New Chicago Cubs staff leads Maddon's quest for new dynamic

With Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, so much is about the vibe, the dynamic.

There's a new vibe and a new dynamic at spring training this year.

Maddon shook up his coaching staff last fall, firing hitting coach John Mallee, pitching coach Chris Bosio and third-base coach Gary Jones.

Dave Martinez, Maddon's longtime bench coach, left to take the managerial job with the Washington Nationals, and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske left to be the head hitting coach for the Los Angeles Angels.

In came new hitting coach Chili Davis, pitching coach Jim Hickey, third-base coach Brian Butterfield and first-base coach Will Venable, with Brandon Hyde moving from first base to the dugout next to Maddon. The Cubs also promoted Andy Haines from minor-league hitting coordinator to assistant hitting coach.

As a result, the dynamic and the vibe changed — loudly and clearly.

Early in spring training, Hickey's deep voice boomed instruction and encouragement to the pitchers. On the practice field, Butterfield was both vocal and demonstrative in coaching baserunners.

“These are kind of dynamic guys,” Maddon said. “Butter, I've always thought, is one of the best coaches in all of baseball. I've had the pleasure of working with Hick, and Hick is one of the best pitching coaches. And of course Chili, he and I go back to our days with the Angels when I used to rub up baseballs in the backroom, and he'd smoke cigars, and we'd talk about hitting. Even at that point, I asked Chili, ‘When are you going to become a hitting coach at some point?'

“The three of those together are really going to make a huge difference. The other guys were fabulous, but it's almost like a different method of teaching that might impact us this year.”

Maddon has long considered himself a teacher. Coming up as an instructor and manager in the then-California Angels system, he had no shortage of mentors.

Maddon has told this story at least a dozen times since becoming manager of the Cubs:

“I often talk about Gene Mauch as a young coach coming up, watching him, and how he used to explain things,” Maddon began, talking about the former Angels manager and longtime baseball man. “He just was loaded with common sense.

“He would reduce things to the point where it's so obvious, but you didn't think about it then. Then he would present it to you and it would become even more obvious.

“Mauch probably was the first one to make an impression on me in the Angels organization in the early '80s.”

Then came a seminal moment for Maddon.

“It was '84, '85, Gene walks down to me at Gene Autry Park in Mesa, and I'm throwing and throwing (batting practice), and he walks up and says to me, ‘You've created a great atmosphere around here,' and he walked away,” Maddon recalled. “I thought to myself, ‘What is he talking about?' I had no idea what he was talking about.

“So I had to sit down and research my own mind: ‘What's he talking about here?' What I finally figured out, he was talking about building relationships and creating trust among the group.”

There were others along the way who helped shape Maddon.

“The other guy who is not a manager was Bob Clear,” he said of another Angels mentor. “Nobody knows Bob, Bob's no longer with us. But Bobbaloo taught me pretty much how to teach in the game of baseball. He was with the Angels for 100 years and then started out with the Pirates and knew (Roberto) Clemente and all the dudes back in the day. And Bobbaloo was the best.

“Beyond that, you have an amalgam of everybody you've met. I really believe that.”

Maddon generally allows his coaches a lot of latitude when it comes to daily work. In spring training, Hyde set the agenda for the day, and the rest of the coaches did their thing on the practice fields.

There may be some echoes of Maddon's past on those fields. One case in point is Butterfield.

“Butter would make a difference anywhere he goes; let me put it that way,” Maddon said. “I know that guys are really pleased with the message already. Guys have come up to me and have been very complimentary to me about Butter.

“He's a very good teacher, and he teaches in sequential order. It's really important. And that's what some guys don't get.

“Some guys jump all over the map as they're teaching. He goes in order — A then B then C then D — so that guys can really understand what he's talking about.

“Believe me, it's not always that way. I was taught that in 1985 or '84 right here by Doug Larish, a professor down at Arizona State. He came out to talk to the Angels in spring training, and he pointed that out, and it really hammered it home.

“I thought I was a decent teacher, but he really made the point that it was important to do it that way if you want your players to retain. That's what I see with Butter.”

As far as the rest of the staff, Maddon draws on another influence: General Colin Powell, the former U.S. secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell used the term (as had others before him) “force multipliers,” meaning people who increase the effectiveness of the group.

Maddon sees that in his coaches.

“These guys are force multipliers,” he said. “They add to our experience on a daily basis, and as a group, it's really, really a dynamic group.”

• Twitter: @BruceMiles2112

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