Cubs

Examining Cubs new coaching additions and how Chili Davis got his unique name

Examining Cubs new coaching additions and how Chili Davis got his unique name

Charles Theodore Davis is not a household name in Wrigleyville.

But "Chili" Davis, on the other hand, is a name that resonates with baseball fans everywhere.

The former slugger is now tasked with coaching up the most important assets the Cubs have — a stable of young hitters.

Davis was hired Thursday afternoon as the Cubs' new hitting coach, taking over for hometown hero John Mallee, who helped guide the team to its first World Series championship in 108 years last fall.

Davis has instant clout that comes with racking up nearly 10,000 plate appearances (9,997 - 87th all time) over the course of a 19-year MLB career, playing for the San Francisco Giants, California Angels, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees.

The Jamaican native also carries one of the most unique names in baseball history. Davis' dad gave him that moniker at age 12:


“My dad gave me a haircut...and it wasn’t a very good one. When I went out of the house, my friends got on my case and said it looked like someone put a chili bowl over my head and cut around it.” One friend in particular coined it, Shawn Shephard – a cousin of Shane Mack, Chili’s future teammate with the Minnesota Twins. Although the “Bowl” part dropped away over time, “Chili” stuck for good. Davis himself wound up becoming a barber on the side. In 1985 he said, “I like playing with hair...it’s a hobby, I guess.”

Davis' hobby now blends with the Cubs' main focus, ensuring their young hitters take that next step forward.

Joe Maddon and Davis crossed paths for three years in California: 1994-96, when Davis was smashing 74 homers while Maddon was working on the Angels coaching staff.

Davis played until age 39 in 1999 and began his coaching career in 2010 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He spent three seasons (2012-14) as the hitting coach of the Oakland A's before taking the same position with the Boston Red Sox for the 2015-17 seasons.

During his three years in Boston, the Red Sox scored the most runs in baseball, saw the most pitches and had the highest on-base percentage. 

They finished 10th in baseball in runs and 22nd in OPS in 2017, but in 2016 — before David Ortiz retired — they scored 33 more runs than any other team in the league.

Of course, that helps when you have Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts leading a young core at Fenway to blend with Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez and 2017 newcomers Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers.

Davis' experience in Boston working with all those young hitters will help in Chicago as he tries to develop an offense that just turned in the lowest batting average in postseason history this fall.

"Here's another guy that is really good with regards to helping our hitters get to the next level possibly situationally," Maddon said on a conference call Thursday.

Situational hitting is the main area of improvement needed for a Cubs offense that scored the second-most runs in the National League in 2017 and led baseball with 5.7 runs per game in the second half while awakening from a World Series hangover.

Maddon talked about the offense ad nauseam throughout the year and Theo Epstein addressed the desire for their team to have consistent, tough, team at-bats in his 2017 postmortem last week.

"Grinding at-bats where we perform well with situational hitting, where we perform well with runners in scoring position," Epstein said. "Where we have a dependable, consistent, two-strike approach. Where we're no fun to pitch against. And really, really good pitchers — elite pitchers — feel the same way.

"We did a lot of things really well offensively this year, but at times and in the postseason when we came up against elite pitching, it became tough. And that's usually what happens against elite pitching.

"But to be a consistent championship organization and to win multiple World Series, you have to get to a point where your at-bats are so mature and so consistent that you even give the good pitchers fits. If we're honest about it, we didn't get to that point this year."

The Cubs and Maddon clearly think Davis will help the offense progress more than Mallee was going to, in part because it's a different person delivering the message.

Brian Butterfield joined Davis in the pilgrimage from Boston to Chicago, where he will serve as the new third-base coach, pushing out Gary Jones.

Butterfield has spent 22 seasons as a big-league coach, including 17 as a third-base coach. He has worked with the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays.

"I've known Butter for a long time and part of his background is that he's an excellent third-base coach," Maddon said. "But beyond that, he's a really outstanding baserunning coach, too, and we wanted to add that skillset to our group."

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

“Who will be the Cubs’ 2018 team MVP?”

Jason Heyward: “Me!”

No hesitation, no pause. Just an honest answer from a confident 28-year old with a $184 million contract.

Nobody wants to succeed more at the plate than the Cubs’ two-time Gold Glove award winner, but the offense has been downright ugly (.243, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 268 games).

Despite not performing up to a megadeal, Heyward has no problem talking about his contract:

“It is what it is, I earned it," Heyward said. "I earned that part of it. For me, it’s awesome. To be where I want to be, that’s the most important thing.”

After spending time talking at Cubs Convention speaking with Heyward, his manager and six of his other teammates, it’s no surprise that it was Heyward who delivered the now-famous Game 7 “Rain Delay Speech.”

His teammates adore him.

Question to Ben Zobrist: “Who’s your favorite teammate of all-time at any level?”

After a 10-second pause: “Jason Heyward.”

That definitely says something coming from a 36-year-old, three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.

For the true blue Cubs fans that can’t stand Heyward and his untradeable contract, sorry, his teammates and manager have nothing but good things to say. 

By all accounts, Heyward is a quality human being despite his shortcomings in the batter’s box the last two seasons.

And his goals for an offensive renaissance in 2018 are simple and basic:

“Just being in the lineup every game.”

His teammates will be behind him 100 percent, even if the fans are not.

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

Addison Russell doesn't have time to think about whether or not Javy Baez is coming for the starting shortstop gig.

Russell is too busy making sure he's able to perform at his physical peak for as much of 2018 as possible after a rough few years in that regard.

The soon-to-be-24-year-old only played in 110 games last year as he missed more than a month with a foot injury. He also has a history of hamstring injuries (including the one that kept him out of the 2015 NLCS) and a sore throwing arm that has cropped up at times throughout the last few years (though whether the arm is an issue or not depends on who you ask).

Russell admits his arm has been an issue and he has a new plan of attack this winter that will carry into the spring.

"I've been doing a throwing program," Russell said. "I feel like in the past, with my arm, I started throwing a little bit too early in spring training.

"This year, in the offseason, just kinda ease into it a little bit. In the offseason last year, I feel like I threw a little bit too much. Once midseason hit, it was all the downward effect of me throwing too early in the offseason.

"Having that in mind, taking things easier in the offseason and then going into spring training and then once the season's here, maybe around a quarter of the way through the season, start revving it up and that way, I'll be able to last with both my foot and my arm."

Russell had a bad case of plantar fasciitis last summer that also affected his ability to throw the ball to first base.

He joked he feels like an old man because he is happy he can now wake up without any pain in the foot, but still makes sure he rolls his foot on a golf ball to keep things loose.

With regards to his offseason workouts, Russell is prioritizing quality over quantity and he's taken full advantage of the longer offseason that featured far less distractions than a year ago when the Cubs were coming off the first World Series championship in 108 years.

"I'm getting a little bit older and I think a little wiser when it comes to training and knowing my body," Russell said. "With that being said, it's just kinda being in tune to my body more than pounding out weights.

"Definitely running and cardio is something that has been beneficial to my career in the past. I'm keeping up with that."

Between the foot and arm modifications to his training regimen, Russell is hoping to cut down on some of his throwing errors that plagued him in 2017 and try to get back to the hitter he was when he clubbed 24 homers and drove in 108 runs in 168 games between the 2016 regular season and postseason.

"Definitely I want to be in the All-Star Game this next year," Russell said. "I feel like with the type of skillset that I have and the type of guys around me, I think that could be a goal that I could hit.

"Smaller goals as far as staying consistent with my workouts. Remaining flexible is a huge goal that I wanna hit this year. I see a lot of veteran guys after ballgames stretching and they've been playing for quite a while, so it definitely works out for them.

"Just taking something from veteran guys and kinda incorporating it into my game and picking their ear and listening to how they prepare and how to keep your body in shape is beneficial, for sure."

To make the All-Star Game, Russell would need to get out to a hot start, which is something the Cubs and their fans would love to see. His steady presence in the lineup and as a defensive anchor contributed to the inconsistencies of the 2017 Cubs.

Entering a pivotal season in his development, Russell has emerged as one of the biggest X-factors surrounding the Cubs entering 2018. 

The entire Addison Russell 1-on-1 interview will air Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago.