Chicago native Mallee realizes dream with Cubs
Hitting coach was instrumental in helping young Astros players improve
HOUSTON -- When John Mallee was a young hitting coach in Class A in 1996, he was driving past Wrigley Field in his native Chicago and told his father he would one day coach on that field while wearing a Cubs uniform. The dream has come true.
Mallee, who spent the previous two years as Houston's hitting coach and helped Jose Altuve win a batting title this year, accepted the position to be the Cubs' hitting coach Thursday, giving him the opportunity to live near his home. Mallee is a Chicago native and his family lives in nearby northern Indiana in the offseason.
"My dream was to stand there on that field, and I just called him now and told him," Mallee said of his father, John. "I said, 'We're going to live our dream.'"
Mallee could have returned to the Astros under new manager A.J. Hinch, but he couldn't pass up the chance to return close to where his wife and two sons, age 15 and 9, live year-round.
"To have them know that on an off-day I could have a normal family life and not be away is huge," he said. "I've been away from home the entire time I've been playing or coaching and had a part-time family for 20 years, and to be able to coach a team like the Cubs and see my wife and kids, I couldn't have asked for anything more."
This year, Mallee boosted the Astros offensively across the board, helping Altuve win the first batting title in club history. Under Mallee's guidance, Chris Carter blossomed into one of the most dangerous power threats in baseball in the second half.
"I'm very proud of the two years we worked and the time we put in with the players," Mallee said. "When I came in, we put in a new offensive program throughout the Minor Leagues and big leagues and got to know these players by watching them grow -- Altuve, Carter and George [Springer].
"Leaving the Houston Astros is the toughest decision I've ever had to make. Amazing owner, general manager, front office and beyond-talented players. I wish my Houston family the best of luck and their future successes and hope they can understand and respect that I had to make the best decision for my family."
Mallee actually spent three days as the Cubs' hitting coordinator before being hired by the Astros prior to the 2013 season. With the Astros, he worked with assistant hitting coach Ralph Dickenson and Minor League hitting coordinator Jeff Albert to revamp the club's hitting philosophy.
Mallee said he was buoyed by the information he'd receive regularly from the Astros analytics department, praising director of decision sciences Sig Mejdal, baseball development analyst Mike Fast and analytics developer Ryan Hallahan.
"They helped me develop my players and they're a big part of the success we had on the field," Mallee said.
Hinch, who was hired last week to replace Bo Porter, is in the process of interviewing candidates to become his bench coach, and he's said he'd like a former Major League manager. Pitching coach Brent Strom is returning for '15, and it's unclear if third-base coach Pat Listach or first-base coach Tarrik Brock will return.
When Mallee told Altuve during Spring Training he needed to improve his strike-zone discipline, the second baseman was skeptical at first.
"I had three years in the big leagues and had a little success, and why change at this point?" Altuve said last month. "But I changed it, and it's a big difference. I give [Mallee] credit. I hope to keep working with him for a long time."
Besides the hiring of Mallee, the Cubs announced Eric Hinske will switch to assistant hitting coach, and they have hired Doug Dascenzo as first-base and outfield coach. Hinske, a former Cubs Draft pick and 12-year Major Leaguer, joined the Cubs' staff last year as the first-base and outfield coach.
Dascenzo, 50, returns to the organization that drafted him in 1985 and for whom he played five seasons (1988-92). He served as the Braves' third-base coach last year, his first season as a big league coach.
The addition of Mallee should be smooth as far as teaching the "Cubs Way" in hitting. He is close friends with Minor League hitting coordinator Anthony Iapoce, and the two were together in the Marlins organization.