And, then there was 1984.
It gave me hope, but it was false hope and it would be years later when I would find my way. ’84 was a special season for Cub fans because it marked the end of a very long playoff drought. The new General Manager, Dallas Green, had just come over from Philadelphia. He was the architect of a tough Phillies team that included: Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, and pitcher Steve Charleton. The team had a number of good years. His first move was rebuild the Cubs in the Phillies’ image, reliving the past glory. Half of his opening day lineup came from the City of Brotherly Love, and his trades brought winning baseball to the North side for the first time in almost forty years.
The newcomers were veteran shortstop Larry Bowa, center fielder Bobby Dernier, left fielder Gary ‘Sarge’ Matthews, pitcher Dick Ruthven, right fielder Keith Moreland and second baseman Ryne Sandberg. All came from Philadelphia. If there were any prospects on the bench or in the minor leagues, Green traded them away to bring in pitcher Rick Sutcliff. This last trade was the one that saw the Cubs let go of Mell Hall, Joe Carter, Don Schulze and Darryl Banks to Cleveland for the red-bearded pitcher and two others. No one really should have wondered why they played so well that season: this was a Philadelphia team disguised in a Chicago uniform.
Nonetheless, it was fabulous to watch Sutcliff go 16 and 1 for his new team. He was an old-style, hard-nosed pitcher that was partial to coming inside with a fastball. His season on the hill brought the Cubs their third Cy Young Award (Ferguson Jenkins and Bruce Sutter won the first two). Perhaps, the biggest highlight of the season, however, was the Sandberg Game, in which the second-baseman hit two game-tying home runs off former Cub Bruce Sutter in St. Louis, and then went on to win the game. For a brief moment, the Cubs looked unstoppable.
By the end of summer, the Cubs clinched the Division title on a Sutcliff complete game, two-hitter. After the game, a mob of college students at Illinois State University in Normal stormed the football field and tore down the goal posts. For them, the dream was within reach. They would finally see their cherished team in a pennant race.
A few weeks later came the National League playoffs against the San Diego Padres. The Cubs took the first game by a score of 13 to 0 and the second game by a score of 4 to 2, but when the series went back to San Diego things went sideways. The Padres won three straight, the final blow came in the seventh inning of game five. Chicago was up 3 to 2, and Sutcliff was on the mound. There was one on base and there were two outs in the seventh when Tim Flannery hit a ground ball that trickled through first baseman Leon Durham’s legs. The Padres tied the game. Don Dysdale had the call, “Groundball to Durham … RIGHT THROUGH HIS LEGS! Here comes Martinez, we’re tied at three.” Sutcliff was lifted and the Padres added some insurance runs, and Cub fans went into mourning. Durham’s miscue added to the Billy Goat legend. Despite hitting two home runs in the series, Durham became known for the error. He later said he was using an unfamiliar glove because someone spilled Gatorade on his regular glove. After Bill Buckner’s World Series error, sportscasters began to tell a joke about the two former Cub first basemen. It says that after the games, Durham and Buckner were despondent and decided to end it all by walking headlong into traffic. Unfortunately for them, the truck went right through their legs.
To be continued…
Crossposted at My Ongoing Struggle with Misanthropy: http://jimmygabacho.com/?p=849