Well, the other shoe has finally dropped. Nearly two weeks after ESPN’s Jesse Rogers first reported that Jim Hickey would be fired as Cubs pitching coach, the team announce that Hickey had stepped down for personal reasons.
“Jim Hickey notified us yesterday of his decision to step down as pitching coach and leave the organization for personal reasons,” Theo Epstein said in a statement. “We thank Jim for his season with the Cubs and his positive impact on our pitchers. Jim has our full support and we all wish him well.”
Make of this what you will, but the whole stepping down thing seems a little dubious in light of the initial report. As in, it feels as though the Cubs had to wait for a green light on another front before proceeding with the move and were doing Hickey a favor by letting this be his “decision.” This offseason has seen an abnormally high amount of turnover in front offices and baseball staffs and the Cubs were rumored to have interest in the Giants’ Curt Young.
Then again, it’s entirely possible that non-baseball issues were behind Rogers’ information and it’s just taken this long for Hickey to reach a decision about his future. Yeah, maybe that’s it and Hickey was just taking time to wrestle with some things.
What we know for certain is that the Cubs will now be employing their third pitching coach in as many years, same as the hitting coach. Maybe Epstein just likes to tinker with his staffs the same way Joe Maddon plays with lineups.
In the time since the move was announced, Rogers has been adamant on Twitter that Hickey’s departure is indeed due to the stated personal reasons. While Rogers had initially reported that Hickey was being fired at least in part because the front office was unhappy with Hickey’s performance, he walked that back quickly Tuesday evening.
“As of last night, I’m pretty sure Jim Hickey is not back,” Rogers told ESPN 1000’s David Kaplan on November 7. “And so this is an amazing turn of events. They will be firing the pitching and hitting coach in back-to-back years. Just crazy. So I don’t believe Jim Hickey is back, I’m pretty much reporting that at this moment.”
Rogers added a bit of context when he joined Waddle and Silvy on the same station later that same day.
“The best way to put it is I don’t think he’s going to be the pitching coach next year,” Rogers said. “Now, they owe him a lot of money, so he could be folded into a different role on the team. He could be outright fired. I don’t know the timeline right now, If that makes sense. I don’t know where they are in the process.
“Obviously there’s a delay for some reason and there’s no doubt they’re trying to figure out a way to move him on. There’s no doubt in my mind that they plan to. I’ve been told as recently as last night and very definitively that he won’t be the pitching coach next year. At the very least, they’re very unhappy with him and the performance.
It was probably worse off than Chili Davis, now that I’m talking to enough people here. I feel like Chili did his job, it just didn’t work, where I’m not sure Jim Hickey lived up to expectations. I mean, he was Joe’s guy. So that’s where we’re at. I think they’re trying to work some things out with whoever to replace him or see if he accepts a role within the organization”
And then there was this:
“You can publicly say, ‘The fit wasn’t right. Jim Hickey was a great guy but the fit wasn’t right.’ It’s pretty much the same thing with Chili Davis. Difference is, I actually believe that with Chili Davis. I’m not sure Jim Hickey lived up to expectations this year.
“But let’s see what they say publicly in the coming days. It’s a very unusual situation to go this long without filling out your coaching staff.”
For those speculating, this has nothing to do with Maddon or anything else. It is what the release states: personal reasons.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) November 20, 2018
Not sure what I said that day but thought I indicated clearly it wasn’t performance related. Or perhaps I said it later when I learned more. Anyway, it is a personal issue
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) November 21, 2018
So this could be one of those deals where Rogers got on the air and wanted to break a little news and perhaps got out over his skis with how he worded his report. Or perhaps he got different information in the meantime, maybe was told that things that had him changing his tune. Maybe it’s a mix of all the above.
Putting together everything Rogers said above, it seems plausible to believe maybe the Cubs asked Hickey to transition and gave him time to think about it. If he wasn’t happy moving to a new role, that would be his decision. And who can blame him for feeling good about the job he’d done and being unwilling to take a different role on a staff that’s been in serious flux and could be in total upheaval next season?
“Personal reasons” is a pretty amorphous term, so it’s hard to say what is at the heart of Hickey’s decision. It’s likely a number of things, but whatever the case, we’ll hope he is able to come out stronger on the other side.