cubs’ real problems eventually would surface after he was gone, comparing the Cubs to an airplane crash.
“The one thing you learn about in life, no matter what job you’re in, is you’re going to have your turn to be in that box, whether you’re a manager or a coach or a CEO or a president or a janitor,” he said. “You know everybody is going to get a chance in what I call the black blame box, because that’s what it is.”
President Andy MacPhail resigned the day Baker was informed his contract would not be renewed.
It took Baker 3,884 regular-season games over 25 seasons to become a World Series-winning manager. The wait ended in 2002 when the 73-year-old Baker won it with the Houston Astros.
Lou Piniella: 2006-2010
“Long-suffering Cubs fans, we’re going to win here. And that’s really the end of the story.”
That’s what Lou Piniella said from the podium in the Stadium Club at Wrigley Field on Oct. 17, 2006.
Whether Piniella really was unaware of the Billy Goat curse, as he suggested, is unknown. But he claimed to be. “There’s no curse,” he insisted. “Come on. It makes for good copy.” He also feigned ignorance of the length of the championship drought, facetiously asking: “Ninety-nine years? I didn’t know that.”
No one was worn down by the Cubs job more than Piniella, who was bothered by constant criticism of his managing and dropped hints in July 2010 he would not return after his contract ended in October.
“Somebody wants to talk to me, criticize me, I’ve got nothing against it,” he said. “But be fair about it at least. That’s all. When they take shots at me, my wife says, ‘Well, turn the other cheek.’ I said: ‘(Bull). Let me get a little feisty once in a while anyway.’ “
Piniella abruptly retired in late August 2010 during a 5-20 stretch, saying he needed to go home and take care of his 90-year-old mother.
His .519 winning percentage was the best for a Cubs manager since Charlie Grimm’s .547 mark over three stints in the 1930s, 1940s and 1960.
Mike Quade: 2010-11
“I’ve managed a few games over the years. Obviously not here (in the big leagues). We’ve got some young kind that need to get better and we’ve got a veteran group that we need to lean on.”
Mike Quade was coming out of the Gulf of Mexico after a long day of fishing and crabbing when he got the call he had been waiting on for the last 30 years.
The baseball lifer wasn’t even mentioned as a viable candidate when Lou Piniella first announced his retirement three months ago. He edged out fan favorite Ryne Sandberg when he was named to fill the Cubs’ managerial vacancy.
His immediate reaction was quintessential Quade, who grew up in Evanston.
“You take a deep breath,” he said. “And then you make a decision — who is getting these crabs and how quick can I get this suit picked up and get back (home) and get to Chicago.”
Quade, then the third base coach, guided the Cubs to a 24-13 record after replacing Piniella on Aug. 23, the second-best record in baseball during that stretch.
The Cubs’ 71-91 record and fifth-place finish sealed Quade’s fate and he was fired by new president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in November 2011.
The team issued a news release on the firing with a statement from Epstein, who praised Quade for his “excellent service” while adding the franchise would “benefit long term” from bringing in a manager who can come in “with a clean slate and offer new direction.”
Dale Sveum: 2012-13
“We’re not here to rebuild. We’re here to try to win the World Series this year.”
The Cubs lost 101 games in 2012 under manager Dale Sveum. In his two seasons, he went through back-to-back sell-offs of veterans and lost a total of 197 games.
Tom Ricketts said he had a couple of beers in Milwaukee with Sveum at the end of the interview process and called him a “great fit” for the Cubs: “When you talk baseball with him, he has a very deep understanding and looks at things very thoughtfully.”
Hours after returning from St. Louis following the final game of the 2013 season, he was asked to meet Theo Epstein at a neighborhood bar and grill that would afford them some privacy. Epstein and Sveum were the only patrons in the bar. So the only eyewitness to Sveum’s firing was the bartender, who declined to comment, citing the code of honor among Chicago bartenders.
Sveum later said he felt blindsided by the decision.
“You are caught off guard,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I saw it coming, just because of the state of the organization and the team and my contract and things like that. A month left in the season, and we were all told they were going to be evaluating us and everything. Sure, you know that’s part of the gig, too, but you still thought … ‘Ehhhh.’
“Then when it happens, you’re obviously a little bit wowed. Then you have to sit back and say, ‘OK, this is what we know can happen and it’s part of the gig.’ “
Rick Renteria: 2014
“I know everyone things I’m nuts, but I feel like any team has a chance to move forward if you really believe in the confidence in a team growing up, preparing on a daily basis, knowing what you really want to do and giving yourself a chance to fight and play.”
After Joe Girardi rebuffed the Cubs to remain New York Yankees manager and Red Sox coach Torey Lovullo stayed in Boston, Theo Epstein turned to Rick Renteria, the Padres bench coach, to replace the fired Dale Sveum in Year 3 of the rebuild.
The Cubs improved by seven games, after which Epstein said Renteria “absolutely” was returning in 2015. The Cubs went 73-89 under Renteria, meeting the organization’s primary goal in helping revive the careers of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro.
But when Joe Maddon became available in October, Renteria unexpectedly got the ax with two years left on his contract.
“While there was no clear playbook for how to handle this type of situation, we knew we had to be transparent with Rick before engaging with Joe,” Epstein said in a statement. “Jed (Hoyer) flew to San Diego last Friday and told Rick in person of our intention to talk to Joe about the managerial job. Subsequently, Jed and I provided updates to Rick via telephone and today informed him that we will indeed make a change. We offered Rick a choice of other positions with the Cubs, but he is of course free to leave the organization and pursue opportunities elsewhere.”
Renteria wound up as bench coach of the White Sox before becoming their manager in 2017 for three seasons.
Joe Maddon: 2015-19
During his introductory news conference at the Cubby Bear in 2014, Joe Maddon conceded you “have to have a little bit of crazy to be successful” in baseball.
“I want crazy in the clubhouse every day,” he said. “You need to be crazy to be great. I love crazy. I tell my players that all the time.”
No matter your opinion of the eccentric Cubs manager, the zeitgeist of the Maddon era will never be replicated.”Try Not to Suck.” Cousin Eddie. “If it looks sexy, wear it.” American Legion week. Hazleton. “Embrace the Target.” Dress Like Pedro Strop Day. The Onesies trip. The Minimalist Zany Suit trip. The Shaggin’ Wagon. “The Office.” The Dye Job. Aroldis. Cubstock.
Before the Cubs brought in the free-agent manager, his agent Alan Nero said “It’s obvious to everyone there might be a match with the Cubs, but someone has to tell the Cubs that. It’s clearly a possibility, but they do have a manager.
Epstein canned Renteria and brought in Maddon, who led the Cubs to four consecutive playoff appearances and the first World Series title in more than a century. Maddon got more laughs in one news conference than Rick Renteria did during the entire 2014 season, always an important metric.
“He was the perfect guy to win a World Series (with the Cubs),” said Ben Zobrist, who broke in the majors with Maddon with the Rays in 2006. “I felt it was going to happen.”
Maddon never had a losing season with the Cubs; they made the playoffs from 2015-18 — the four straight berths to set a franchise first — but in 2018 failed to advance to the NLCS for the first time under his watch.
Epstein had declared 2019 a season of “reckoning” that saw the team fade rapidly from postseason contention in the final two weeks. The Cubs blew a 3 1/2-game lead in the NL Central and failed to make the postseason for the first time since 2014.
Maddon and the Cubs agreed to part ways on Sept. 29, 2019. “You could feel things between people,” he said with Theo Epstein by his side. “It’s obvious. It’s the right thing to do.”
“I want to win a championship. I want to win multiple championships. I want to bring a championship back to Chicago, and we’ve done that before. I’ve done that in another city. And I know what that looks like. I’ve been on some losing teams. When you see the opposite, you’ve got to call it out as soon as possible.”
David Ross tried to distance himself from the fun-loving “Grandpa Rossy” image as he tries to put his own stamp on the Cubs while helping bring them another World Series title.
The manager job was the first for Ross, whose resume included 14-plus seasons as a major-league catcher, three as a special assistant to Theo Epstein and a lifetime of communication skills. The familiarity of Ross with a franchise trying to rekindle the spark of the young core that won the 2016 World Series was a factor in the Cubs selecting him to replace Maddon.
On Nov. 6, 2024, the Cubs surprised everyone by dismissing Ross — who was under contract through next season with a club option for 2025 — for Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell.
It was an abrupt ending to Ross’ tenure in Chicago that saw the Cubs go 262-284 (a .480 winning percentage) under his direction the last four years. They were poised to reach the postseason this year for the first time since 2020, Ross’ debut season as manager, before they collapsed during the final three weeks to squander their wild-card position.