No. 11 has even more significance for Cubs hitting coach after World Series win. The amazing tale takes a happy and remarkable twist
By Ken Rosenthal
After the Cubs won the NLCS and advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1945, I wrote this story about Chicago hitting coach John Mallee and the meaning of No. 11 for him. Now that the Cubs have ended their 108-year championship drought after that amazing Game 7 on Wednesday night, I want to provide an update.
Mallee brought the framed military patches that belonged to his late father, John Sr., with him to Cleveland for Games 6 and 7, telling him: “I’m packing you up. You ain’t done yet.”
Mallee placed the frame in his locker at Progressive Field. And as the Series reached its conclusion, Mallee noted several coincidences involving the No. 11 — freaky stuff, but kind of cool, too.
First of all, the Cubs extended the Series to November, the 11th month. Game 7 was on 11/2 — the jersey numbers that Mallee and Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella exchanged before the start of the season. And the numbers in 11/2/16 add up to — you guessed it — 11!
Now all of this might sound silly, and none of it would carry the same meaning if the Cubs had lost. But anyone who has ever lost a loved one can relate to the way the John and his sister Kathy are keeping the memory of their father alive.
By CARA COOPER Bulletin Sports Writer – November 1, 2016
Chicago Cub Kris Bryant hits a homerun during Sunday’s Game 5 of the World Series. Much of the Cubs success at the plate is thanks to hitting coach John Mallee, who’s journey to Chicago includes a stop in Martinsville.
It could be considered fate that Cubs hitting coach John Mallee would end up back in Chicago. Mallee was born in the Windy City in 1969, and played college baseball at the University of Illinois-Chicago. While Mallee’s career has gone full circle with him now back in his hometown, the journey there took him across the country, even with a stop in Martinsville.
Mallee was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 12th round of the 1991 draft, and played 39 games for the Martinsville Phillies at Hooker Field when they were a rookie league affiliate of the Phillies in the Appalachian League. The middle infielder collected 32 hits in 157 plate appearances as a Phillie, scoring 15 runs and collecting 14 RBIs and 19 walks.
Even though Mallee’s career as a player lasted just two seasons, he’s become a hot commodity among baseball coaches. He was a minor league hitting coach in the Brewers, Expos, Marlins and Astros organizations before coming to the Cubs as the team’s major league hitting coach in 2014. He has helped build Chicago’s lineup into one of the most feared and potent in Major League Baseball, and could be on his way to his first World Series victory.
CHICAGO – Every Cub was soaked, drenched in champagne. But not hitting coach John Mallee.
No, Mallee’s uniform was completely dry as he stood in the outfield chatting with family about an hour after the Cubs advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1945 on Saturday night.
Mallee had not participated in the wild clubhouse celebration inside the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field. He had remained at his locker in the coach’s room, holding an imaginary conversation with his late father, John Sr.
“I went and sat with him for a little while, sat with him and had a little chat,” Mallee said. “It was kind of cool. I was looking up at him, talking to him a little bit.
“I thanked him. And I told him, ‘We’re not done yet. Don’t be over there partying in heaven’s night club. We’ve still got work to do.’”
John Sr., a retired Chicago police officer, was a Cubs fan who died on Feb. 13 at the age of 82. The last time he saw his son, shortly before spring training, he said, “You and the Cubs are going to win the city a World Series this year.”
Four days later he was gone, according to a story first reported by the Chicago Tribune. But in death, John Sr. has grown almost larger than life to his remaining children, John Jr., 47, and his older sister, Kathy, 51.
Growing up in Hegewisch, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, John Jr. and Kathy had only a vague understanding that their father was in the military – their mother, Charmaine, had told them that he was in the army and jumped out of airplanes, but that was it.
John Jr. and Kathy did not know he was a veteran of the Korean War. Nor did they know he was part of the Army’s 11th Airborne Division, which formed during World War II and consisted of one parachute and two glider infantry regiments.
Only after the death of John Sr. did John Jr. and Kathy discover why their father was fixated on the No. 11, why he insisted that John Jr. wear the number on his baseball uniform from the time he was a small boy.
“We never knew,” Kathy said. “My dad would change my brother’s uniform, make people give him that number, even pulled him off a team one time so he could have it. He was his coach in Little League because he wanted to make sure he had that number. It has been on his back since he was 3 years old.”
Charmaine had told Kathy and John Jr. that their father would not go on planes due to his military experience; John Sr. actually bought a van so he could drive Jr. all over the country to help the youngster pursue his passion for baseball.
Only while planning for their father’s wake and funeral did Kathy and John Jr. learn that John Sr. had fought in Korea. Kathy, unbeknownst to other family members, made arrangements for military representatives to present their mother with the flag at the funeral and play taps as a final tribute.
Shortly after that, while going through her father’s boxes, Kathy discovered patches and military paperwork indicating that he was part of the Army’s 11th Airborne Division.
It was then that the meaning of No. 11 became clear.
“I was sitting on my bedroom floor in tears. I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s why,’” Kathy said.
Kathy took photographs of what she had found and forwarded them to her brother, who by then had returned to spring training. John met someone in Arizona who shared information with him about the 11th Airborne Division, and proudly related to Kathy that their father was “a bad ass.”
A few months later, as Father’s Day approached, Kathy had another idea.
Her mother had given her the flag – the family had suffered another loss, the death of the middle child, Kelly, 46, to cervical cancer less than nine months before the death of John Sr. Charmaine, in anguish over losing her daughter and husband so close to one another, did not want anything in the house, Kathy said.
Kathy bought a frame for the flag and had a plaque made for it. The plaque included her father’s name, the dates of his birth and death, the words “11th Airborne Division” and an army logo.
On Father’s Day, before a home game against the Pirates, Kathy hand-delivered the framed flag to John, along with a separate, smaller frame that included three of their father’s military patches.
Courtesy of Kathy Mallee
“I had it. But it just didn’t feel right,” Kathy said of the flag. “To me, that should be passed on to a son, knowing how important it was for my brother, how close they were. He was meant to have that. And I wanted my dad to be with him.”
John hung the flag over his locker at Wrigley and displayed the patches inside. He taps both frames before every home game, quietly telling his father, “Help me get through today, Pops.”
But that isn’t the only time John asks Pops for assistance.
Courtesy of Kathy Mallee
During the eighth inning of Game 5 against the Dodgers, with the Cubs leading, 3-1, John recalled telling his father, “If I ever needed you, I need you now – I’ve got to have it.”
The Cubs scored five runs that inning on their way to an 8-4 victory, then returned to Wrigley and clinched the NL title on Saturday night.
The No. 11, meanwhile, keeps popping up in the Mallee’s lives.
Charmaine recently talked with John about how a team needs 11 victories in the postseason to win the World Series. The Cubs lost Game 3 of the Division Series to the Giants on Oct. 10, but completed their four-game triumph on Oct. 11.
John had worn No. 11 in his previous job as the Astros’ hitting coach, worn it as a minor-league player and instructor. But infielder Tommy La Stella had that number with the Cubs in 2015, while Mallee, in his first year with the team, wore No. 2.
Shortly before Christmas, La Stella called Mallee and said he wanted to give him his old No. 11 back. La Stella took No. 2. Neither knew the true significance of No. 11 to the Mallee family. John Sr. was still alive at that time.
“I wanted to do something nice for a guy who I really cared about,” La Stella said. “He’s an incredible friend and even better coach. That’s what it was about for me.”
And so No. 11 endures, not only on John’s back in the World Series, but also on the back of his younger son, Austin, 12, who plays baseball and basketball.
John Sr.’s headstone says: “Rest in God’s Dugout.”
Right now, the view from that dugout is pretty good.
This story appeared in the Oct. 10, 2010 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
The Chicago Cubs know how to party. They won 57 times this year at Wrigley Field, the most in the 101 seasons the franchise has played in the heirloom of a ballpark at the corner of Addison and Clark. After each of those victories, just before entering their newly renovated 30,000-square-foot clubhouse proper, which includes a sensory-deprivation tank and a yoga studio, they repaired to a dedicated celebration room. Amid strobe lights, a smoke machine and pulsating dance music, the Cubs would spend 10 minutes reveling in victory.
After a seasonlong party, Chicago enters the playoffs as the strongest favorite since the legendary 1998 Yankees. Three of the nine other playoff entrants may have a chance to knock off the Cubs, but based on regular-season results, one team in particular has almost no shot of beating them: the Cubs themselves.
It’s not just that Chicago’s pitchers allowed the fewest runs in the majors and that its hitters scored more runs than every team except Boston and Colorado. The Cubs also boast the stingiest defensive unit in a quarter of a century. Under a think tank of no fewer than nine coaches, including a “Run Prevention Coordinator,” and implemented by some of the most athletic defenders in baseball, the Cubs essentially have opened a traveling exhibit of the Art Institute of Chicago. Their defense is that exquisite. Call it a Cub-ist aesthetic.
“I don’t know the last time we beat ourselves,” president Theo Epstein says. “Maybe once every two weeks you can count on giving an opponent four outs in an inning, which forces your pitcher to throw extra pitches and then you have to go to your bullpen a little earlier than you want. This year it seems like that happened three or four times the whole year.”
The Cubs have three Cy Young Award candidates (righthanded starters Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks and lefty Jon Lester) and two Most Valuable Player Award front-runners (third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo), but defense is the secret sauce to their pursuit of the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908. The only task at Wrigley Field this month more difficult than finding tickets may be for a visiting player to find hits.
Start with this: The Cubs allowed the fewest balls in play (3,740) in any full season since the live ball era began in 1920. Batters hit only .257 when they did put balls in play, the lowest such average against a club in a full season since the ’76 Yankees. Chicago’s defenders turned 72.8% of those balls in play into outs, the best defensive efficiency rate since the ’91 White Sox.
How the Cubs were built: Turning baseball’s longest-running losers into winners
Defense is even more important in the postseason, when games are usually lower scoring. Starting in 2012, when the playoffs expanded to include two wild-card berths in each league, runs declined from 8.40 per game in the regular season to 7.55 in the postseason, a 10.1% drop.
Postseasons have been fickle for favorites since 1995, when the wild card was introduced. Only four of 26 teams (including ties) with the best record entering the playoffs in that time have won the World Series: the 1998 and 2009 Yankees and the 2007 and ’13 Red Sox. But Chicago is not your ordinary “best record” team. The Cubs are only the eighth team in the past 40 years to win at least eight more games than the next best club. Four of the previous eight teams so far ahead of the field won the World Series.
Chicago enters the postseason healthy and with no obvious flaws. The question, 108 years since their last championship, no longer is whether the Cubs can win the World Series. The question is, how can they not win it? Bad bounces, hot pitchers, fluke plays—each can cause a favorite to fall in October. The Cubs, though, have thrown plenty of brainpower and talent at making sure they won’t lose because of their defense.
Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS/Getty Images
The Cubs’ defensive paradigm began with a hitting coach. In October 2014, Epstein hired Astros hitting coach John Mallee, who grew up a Cubs fan as the son of a Chicago police officer.Mallee mentioned how in Houston he benefited from having somebody who could coordinate all things hitting, including scouting reports and video. Epstein liked the idea. He quickly decided to dedicate two “coordinators,” one to oversee the offensive side of the game and one for the defensive side. For the former, Epstein named video coordinator Nate Halm, then 29 and a former college catcher at Seton Hall and Miami (Fla.), to the position of Coordinator, Advance Scouting. Unoficially, Halm became the Run Production Coordinator.
For the second coordinator position—unofficially, the Run Prevention Coordinator—Epstein hired Tommy Hottovy, then 33, in December 2014. Hottovy pitched in 17 major league games in 10 professional seasons before blowing out his shoulder in Cubs spring training camp in ’14. While rehabbing his shoulder that summer, Hottovy, who graduated from Wichita State in ’04 with a degree in business administration and a minor in economics, took a Sabermetrics 101 online course from Boston University.
Hottovy is the bridge between the back-office analytical wonks and the on-field staff. He analyzes the vast amounts of numerical and video data as well as charting his own observations.
The Cubs’ game plans for pitching and defense begin with pitching coach Chris Bosio. He, Hottovy and catching instructor Mike Borzello coordinate the strategy—how to attack hitters and where to best position the seven players behind the pitcher. Bullpen coach Lester Strode conveys the plan to the relievers.
First base coach Brandon Hyde and bench coach Dave Martinez make in-game positioning adjustments. And third base coach Gary Jones is the infield instructor who has taken the rough edges off Bryant’s game at the hot corner. Though 6’ 5″, Bryant is best at playing lower, which has improved his reaction to slow rollers and grass-skimmers, and he has rid himself of a habit of patting the ball in his glove once or twice before throwing.
“This is a nice example of what happens when you marry pitching and defense,” Epstein says. “It’s a beautiful thing when it works together. It’s hard to quantify some of it, like the confidence it breeds in a pitcher. When you’re confident that balls in play are going to be outs, it’s easier to game-plan.”MLB
Manager Joe Maddon likes to say that the team’s motto for positioning fielders is, “We catch line drives.” The system is designed to defend the likely areas of hard-hit balls. In an age when shifts are all the rage—and Maddon was one of the earliest adopters of the strategy as Angels bench coach in the late 1990s—the Cubs are among the teams that shift the least. Epstein, however, scoffed at the notion that Chicago does not shift much.
“We’re last in the league in shifts because of the way they define it,” Epstein says. The standard definition is when the “off” middle infielder—the shortstop when a lefthanded batter is at the plate; the second baseman when a righthanded batter is up—is positioned on the other side of second base. “Believe me, we position for every pitch,” Epstein says. “We just don’t meet the criteria of ‘shift.’ We do it through scouting reports and numbers and based on our own observations.”
The Cubs, however, do differ from most clubs in positioning their fielders. Most teams begin with spray charts—monitoring where a hitter most often hits the ball. While Chicago uses spray charts, it prefers to put more confidence in its pitchers and the kind of contact they elicit. The question the Cubs like to ask: Where is the optimum position for each fielder for this pitcher to secure an out?
After such planning, skill takes over, and the Cubs are loaded with it. Last winter Epstein raised eyebrows in the industry by giving $184 million over eight years to free agent Jason Heyward, the richest investment ever for an outfielder who had never driven in or scored 100 runs. They paid that steep price in part because of his superior defense in rightfield. Heyward has been a bust at the plate, hitting .230 with just seven home runs, but his defense has been spectacular.
“His attention to detail is impressive,” Epstein says. “He’s extremely prepared and knows exactly what we’re trying to do. He knows the game situation, he reads swings, he anticipates where the ball will be hit.
“He’s so smart, it’s almost like he’s going through a computer in his head. And he throws with pinpoint accuracy.”
When Heyward is joined by superutility player Javier Baez, the Cubs have two of the best defenders in baseball on the field. Baez is a natural shortstop who has played all four infield positions—mostly third base and second base—as well as leftfield. Maddon calls Baez “the best tagger I’ve ever seen.”
Epstein goes even further, saying Baez’s skills at tagging runners “are as good as any player at any aspect in the game. Javy Baez is to tagging what Giancarlo Stanton is to raw power. He’s worth a couple of wins a year.”
Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS/Getty Images
Epstein explains that in the era of instant replay, the biggest variable in the outcome of a stolen base attempt at second base—with all other variables being equal (an average runner, a pitcher with average time to the plate, an average throw from the catcher)—is the tagging prowess of the middle infielder. Baez’s ability “to know where the runner’s hand and foot are in space without looking, then almost instantaneously catch the ball, control it and tag is amazing,” says Epstein.
Rizzo is an elite first baseman. Shortstop Addison Russell, though he lacks outstanding arm strength, is light and quick on his feet. And centerfielder Dexter Fowler is having his best defensive season since his rookie year of 2008, according to Fangraphs’ defensive runs saved.
So good are the Cubs at pitching and defense that in their 103 wins, they allowed a total of 15 unearned runs. Veteran pitchers Arrieta (.242), Hendricks (.252), Lester (.258) and John Lackey (.259) all have allowed the lowest batting averages on balls in play in their careers, and they will all enter the postseason rested and healthy. So what’s an opponent to do?
Chicago Cubs: What has Elevated Addison Russell?
by Erik Mauro
What has elevated the Chicago Cubs’ Addison Russell to the clutch hitter he’s become in 2016?
Earlier this season, we here at Cubbies Crib published a piece on what has elevated Kris Bryant to the next level in 2016. Bryant has taken the step towards MVP level, and it looks like he’s got the award all but wrapped up right now. But Addison Russell has taken a step forward as well, and we look at what’s behind that.