Tom “Otis” Hellmann, a longtime clubhouse manager for the Chicago Cubs, died Wednesday at age 67 after a recent fall.
Hellmann was entering his 51st year in baseball and 42nd in the Cubs organization, serving as home clubhouse manager for 23 years after replacing Yosh Kawano before being named home clubhouse manager emeritus in 2023.
“I can’t think of another person more dedicated to this team and organization than Otis,” Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “He embodied the definition of caretaker looking after countless players, coaches and staff that called our clubhouse home throughout his 41 seasons. He will forever be remembered as a beloved member of our family.”
Hellmann’s duties were numerous: packing equipment for road trips, laundering uniforms, assigning clubhouse lockers, catering postgame meals — and even cooking burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches for players on a little grill in the tiny kitchen in the old Cubs clubhouse.
When the Cubs won their 14th straight home game in 2008, pitcher Ryan Dempster credited the streak to “Otis’ cooking.”
“It’s as fine as it gets,” Dempster said. “It really gets you prepared. We’re going to have him start cooking on the road.”
Hellmann wanted the players to feel like champions, even when they weren’t playing that way. He once catered a postgame meal during the dog days of the 2010 season that included caviar. Manager Lou Piniella pointed out to Hellmann the Cubs were a fifth-place team.
“Hell, if we were in first place we’d have a chef from France in here,” Piniella joked to Hellmann.
Back in the day, Hellmann rubbed new baseballs with mud before games for the umpires, and he once was used as a temporary batboy in 2005 in an attempt to end a losing streak. When the Cubs won three straight games with Hellmann retrieving bats, outfielder Jeromy Burnitz joked: “Otis is the man once again. He’s fun to watch. I think he’s probably suited for the batboy job.”
Hellmann even served as Steve Trachsel’s personal “bodyguard” for a day at the end of the 1998 season, standing at Trachel’s locker to inform reporters the pitcher wouldn’t be talking about his upcoming postseason start.
“Otis was one of the best in the game,” Trachsel wrote on social media. “So sad to hear this.”
Hellmann was the so-called “clubhouse consigliere” and an avid outdoorsman who frequently took players such as Carlos Zambrano and Terry Mulholland to his favorite fishing spots on the road.
Many former Cubs chimed in on social media after hearing the news, including former pitcher Sean Marshall, who wrote that Hellman was “a true example of a selfless, caring, ‘put others before yourself’ kind of person. Your work ethic, your love for the Cubs, your warm and caring attitude to all will truly be missed.”
Zambrano wrote on Instagram that Hellmann was the “greatest” friend to him on the Cubs, adding, “many people don’t know that because of him we look good on the field.”
Hellmann made quick friendships with everyone who entered the Cubs’ home, from reporters to celebrities such as Eddie Vedder. He was also a die-hard Cincinnati Bengals fan and season ticket holder who was certain they would one day win a Super Bowl.
Hellmann began his MLB career as the assistant clubhouse manager for the Cincinnati Reds in 1974. For years he maintained he would stay with the Cubs until they finally won a championship, but he was having too much fun to leave after they captured their elusive World Series title in 2016.
Hellmann oversaw the transition from the old, cramped home clubhouse at Wrigley Field to a modernized, 30,000-square-foot one in 2016. It was a game changer for Cubs players — and for Hellmann, one of the few organizational holdovers from the 1980s.
“The difference? I was there when we went from no lights to lights,” Hellmann said, referring to the installation of lights at Wrigley Field on Aug. 8, 1988. “Let’s put it that way.”
One of his more memorable experiences came in June 2003 when Sammy Sosa’s bat exploded during play at Wrigley and pieces of cork came out onto the field. Sosa was ejected for using an illegally corked bat, and MLB sent investigators into the clubhouse to retrieve all of his other bats for evidence of tampering.
“The way the umpires kept coming in and the way I heard the clubhouse was possibly surrounded, you’d have thought they were looking for the FBI’s ‘Ten Most Wanted’ list,” manager Dusty Baker said that night.
No cork was discovered in Sosa’s other bats, and the slugger claimed he used the corked bat only for batting practice. Years later it was revealed that MLB gave the Cubs a 10-minute notice before the clubhouse inspection, potentially giving them time to hide any evidence. Whenever asked about the story, Hellmann would only grin.
Hellmann told friends in 2023 he had decided that would be his final season, but by the end of September he said he planned to return for at least one more spring training in Mesa, Ariz., before deciding on retirement.
The Cubs clubhouse won’t be the same without “Otis,” a man who wore many hats in his long career and forever will be remembered at Wrigley Field.
Hellmann is survived by his wife, Mary, and three children, Lena, Hanna and Theo. Services are pending.