Loretta eager to learn from Maddon as coach
CHICAGO -- Mark Loretta played baseball about a half-hour north of Wrigley Field when he suited up for Northwestern University. As he transitioned from collegiate star to professional ballplayer to big leaguer, Loretta held on to the hope of one day joining the Cubs.
"It never worked out," Loretta said. "A couple of trade rumors -- I got excited there for a minute."
Loretta's chance finally arrived this offseason, when Brandon Hyde left his post as bench coach to become the Orioles' new manager. Following nine years spent in the Padres' front office, Loretta got the call from the Cubs, who wanted him to replace Hyde as manager Joe Maddon's right-hand man in the dugout. It was one of the final pieces to an offseason filled with coaching turnover for Chicago.
The overhauling of Maddon's staff -- Tommy Hottovy (pitching coach), Anthony Iapoce (hitting coach), Terrmel Sledge (assistant hitting coach) and Chris Denorfia (quality assurance coach) were also hired this offseason -- was a part of Loretta's discussions with the Cubs before taking the job. This marked the second wave of coaching changes in as many offseasons.
"That certainly came up in the interview process," Loretta said. "I don't see this as being a one-and-done scenario. I think this staff, from what I've been around the last couple days, is extremely good."
The Cubs gave a two-year contract to the 47-year-old Loretta, who played for the Red Sox in 2006 when Theo Epstein (president of baseball operations) and Jed Hoyer (general manager) were part of Boston's front office. Hoyer was also with the Padres when Loretta was hired on as a special assistant to baseball operations. That familiarty, combined with the chance to return to Chicago and learn under Maddon, convinced Loretta to come on board.
As a result, though, Loretta has dropped into the Cubs' unsettled contract situation with Maddon, who is in the final season in a five-year deal with any talk of extension put on hold. That is a recipe for speculation about the 2020 season and beyond. Loretta may have a future in managing, but he does not want to be viewed as a manager-in-waiting, nor did that factor into his reasoning for taking the bench coach job.
It just so happens that the Cubs' previous two bench coaches -- Dave Martinez (Nationals manager) and Hyde -- went on to become skippers.
"I think you can read things into it, but as far as I'm concerned, that was not on my radar," Loretta said. "It was nothing, obviously, that we talked to Jed and Theo about. Again, I understand the speculation. You start adding things together and things like that, but again, Joe is a huge reason that I was interested in taking this job. I think he's one of the best managers in the game and, for sure, one of the best people."
Loretta was asked if he hopes to manage further down the road.
"You know, we'll see," he said. "I think part of this is testing how much I like coaching and want to be involved. But, I'm not going to ease into this. I'm all in, 100 percent. But, you know, we'll see. We'll see where it leads."
From 1995-2009, Loretta spent parts of 15 seasons in the big leagues between stops with five teams, making two All-Star teams in the process. He joined the Padres in 2010 and he got to see behind the curtain when it comes to front-office decision-making. Loretta was involved on the player development front and he can now take that experience into his new role.
"My goal is to kind of be the conduit between Joe, between the front office and the players," Loretta said. "What's great is over the last nine years, I've really learned a lot about everything that goes on in an organization, whether it be scouting, player development, community relations, all that kind of thing. So, I feel like when these guys come up to the big leagues, I know exactly what they've gone through."
And Loretta is eager to get started with a Cubs team that experienced a tough ending to last season.
"I think the silver lining of what happened last year is this team is really motivated, this group," he said. "I mean, from the front office all the way down to the players -- I've talked to just about every one of them either in person now or on the phone -- and they're stung by last year. There were some tears in the clubhouse after the [National League] Wild Card Game. ... I think these guys realize they can't just show up and be this dynasty, even though they're extremely talented.
"It's not about changing for me. It's about growing. These guys need to take the next step."