“It’s impossible to not be excited doing Chicago Cubs baseball, especially at Wrigley Field.” – Harry Caray
In the summer of 1984, Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe were the King and the Duke of Major League Baseball. Caray was the artist who painted a daily portrait of the miracle season, when a perennial second-division baseball team finally beat the odds and played in the National League Championship Series.
Many forget that the Cubs were 3-18 in Cactus League play that spring and hardly looked like world beaters. Heck, they hardly resembled a professional baseball team.
“Lemme hear ya, Cubs fans!” Harry would say. “Lemme REALLY Hear ya!”
As Wrigley Field dissolved into bedlam day after day for the first time in my life, a sometimes shirtless Caray would lean out over the edge of his broadcast booth as the home team’s most enthusiastic cheerleader. That the Cubs are endeared nationally today, if not globally, is largely due to the culture that ’84 team and its broadcaster created.
It wasn’t just that the Cubs were trying to demolish a 40-year-old curse of not reaching the playoffs. The ghosts of 1969 and so many other promising summers that faded into disappointing autumns hovered over the team and its fans at every turn. Having a seven-game lead with 20 left to play never felt as reassuring as it should have. As excited as we all were to follow a division-winning team, it never seemed like a certainty until the Cubs finally clinched.
Sutcliffe, known as the Red Baron due to his fiery red hair and perfectly coiffed beard, went 16-1 in a career year — winning his last 14 decisions — after being acquired along with George Frazier and Ron Hassey from the Indians for Mel Hall, Joe Carter and Don Schulze on June 13. Cubs fans would not see a similarly dominating, season-long performance by a starting pitcher until Jake Arrieta in 2015.
Sutcliffe was a runaway choice for the Cy Young Award in ’84 and he finished fourth in voting for MVP. In his Wrigley Field debut, the ace fired a complete-game shutout with 14 strikeouts, beating the Cardinals 5-0.
Sandberg had a breakout performance that summer as well, hitting 19 home runs to go along with 36 doubles and 19 triples. He also stole 32 bases on his way to winning the NL MVP award. Of course, anyone who remembers watching that team will never forget Sandberg’s performance against the Cardinals on June 23. It was such a singularly magnificent performance that it is still referred to as “The Ryne Sandberg Game.”
The second baseman was 5-for-6, including two jacks against former Cubs closer Bruce Sutter, with seven runs driven in. His first home run tied the game 9-9 in the bottom of the 9th inning and his second tied the game 11-11 in the 10th. The Cubs won 12-11, thanks to a run-scoring single by rookie infielder Dave Owen in the home half of the 11th, after having been down 9-3 at one point.
“Uh oh,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog was quoted as saying before Ryno’s 10th inning at-bat. “Here comes Baby Ruth.”
Indeed, the Cubs became a juggernaut that day. That game, more than any other in the team’s history, made the Cubs America’s team. I still get chills watching the highlights, but it’s a shame Caray wasn’t calling it on television. As NBC’s Game of the Week, Bob Costas and Tony Kubek handled the play-by-play.
Cubs News & Notes
- Jason Heyward should benefit more than any other Cubs player thanks to the intent of manager David Ross to go with a consistent lineup. Heyward, who performs better when he’s not playing center field or batting leadoff, will almost always play right field and will likely hit sixth or seventh in the order.
- Until the break, Ross had operated camp like a seasoned manager, and will be a key to the 2020 season once it starts.
- Nisei Lounge was closed Saturday despite most of Wrigleyville remaining open for the city’s annual St. Pat’s celebration. A chalkboard sign outside the historical bar declared the new maximum capacity was 15, with “no exceptions, hugs or handshakes.” Above the sign was a quote from the late TV personality Anthony Bourdain: “You don’t talk about drinking. You do it, for God’s sake.”
- Today’s featured former Cubs player of the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer era is Paul Maholm. The lefty signed as a free agent in 2012, went 9-6 for the Cubs, and was subsequently flipped to the Braves at the trade deadline along with Reed Johnson for Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino. I’ll be doing this every day until baseball resumes. Why did I choose Maholm first? No clue, I just did.
MLB News & Notes
Baseball has played shortened seasons because of strikes and the 9/11 attacks, so it will be nothing new to do it this year. Assuming the season is eventually played, that is. As recently as 1995, the league played a 144-game schedule after players returned from that season’s strike and spring training lockout.
It’s entirely possible that baseball may not resume before Memorial Day, if then.
An unnamed minor league player with the Yankees became baseball’s first positive test for COVID-19.
Here’s 25 of the best baseball movies of all time to add to your watchlist if you’re already missing America’s pastime.
Odds & Sods
Some unsung heroes of that ’84 Cubs team:
- Thad Bosley – The team’s top pinch hitter hit a game-winning 10th-inning home run against the Braves on August 30.
- Henry Cotto – The rookie outfielder was flawless defensively and stole nine bases in limited play.
- Davey Lopes – The veteran was a PTBNL, acquired August 31 for Chuck Rainey, who had been sent to the A’s on July 15. Lopes provided key leadership during the final month of the season, and doubled on the first pitch he saw as a member of the team.
- Tim Stoddard – Nicknamed ‘Big Time,’ the 6-foot-7 reliever took some of the load off closer Lee Smith, winning 10 games while saving seven more.
- Steve Lake – The third string catcher was promoted from Iowa when Hassey went down with a knee injury. He didn’t play much, as Jody Davis started 150 games in ’84. Lake had two key home runs in his 54 at-bats that season and threw out 54% of attempted base stealers.
Little known fact: At the time Hall was considered more of a sure thing than Carter, who finished his career with 396 home runs and one epic World Series walk off against the Phillies in 1993.
— Michael Canter #DonateLife #SaveALife (@MEdwardCanter) March 16, 2020
The correct answer would be the 29th day, since the number of lily pads doubles each day. This is why social distancing is a necessary evil right now.
Apropos of Nothing
A failure to adhere to social distancing standards really shouldn’t shock anyone. In the history of mankind, few have had the wherewithal to practice proactivity, and many have suffered for not doing so.
“One of the greatest problems of our time is that many are schooled but few are educated.” – William Shakespeare
They Said It
- “The strong recommendation from our infectious disease and public health experts is that Clubs should avoid all activities in which players congregate in significant numbers or are otherwise unable to practice the ‘social distancing’ protocols recommended [by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].” – Statement from MLB
Monday Walk Up Song
Money For Nothing by Dire Straits
- What went wrong? Like many others my age, I admit to originally loving this song, but its lyrics reek of boomerism and cross the boundaries of sexism, racism, body shaming, and sexual profiling. I understand it is supposed to be mocking MTV’s early propensity to make rock stars out of performers who weren’t as genuinely talented as they were good looking, but, still.
- How does it play today? It’s more than a tad awkward to hear Mark Knopfler’s descriptions of the musicians he alludes to in his lyrics. Some lines are far worse than others, but none would be legitimately accepted were this song released today.