When Harry Caray shocked Chicago by signing with the Cubs, probably not everybody realized how much of an institution he would become for the Cubs in the booth. Entire generations of Cub fans would grow up hearing Caray call games, including me. In fact, up until my 17th birthday, Harry's voice was the only one I heard; his and Steve Stone's.
Stoney was a brilliant pitcher who'd retired from baseball a year after ruining his arm on tossing curveballs while winning 25 games in 1981. He was a former Cub and White Sox player who, it turned out, was a perfect compliment to the man who was more than 30 years his elder. It's hard in retrospect to describe the team, except to say that for the passion Caray brought to the booth, Stone brought a tremendous dry sense of humor mingled with uncanny baseball knowledge.
As kids my friends and I would try to predict the next pitch or the next play -- maneuvers we'd learned from Stone, who was far better at it than we were. He was smart and perhaps just a little smarmy, a trait that would get him in trouble years later. But in the beginning -- especially before Harry died -- Steve Stone was practically loved by everybody.
He probably came into his own the most when Harry wasn't there. In 1987 the legendary broadcaster suffered a stroke and, in his place, Steve Stone worked with a handful of celebrity commentators, most memorably Bill Murray whose performance can sometimes still be seen on You Tube.
But Harry wasn't gone for long. He worked diligently to regain his strength and timber and was greeted back into the booth in May of 1987 by none other than President Reagan.
Interestingly a whole generation of Cub fans -- and probably most of the people who read blogs like GROTA -- never heard Harry before his stroke. We grew up listening to a man who sounded slightly drunk when he was tired, who often stumbled over difficult names, who at times wasn't even sure which team was on the field, but it never detracted from our love of him. It made the Cubs unique -- in an era in which baseball's broadcasters increasingly sounded more and more alike, the Cubs had a duo that sounded like no other. They also sounded like the best of friends, to the point where whenever Stone was spotted on the road by Cub fans he'd inevitably be asked "where's Harry," to which he probably wanted to reply "how the hell would I know?"
Around 1994 I did something I probably should've done sooner -- I popped a tape into the VCR and recorded portions of a game against Hideo Nomo and the Dodgers. I realized by then that Harry was already ancient and wouldn't be around forever. I still have that tape somewhere, although it's been a few years since I played it. I've now lived my entire adult life without Harry and Steve in the Cubs booth, with my only bridge to them a game in which Hideo Nomo worked the Cubs over as though they were a punching bag.
One thing I ask myself on occassion is if I would've been as much of a Cub fan without those two. Imagine instead growing up to the barfing voice of Chip Caray and the (un)analysis of Joe Carter. Chicago would become a White Sox town within five years. And yet, years later people will tell you that Harry was an embarassment to himself after his stroke and Steve was always too much of an asshole to be likeable. But don't let them fool you -- the Cubs were an unforgettable team even in the years where the play was less interesting than the scenery, and Harry and Steve were the reason why -- even if Steve is remembered now for his departure rather than his tenure after the 2004 season.
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Before he came to Chicago Frey had been a career minor leaguer who got his start in coaching thanks to the legendary Earl Weaver. He served as a coach for the 70's Orioles through three pennant teams before being hired to manage the Royals in 1980. As a rookie manager, Frey would lead the Royals to the World Series where they would square off against a Phillies team managed by -- you guessed it -- Dallas Green.
In other words, Frey cut his teeth in an old school baseball organization where he worked under one of the winningest managers in the history of the game. And while he'd be fired by the Royals the year after he got them to the big show (and you thought baseball teams were quick to act these days) Dallas must've seen something in him because Frey was the replacement of the tiradical Lee Elia. And his first season with the team he hit pay-dirt, getting the Cubs all the way to the playoffs for the first time since 1945.
Then, as quickly as his star rose with the Cubs it set -- just as it had happened in Kansas City. After managing a team with no rotation in 1985 Frey was fired two months into the '86 season. But he apparently enjoyed Chicago as he took a job in the broadcasting booth before being rehired in December of '86 by the Tribune -- this time to replace Dallas Green who'd quit over "philosophical differences" a few months earlier.
That's when Frey jumped the shark, or Bartman'd the game, or whatever you would call the abject failure of a baseball man. Where Dallas Green had made some cunning deals to build a winner, Frey went out and traded the future all-time save leader for a guy who'd pitch 80 innings for the Cubs and be out of baseball by 1990 (Al Nipper) and another pitcher who'd put the meh in mediocre and be out of baseball by 1991 (Calvin Schiraldi).
But Frey must've known he was making a mistake because he turned around after the '88 season and traded for another young, up-and-coming closer Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams. Williams would save 36 games for the Cubs in '89, another playoff year, but he'd wear out his welcome just a year later when he could no longer be trusted "to close my kitchen door," according to Frey. But hey, he was a key component to a divisional champion, and all he cost was future 250-game-winner Jamie Moyer and 3,000-hit, 500-homerun slugger Rafael Palmeiro!
Not to out-do himself, Frey then went out and acquired such stunning free agents as Dave Smith*, Danny Jackson**, and George Bell*** before mercifully getting his ass fired in 1991****.
(*saved 28 games for the Cubs, had a 6.00 ERA
**went 1-5 in '91 with an ERA of 6.75, 5-14 career record with the Cubs with a 5.19 ERA
***washed up, somehow netted a young Sammy Sosa because Frey wasn't the only incompetent GM in baseball
****technically he was re-assigned)
All told, I have to believe that Frey was a pretty good manager even if his organizations kept him on a short leash and he never managed again after being fired by the Cubs. But he was truly a terrible GM. If the Cubs were a good team in the late 80's it was in spite of Frey's bungling moves - with seemingly one after the other done to make up for some other bungling move he made. In reality, the '89 Cubs belonged to Dallas Green.
And perhaps the biggest reason why the team was mediocre throughout the early 90's was because Frey dealt away much of the last round of farm-grown talent that the Cubs organization has produced to this day. It's not exactly the kind of feather Frey would want in his cap, but it's accurate. The Cubs had the components to be something special for years and they dealt it away for two mediocre starters and an erratic lefty with a mullet. Thanks Jim Frey. Thanks a lot.
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Ask any GM and they'll give you the tired, stale line about how the best trades are the ones that benefit both teams. It's the political thing to say, but as we all know, the very best trades are the ones where WE reap ALL the benefits, and the other guy ends up with dick! But if you go around saying things like that, then nobody wants to deal with you, and that's why you don't see George Steinbrenner and his progeny involved in any trades. Everyone knows the Steinbrenners love nothing on this Earth more than wallowing around in the blood of their enemies.
Remember when Mark Prior was drafted a few years back, that it wasn't a matter of if, but when he would wear a major league uniform and have his way with the league? That's how it was when Joe Carter was drafted in the first round by the Cubs in 1981 out of Wichita State, which coincidentally was the single worst Cubs team I have ever seen. So it was no surprise when, less than two years later, Carter was called up and was immediately expected to hit five-run homers.
Well, Joe went 9-for-51 in his first big-league stint, with one double, one triple, and absolutely no homers. I'm not sure what Dallas Green really expected, but there certainly seemed to be an air of disappointment, typical of recent Cubs draft history, one that included such luminaries as Gene Hiser, Scot Thompson, Herman Segelke and Brian Rosinski, who was picked 4th overall in 1975 and never saw one game of big league action. I always wondered if all that went into account when Carter was included in the Rick Sutcliffe trade of June, 1984, the trade that won our first NL Divisional crown ever. But fast forward to the summer of 1986, living in Ohio, watching one of those 17-16 Indians/Rangers melees they used to have in the Bandbox of Arlington or whatever. Carter had two singles, two doubles, two homers, 8 RBI, and that was just one of about 100 other times in my life where I would turn on the TV and watch Joe Carter rake like a man, for someone else. He didn't walk much, but he did everything else pretty well.
As for Mr. Sutcliffe, as you might imagine, he held up his end of the win-win scenario too. Since this site started, we have preached the need and the value of a true Staff Ace. A Staff Ace is a guy who stops losing streaks; prolongs winning streaks; throws 240 innings; wins at least 17 games every year; needs to break bones to go on the DL; and generally imparts leadership, wisdom and stability to the rest of the lesser-beings on the staff. For us, for several years, starting in 1984, Rick absolutely WAS that guy. There was no 1984 Division title without him. Yes, we gave up a lot for him, but how many other mid-season trades can you think of that match the impact of 16 wins, 1 loss? Go ahead, think about it. We'll wait here.
Sut had stuff, not legendary stuff though. He threw hard, but not Kerry Wood hard. He had breaking balls, but not like Mark Prior had. He was intimidating, but not like Carlos Zambrano is today. He prepared and thought through a game plan, but not like Greg Maddux did. But he did all those things well enough, I guess, and his successes continued well past the magical first season with us.
Logically, Cubs fans were hungry for more in 1985 after the disappointment in the NLCS. Management did their part by either signing or extending the contracts of the entire starting rotation. You may know that at one point that summer, the entire five-man rotation was on the DL. Yes, all at the same time. The dominos started to fall when Sut pulled his hammy running out a grounder. Yes, it was bad to see our Ace go down, but as the other starters went down, Sut came back too soon to fill the void, and while overcompensating for his hamstring, ended up wrecking his shoulder, I believe.
He never underwent surgery to repair the damage, and starting the next year (which was a truly dreadful 5-13) Rick adopted a very deliberate doucheworthy pitching style ala Steve Trachsel. Of course, Sut wasn't just being a douche. He had to take the time between pitches, due to the pain in his shoulder. Eventually he was able to adjust his pitching style, relying on guile rather than heat, and he posted 18 wins and a disputed runner-up Cy Young award in 1987. His last great Cubs season was the Central Division winning year in 1989, benefitting from some strong run support as he won 16 games.
The pain, along with all the questions from Cubs fans and reports alike, became too much for Sutcliffe. By the end of his run with us in 1991, he could barely get the ball up to the plate. His so-called change-up was no longer effective, because it was no slower than his "fastball". The hardest hit ball I have ever seen a human hit was off of a Sutcliffe pitch in 1991. Howard Johnson, then with the Mets hitting lefty against Sut, hit a ball that CLEARED the rooftop of the building on Sheffield just to the right of the right-field foulpole. The umpire called the ball foul, although I never could figure out how blue could possibly SEE the ball, let alone rule on its fairness or foulness. It was definitely angling towards foul territory, because it was pulled so hard. As I recall, Sut decided to 'unintentionally' walk Johnson, gave up a couple more hard knocks, including a homer that stayed fair, and called it a day, and pretty much a career, with us.
By that time, Dallas Green was gone, and I don't remember where the Jim Frey GM era ended and the Larry Himes GM era began, but I do recall that management's decision to not offer Sutcliffe a contract for the 1992 season made economic sense, although it wasn't exactly compassionate. I'm sure by that point in his life, Sut's shoulder probably resembled a nice plate of Famous Dave's pulled pork. It has to be considered a credit to his competitive nature alone that he was able to win 16 games for the Orioles in 1992, then 10 more for them the next year. Yes, he ended his career with the Satanic Fowl, but I don't think anyone else was willing to issue a uniform to a man with shredded wheat for a shoulder at that time.
He has gone on to quite the spicy career as a color man at various levels of baseball broadcasting. It would seem a natural for him to be part of the booth at Wrigley, because I don't believe there are hard feelings as there once was for his friend and fellow broadcaster Mark Grace. It always seems to be a matter of poor timing. When Harry Caray passed away, for example, it would have been a great time for him to join up here, but instead Cubs management gave us the Chipster. Then when the Chipster and Stony left during the Great Meltdown of 2004, Sut was (at least) informally asked about the job, but he cited current committments and whether or not he really wanted a "full-time" announcer gig.
Sut's had some health issues, and a few other job-related issues as well over the years, but we personally have no gripe with anything he's offered for public consumption. In fact, my dream Cubs announcing team is Sut and Gracie, talkin' slump-busting and trips to the mound by Billy Connors. When you consider that Bob Brenly is still willing to pursue a management role, and that Ron Santo is always a dropped pop-fly away from a "stress-related work stoppage", perhaps we'll get Sut on our side again after all, and soon.
There was a quote I read somewhere back when Rick Sutcliffe finally called it a day after 1994. I wish I could find it now to present it accurrately, but when asked about which team he associated his career with the most, Rick Sutcliffe once said the following:
I'm a Cub. Yeah, that's me.
And for that reason above all others, beyond the 16-1 1984 season, over the 18 wins for a useless '87 team or the improbably strong pitching in '89, I will always be a Rick Sutcliffe fan. It's easy for us to be fans of a team but it's rare -- especially in this day and age when free agency reigns and the biggest contract lands the best stars -- for a player to be a fan of the fans, and that's what happened with Sutcliffe.
As a kid, I admired him above all other Cub pitchers. He stood out as the clubhouse prankster, the red-bearded baron who loomed over everybody else, and I still remember proclaiming very loudly in the pages of Goat Riders version 1.0* that he would win the Cy Young Award in 1990, not knowing that he was pretty well done and Greg Maddux was the best pitcher I would ever see.
(*That would be the Fourth Grade School Paper, where yours truly had his own baseball column)
When Sutcliffe signed on with the Orioles it was the first of several betrayals of my childhood. I just couldn't understand how the Cubs could let him go. He, who had done so much. When you're a 12-year-old kid, it doesn't seem so bad to have on your favorite team a 36-year-old pitcher who's made a combined 23 starts the last two seasons.
Like Rob, I miss his character and his attitude. I think that the Cubs have actually had a number of players like Sutcliffe throughout the years; it's just that they unfortunately didn't all play on the same team the same season. But for so many reasons, from his epic Cy Young year in 1984 to his near-dismemberment of Eric Show in 1987 for throwing at Andre Dawson and to the simple fact that he idenfities himself as a Cub, Sutcliffe will remain one of the greatest Cubs I ever followed.
He's a Cub. Yeah, that's him.
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And so, it came to pass, mere months after Lee Elia launched into his foul tirade about the Other Fifteen Percent, that the Chicago Cubs reported to spring training exercises in Arizona, to prepare for the 1984 season. Even though Dallas Green was trying the New Tradition, he paid inadvertent homage to a longtime Cubs tradition by dredging up a retread to manage in 1984. Jim Frey, whose previous claim to fame was a AL Pennant-winning Kansas City Royals team in 1980, only to be canned before the end of the 1981 campaign, was put in charge. Hey, at least Ernie Banks said "we're gonna soar in eighty-four!" Things appeared to be "business as usual" at Wrigley.
Green's answer for fixing his 1983 team of underachieving ex-Phillies (including thrown-in par excellence Ryne Sandberg) was to get even MORE ex-Phillies! Now Gary "Sarge" Matthews, an on-base machine, was in left field, and hard-playin', harder-livin' Bobby Dernier now roamed center. Green's plan was to establish a 1-2 punch at the top of the order with Dernier and Sandberg - if only Dernier could successfully hold things together, and if Sandberg would somehow learn to handle the bat. Matthews would then hold his own in the three-hole, setting the table for the previous year's best hitter, Leon "Bull" Durham.
Problem was, though, Matthews' installation in left meant that Bull would have to move to first base, which would dislodge longtime fan favorite and former batting champ Bill Buckner. Left without a position for the first two months of the season, Buckner made things somewhat provocative for the press, and uncomfortable for his teammates. He had help in that regard from similarly dislodged Mel Hall. The club hung tough those first two months of 1984, even with the sourpusses taking up roster space. Of course, fast starts were not unheard of - even though the team had suffered nearly five years of utter abject failure, the 1977-79 Cubs teams did themselves get off to fast starts. But, there was always the June Swoon to look forward to.
Only, it was right THEN when Dallas Green made his Name in Chicago Sports Lore.
On May 25th, he was able to turn the gimpy Bill Buckner into Dennis Eckersley. Three weeks later, on June 13th, he turned the sulky Mel Hall and the promising yet untried Joe Carter into Rick Sutcliffe. From that point forward, the true Cubs Renaissance was conceived, and we didn't have to wait long for the birth.
June 23rd, 1984. Cubs. Cardinals. Saturday, national Game-of-the-Week. For once in our life, we were actually on top of the Cards in the standings, but it sure didn't look that way when the Satanic Fowl jumped all over Steve "Rainbow" Trout for 6 in the second inning. Your intrepid report was THERE, kids, and if it were left to me, I would have walked out right then and drowned my sorrows across the street. Fortunately, my girlfriend at the time was the type who wanted to stay until the last dog was hung. No early getaways for me. But THIS was precisely the kind of game the Cubs always lost. We hung tough for two months, we made the trades, but when the pressure was on, when everyone in the country was watching, we always took it up the ying-yang.
So I was still kind of pouting as we chipped away in the fifth, making it 7-3. Just prolonging the inevitable, and Willie (E.T.) McGee hit a 2-run dong to answer. Had to be held back, again, and then I was pouting, again, as we answered back in our half of the 6th to make it 9-8 Cards. I was still looking at the game with cynicism as the rest of the innings whizzed by, because I knew Bruce Sutter now wore red, and going into the bottom of the ninth, we were still down a run, with Sutter on the mound to close.
And then, he hit IT.
Ryno, of course, led off the ninth with a bomb off of Sutter. This was Just Not Done. The Cubs never came back against the good teams, not off the best relievers, ever. That first homer, I am convinced that nearly everyone in the park was just like me - SHOCKED! It was not a cheer of exultation; more of a reaction to a shocking event, like if home plate suddenly sprouted 39,000 beer hoses that squirted right into our mouths! Incredible news, yes, but totally unexpected. Ryne Sandberg had blossomed in 1984 into a great all-around player, but power was not part of his game (he only had 19 homers that year, his MVP year. Of course, he also had 19 triples!!)
In the meantime, the rally continued, and Matthews got as far as third before Sutter shut us down, and then Lee Smith came in for us and promptly coughed up the lead in the 10th. So once again, we go to our last at-bats in the 10th, with Sutter still in the game, and he mows down the first two hitters. CAN WE GO NOW? I ask my first-ex-wife-to-be, and she agrees until Dernier solved Sutter for a walk, which brought up You-Know-Who, again. It was at this point that I realize that Sutter had pitched 2 2/3rds that day, that he might be tiring, and hey, Ryno already tagged him once today, maybe he'll do it again...
...you can have the 1998 Wild Card clinching crowd, or the 2003 Central clinching crowd, or the crowd when Sammy Sosa won game one of the 2003 NLCS. When Ryno took Sutter deep, again, I do not believe there has ever been a happier bunch of people inside of Wrigley Field in its history. It really was like the little kid beating up the big bully after 40 years of misery! Sheer rapture, it was so loud I couldn't hear for a week.
For the one or two of you who don't know, neither of Sandberg's homers won the game; that didn't happen until the 11th inning, but after what Ryno did to Sutter, on NBC, no less, the game, and the rest of the season was anti-climactic. The June 23rd game was NOT the best time I ever had at a game. Recall I spent most of it stewing because the Cubs were losing, and once they did catch up, they gagged up the tie, and then did it again. What Sandberg did hit me like a totally unseen, unexpected tidal wave. No, the best time I ever had at a Cubs game was on August 8th that year, the final win of a 4-game sweep of the second place Mets, which put us up 4 1/2 games. It was beautiful, being on top like that, getting off to an early lead, and every time Keith Moreland came up that day, there were RISP and we needed a hit to stay ahead, and he came through time after time, and we SWEPT and I got Darryl Strawberry to flip ME off, and I was smashed and life was beautiful....
...you might be thinking what had occurred to me: 4 1/2 games, to the Mets, with a month-and-a-half to go? Yeah, but this wasn't 1969, they didn't have Seaver and Koosman and Gentry and Nolan Ryan. No, we had Sutcliffe, who came at a dear price (ask any Blue Jay fan about Joe Carter) but by August 8th, he had gone 10-1 for us, and he would win six more regular season games without a defeat, including the clincher in Pissburgh (suck on THAT, Joe Orsulak) and the first game of the NLCS, and he would have won the 4th game if Frey had the GUTS to run him back out there.
Ah, the 1984 NLCS. The first postseason of most of our lives, and the first of several where we lost to an inferior opponent, the Taco Bells of San Diego. We destroyed the Padres 13-0 in Game 1, with Sutcliffe pitching seven stress-free. Then Trout threw a gem in Game 2 - all we had to do is win one of three in San Diego and our first pennant in 39 years was ours!
Even to write this now, 25 years later, makes me shake my head. Everything that could go wrong did. Murphy's Law in Murphy's Stadium? WE should have had Game 5 at home, but MLB in its wisdom gave it to SD because we didn't have lights! Frey decided to piss away Game 4 by starting Sanderson when Sutcliffe was ready to go. Mike Royko, the Sun-Times columnist, decided to piss off the entire city of San Diego by an article he wrote calling Padres fans "laid back" and "not deserving". Lee Smith decided to be macho and blow a fastball by Steve Garvey, who hit the pitch like he'd been waiting for it his whole life. And, of course, you know of Leon Durham and his Glove of Gatorade in Game 5. Except that Durham's error occurred in the 7th, it only tied the game, and the Padres only went ahead when a ball hit to Ryno skipped over his grasp. It took a monumental effort for the Cubs to blow the 1984 NLCS, but unfortunately, they were "up" to the task.
No pennants were won that year, or since, but life in Wrigleyville has never been the same. The Cubs drew over 2 million fans to Wrigley Field that year, and only once (1986) has the figure dropped below that since. You can debate about the caliber of baseball management we have employed since that time, but nobody can debate the Cubs have enjoyed the world-class efforts of their marketing staff and advertising partners since that year. 2 million plus guaranteed fans means business owners puring money into the bars, eateries, and rooftop establishments encircling the ballpark, and success begats success as other shops, galleries, and dwellings took residence within the most vibrant neighborhood in the city. Young people from throughout the Midwest made Wrigleyville a destination for starting out their post-collegiate lives. The product on the field may come and go, but the momentum in Wrigleyville rolls unabated to this day, and has become the model for all the retro-parks being built in every other major league city not named Boston or L.A.
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I have no first memories of Ryne Sandberg. It would be like being able to recall the day you realized there was sunshine -- he was always a part of my Cub vernacular. When I first began to actively follow the team I've grown to obsess over it was 1987. I was only seven years old and, by that point, Sandberg had already been a Cub for half a decade. The unusual thing wouldn't have been to turn the TV on to see him, it would've been stranger had he not been there at all. And were it not for Dallas Green, then Cub baseball for the last two decades of the 20th century would have been very strange indeed.
Sandberg came to Chicago as the young, clown-haired throw-in from the DeJesus to Philly for Bowa trade. You would think that it was all a cunning ruse, a shell game by Green. It would make for a wonderful story that Green always knew Sandberg would be a superstar and managed to slip him over to the Cubs hidden behind the primary players of the deal. But he was just a throw-in who would happen to go on to be the greatest second baseman any of us ever saw.
You know how I pointed out it would never have happened were it not for Dallas Green? Well, it still wasn't so easy. Sandberg came to the Cubs in 1982 as a third baseman and he greeted the big leagues with a start that would have gotten him demoted in today's environment. By May 9th -- more than a full month of play -- Sandberg was batting a meager .198. Ask Gary Scott where a performance like that gets you. And while he'd get hot after that day, it wouldn't be until June 20th that he'd get his AVG over .250 for the first time in the '82 season.
His rookie numbers were pretty terrible. A .271 AVG, 7 homers, 54 RBI, a .683 OPS. Imagine the internet existing back then -- people like me would've been arguing for the Cubs to upgrade in the off season, to deal this Sandberg kid while he had any value to speak of. Rob might've pointed out that while the kid was okay he sure as hell wasn't going to win anything for the Cubs with his weak-ass bat. (Well, it WAS torturous to see him flail away his first three weeks or so. I believe he was 1-for his first-32. But, like they did with Greg Maddux a few years later, they kept running him out there, so it was assumed that, unlike Gary Scott, management saw something special in him. I also kept reminding myself of Leo Durocher's book, "Nice Guys Finish Last", particularly the chapter about 1951 when a new Giants callup started his career 0-for-21. The young man miserably cried "Mis-a-Leo? I can't hit up here!" Leo told the kid to quit pressing, and just play ball. So now, both Willie Mays AND Ryne Sandberg get to sit up on the stage in Cooperstown every July.)
But the Cubs kept Sandberg around. They moved him to second base in the off season and he won his first Gold Glove in 1983 but his offensive numbers were even worse. His AVG dropped to .261, his OPS to .667. Mind you, all of this occurred back when I used to cry if Cub games were on instead of my cartoons. All I'm doing is pointing out that I may have lived a life having never witnessed Ryne Sandberg sleekly field a ground ball or crush a surprising number of homeruns. Things could have been very different.
Probably we have to give credit to the baseball knowledge of Green and manager Jim Frey. Even while the Cubs tanked as Sandberg floundered they never gave up on him. They didn't blame him and his mediocre bat for the team's failings (probably because second base in particular was not known for a position of offensive boons back then) and they saw something in him that left them satisfied.
Imagine how satisfied everybody felt in 1984, the year Ryne Sandberg became Ryne Sandberg. I think I'll save most of this for the next entry when we look at the '84 season in epic detail, but I will leave you with this:
I'll conceed that the Young Ryne Sandberg was certainly better than his numbers conveyed. He must have been a joy to watch on the field. He also wasn't a bad hitter once he got out of April, even if his overall numbers weren't anything to sing praises about. But there couldn't have been anybody -- nobody in the world -- who'd expected his star to rise so fast and so far in the 1984 season. By the end of that year he went from being a slick-fielding light-hitting base-stealing threat to being compared to Joe DiMaggio.
And I can't get over it. It almost never happened.
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"...they can kiss my fucking ass, right Downtown, and print it! The motherfuckers don't even work, that's why they're out at the fucking game. They ought to get a fucking job and find out what it's like to go out and earn a fucking living. Eighty-five percent of the fuckin' world is working. The other fifteen come out here. A fuckin' playground for the cocksuckers. Rip those motherfuckers, rip those country cocksuckers, like the fuckin' players. They talk about the great fuckin' support that the players get around here, I haven't seen it this fuckin' year!"
WHEEE!! A fuckin' playground for the cocksuckers! Wheee! Is the slide reel slippery?
People, that'd be, let's see, 13 sets of triple asterisks made necessary, even by our PG-13 standards. Sure, sure, you can find this here speech several other places on the Internets. But it was just pure fun to reproduce it here. Of course, it was Lee Elia who painted this masterpiece, he works with fuck and cock the way Monet worked with watercolors, a true genius. We're here today to examine the historical significance of this particular tirade, both in its vision and its aftermath.
Unfortunately, fans from other places took Mr. Elia's rant at face value, and to this day cite it as proof that Cubs fans are not knowledgeable; not deserving of a winner; and just drunks who like to hang out at the World's Largest Outdoor Saloon. A funny thing happens though, when you try to straighten out Lee's pretzel logic and hold it against us:
Most criticisms levied against our fan bases from other cities paint us as masochists; losers who keep coming to the Friendly Confines in blind faith; wearing rose-colored glasses, bellies sloshing full of Cubbie Blue Kool-Aid, ready to eat up the company line, and meekly chant "we-want-a-hit" even if we're down 11 runs with two outs in the ninth. But that's NOT the kind of fan Lee Elia was talking about way back when. In fact, sounds like ol' Lee was expecting the blind faith I am talking about here, and when it didn't materialize - when the so-called loyal, patient North Side fans decided to get vocal after a 5-13 start to the season, he decided to demonstrate right then and there why he DIDN'T deserve the role as Manager of the Cubs.
Please don't mistake my reasoning; I am not by any means claiming that Cubs fans are infallible, and that field managers going all the way back to Cap Anson have not had legitimate gripes with over-served, under-intelligent boors who paid their two bits, or three dollars, or (in 2009 dollars, on average) 47 dollars to sit on their brains and complain about something they don't know about, namely, hitting major league pitching and retiring major league hitting.
However, I watched this particular game on the TV that day, the Cubs were butt-awful, they lost 3-1 to the Padres, they themselves a bad team. Our leadoff man, Gary Woods, was hitting .156. Rookie 3B Ryne Sandberg was hitting .174. Our so-called "best hitter" in the three hole, Bill Bucker, .233. Our best hitter by far was Leon Durham (loud screams of agony) batting cleanup. Recent acquisition Ron Cey was hitting .179. Another recent acquisition, Larry Bowa, got a hit this day to raise his average to .250. It was a miserable day, there were only 3,383 in attendance (at Wrigley Field? Yes, believe it). It was a truly poor showing, and this in the second year of the so-called "New Beginning" touted by GM Dallas Green. A bunch of washed up ex-Phillies and Dodgers, and some kid who couldn't get out of his own way?
Cubs fans had seen this movie before, and were convinced that they were, once again, sold a bill of goods. All the hopes Cub Fandom had after the Tribune bought the team from despot P.K. Wrigley, looked to be flushed away once again. BOOO! Hell yes, boo! I would too, if I stuck my neck out on that 52-degree day to watch this crap!
Did the team respond? Did Cubs fans forgive and forget? Nope on both counts. The team bumbled along to another 5th place showing, and Elia was pretty much fried to a crisp by the media for the rest of his tenure in Wrigley, which was mercifully cut short before the end of the season. Dallas Green and Tribune Co. got the message loud and clear - what they tried to do the first couple of years was nowhere near good enough.
What happened soon after the tirade, though, set the stage for the first winning Cubs team most of us had ever seen. A Cubs renaissance took over the city, its media, its neighborhood, and by extension, the rest of the league.
Rob is probably right. After all, he saw the game at a time when I was still finding joy from pooing my pants. But I think that in retrospect Elia may have been right.
As easy as it may be to say that the hopes of Cub fans everywhere were elevated by the Tribune sale, it seems that many Cub fans felt transgressed upon by Dallas Green. He was a hostile encroacher of the Friendly Confines. His every move was scrutinized, his choices were criticized, and his manager was hated.
The thing is, we know now a fundamental truth of baseball that wasn't any different then. That truth could be summed up with a single alliterative sentence: These Things Take Time. Green didn't come to a team ready to make history; he had to bring history with him once he got there. Even now -- with rampant free agency making every next season a new frontier full of inexplicable and unexplainable stories -- it's not so easy to show up, flip the "winner" switch, sit back and enjoy. Green's build was a slow one and he spent his first two years assembling a puzzle. Elias, a savvy baseball man, had to know that.
So why were the Cubs booed that day? Probably -- I'm only guessing -- because the fans at the game truly hated them. They hated them because they were part of the "new tradition," they hated them because the guy who assembled the team looked down on the fans, and they surely hated them because, yes, they sucked. But knowing that These Things Take Time, Elias had to have felt frustrated that his team's so-called fans were neither patient enough to wait nor were they really interested in even giving them a chance. So, he blew his stack.
How do I think that, in retrospect, maybe he was right? What it comes down to is this: more than a quarter century later he's still working. For whatever it's worth, historically managing the Cubs is practically a kiss of death. A lot of guys check out but they seemingly never leave. The fact that Elias still works, despite having the black mark of not only managing a horrible team but actually going temporarily insane in the clubhouse is an indication that maybe he wasn't so bad a guy. And if it's true that These Things Take Time, and he knew that but Cub fans didn't know or didn't care, then maybe we can understand at least a little why Elias went nuts for a few minutes.
But in retrospect, the one thing "the other fifteen" teaches us is that Cub fans have perhaps never been the blind supporters that they've been reputed to be. And while they may never boo Santa Claus they can be flat-out brutal. In other words, some stereotypes are just plain wrong.
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You've got a pretty sad baseball organization if you can count the number of well-reputed baseball men that they've had in the past half century on one hand. Leo Durocher was quite possibly the first since Wrigley and Veeck died and lord knows he had his faults. The second was Dallas Green and his hiring was just about the only think the Tribune ever did right.
Green came to Chicago from Philadelphia where he'd managed the Phillies to their first World Championship since they became a team in 1883. In other words, if ever there was a guy who could turn around the Cubs 70+ years of losing, then it probably would be the guy who turned around Philadelphia's 90+ years of losing.
Green promptly began to shake things up after joining the team following the atrocious '81 season. As he went forward in "building a new tradition"* he did so by severing the team's ties with their players of yore**. It obviously cheesed off a lot of fans to see their heroes of the '69 Cubs lose their jobs as coaches but Green wasn't in Chicago to make friends. He was there to win. And his chosen route toward victory was twofold - he'd stock the major league team with his Philadelphia favorites and he'd build the team toward tomorrow by developing a wildly successful farm system.
(*hint: the "old tradition" equaled losing
**all of whom by default were "losers")
Among the former players Green would first acquire from Philly were Keith Moreland, Dickie Noles, and Dan Larsen. These three players were acquired for the best Cubs pitcher Mike Krukow. The fans and press practically revolted over this trade, which was kind of ridiculous in retrospect considering that the "best Cubs pitcher" was a career 45-50 with an ERA of 4.17 when Green unloaded him. Nevertheless, fans were pissed.
Green followed that trade with another highly-contested move. He dealt fan favorite Ivan DeJesus to the Phillies for Larry Bowa -- a shortstop seven years older than Ivan -- and a throw-in prospect named Ryne Sandberg. (Again, the press and fans were not pleased.)
The first year off Green's tenure as General Manager did not yield much fruit. Then again, in Leo the Lip's first season as manager the Cubs lost 103 games. Dallas's Cubs didn't do that badly, but they hardly set the league on fire in '82 with their 89 losses. The following year Green continued to tinker with his team, acquiring guys like "over-the-hill" Ron Cey, along with Steve Trout and Warren Brusstar from the White Sox.
The result? Even more losses in 1983 - 91 in total. Not exactly change Cub fans could believe in, not that many of them cared about the results so much as they cared about being dissed by a guy who called them losers while averaging 90 losses in his first two years of running the team.. You have to remember that by the time 1983 rolled around, it had been 38 years since the Cubs reached the playoffs and more than 10 years since they'd even threatened to get back to October play. Cub fans in 1983 were conditioned even more than Cub fans in 2009 to loveBeautiful Wrigley Field and not horrible Dallas Green who crapped all over the traditions that made the Cubs America's lovable losers.
Of course, we all know how 1984 turned out. We'll have more on that in the near future, except I'll say this now: they were entirely Dallas Green's team. Five of the eight regulars on the offense came from the Phillies organization -- Larry Bowa, Ryne Sandberg, Gary Matthews, Bob Dernier, and Keith Moreland. Not to mention ex Phillies Dick Ruthven and Warren Brusstar, both of whom ate a lot of innings -- to varying degrees of success -- for the Cubs that year.
Think about it. Within three years, Green had taken the laughingstock of baseball and gotten them to a few outs from reaching the World Series. Then the Cubs blew it, fell flat on their faces in 1985 when every starting pitcher went on the DL at the same time, and by 1987 he'd resigned from the team due to "philosophical differences" with the Tribune.
In other words, the short of it was that Green failed the Cubs -- or more accurately that the Tribune failed Green. The Tribune hardly became the P.K. Wrigley of the modern day but they were far from George Steinbrenner, too.
But upon reflection, there's an awful lot of evidence that had Green gotten a little more support and had the Cubs stayed his course then the 1990's may have been entirely different for Chicago. After all, among the list of players Green drafted and didn't stick around to develop...
Greg Maddux, arguably the best right-handed pitcher of all time. Jamie Moyer, still pitching at 46 and recent member of the 250-win club. (Imagine a Cubs team topped by Maddux and Moyer for the last 20 years, with their 600 wins between them.) Mike Harkey, whose career was derailed because of an idiotic injury. And those are just the three pitchers developed by Green who went on to have any hint of big league success -- he'd already displayed the ability to acquire other talented arms through trades.
As for the bats, a Green-run 1990's Cubs may have included would-be Hall of Famer Rafael Palmeiro and RBI machine Joe Carter to compliment the already reliable Mark Grace (home-grown), Ryne Sandberg, Shawon Dunston (home-grown too) and Andre Dawson. (Then again, maybe not Palmeiro since he was chased out of town because he chased the skirt of the wrong future Hall of Famer's gal). Come to think of it, since Green left the only hitter drafted and developed by the Cubs with any degree of success is Geovany Soto --and Green left more than 20 years ago.
Something said in an earlier chapter was that the first two moves made by the Tribune were perhaps the best they ever made. They gave us Harry Caray and Dallas Green. Unfortunately, Green wasn't there for long enough to change the tradition. But he gave Cub fans a taste of what things would've been like if the organization wasn't run by bumbling, ineffective, non-caring douchebags. Sadly that's all it's been for us ever since ... just a taste.
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By the time P.K. Wrigley finally died in 1977 he'd done a lot to decimate the Cubs organization. It probably wasn't that he wanted the team to lose, but instead that he didn't understand what was needed for them to win. Consequently, the history of the Cubs is littered with his bad ideas -- from the voodoo hex-man to the College of Coaches -- and the reputation of the team is cemented by his unwillingness to spend money on valuable prospects an players.
The best example of this might be in Bill Madlock. Up until 2003, the Cubs had a long-standing reputation for being unable to replace Ron Santo at third base, but this wasn't entirely true. In 1973 they'd acquired from Texas a young third baseman named Bill Madlock. Madlock would be a Cub for 3 seasons, in which he came in 3rd for Rookie of the Year and then led the league in batting average for back-to-back years. Then he had the audacity to ask the team to pay him what he he thought he was worth - $200,000 a year for 5 years. Finding him "impossible to deal with" on account of how "no player is worth more than $100,000 a year, Wrigley sent him packing to San Francisco for two players who briefly did well for the Cubs before burning out into obscurity. Madlock, meanwhile, would play until 1987 and retire with a .305 AVG and 2,008 career hits. (This sort of reminds me of when the Tribune would let Greg Maddux go elsewhere, only to spend their Maddux money on two or three guys who'd also have one good year and disappear.)
As you surely know by now, P.K. Wrigley didn't care to spend money on players. He preferred to market a beautiful ballpark where baseball happened to be played 81 times a year. His Cubs were lovable losers. They were hard to hate because they were just so pathetic. Mostly they were just pitied.
Then, after P.K. died, his son William the Third inherited the team. And with the pending gut-blow of a massive estate tax he was forced to sell the Cubs on June 16th, 1981 to a massive organization with a history of growth and success -- the Tribune Company. The cost of the sale was $20.5 million dollars. That's right - for about $10 million less than what Alex Rodriguez earned at his peak, you could've bought the Cubs back in 1981.
I imagine that Cub fans must've been excited. After all, no matter how much they loved those losers, it must've been tough watching organizations like the Reds, Mets, and just about everybody else trounce them on a yearly basis. Then comes the Tribune, who promptly swooped in and within a matter of six months made two changes that would be forever memorable to those who were alive to experience them. First, they signed Harry Caray to replace the retired Jack Brickhouse, and second they brought in Phillies GM Dallas Green to build a winning organization from the ground up.
Odd how, 29 years later, those remain perhaps the two best moves the Tribune ever made. More on them in the coming week.
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with additional contribution by Rob
There was a time in the 70's when the Cubs had an extremely solid core of players who were completely lacking in support. Take the '77 Cubs for example. Offensively, they had some talented, above-average (at the time) hitters such as Steve Ontiveros (.299 AVG, .390 OBP, 32 2B, 3 3B, 10 HR), Bill Buckner (.284 AVG, 27 2B, 11 HR, 60 RBI), Larry Biittner (.298 AVG, .345 OBP, 28 2B, 12 HR) and Bobby Murcer (.265 AVG, .355 OBP, 27 HR, 89 RBI). In the pitching staff were some young guns like Rick Reushel (20-10, 2.79 ERA), Ray Burris (14-16, 4.72 ERA), and Bill Bonham (10-13, 4.36 ERA). But the bullpen was where the team was made or broken and they had two extremely talented future Cy Young recipients - Willie Hernandez (who would go on to lead Detroit to a World Series in 1984) and Bruce Sutter.
In 1977 he was 24 years old and he went 7-3 with an ERA of 1.34 along with 31 saves in 107.1 innings of work. In fact, on July 31st the Cubs were 60-41, 19 games over .500 and 2 games ahead of the second place squad in the NL East. Then on August 1st their season came to a screeching halt. Bruce Sutter got hurt. The Cubs would go a mortifying 21-40 the rest of the way. They finished the year with 8 losses in their last 9 games and went from a 2 game lead on the division to a 20 game deficit. And it happened - at least a little bit - because the Cubs lost Sutter and they weren't deep enough to survive without him. He was that good and that important to the team.
Sutter's best pitch - hell, his ONLY pitch - was what he called the "split finger fastball", what you kids know now as a 'forkball'. He didn't invent the pitch, he just threw it the best. In fact, he was bouncing around the lowest of the low parts of organized baseball, with his crappy fastball and not much else, when a pitching coach noticed his freakishly long fingers and wondered if he should start throwing the pitch that Elroy Face rode to an 18-1 record in 1959. Sutter almost immediately mastered the grip, and almost as soon found himself pitching in the majors in Wrigley Field.
Thing is, his initial success in 1976-77 could possibly be excused, as he made his first trip around the league. Typically, he'd toss up a mid-80s fastball for strike one, and batters would lick their lips and wrench their backs when he'd throw the next pitch up there about the same speed, only to see the damn thing dive like it rolled off of a table. With two strikes, batters would start hopping around in the box, figuring he would 'hang one' in the zone like so many other more 'conventional' breaking ball hurlers. But, unlike curves and sliders, which rely on hand or wrist rotation, the splitter was far more trustworthy, as it relied on the torque brought on by Bruce's long fingers as he made his natural throwing motion.
How do I know all this? Talked to him myself. Yeah, he and several other Cubs played an exhibition basketball game in my hometown in the winter of 1977-78, and I was in line to get a Polaroid taken with him. (Kids, a Polaroid, in case you don't know...) Anyway, they ran out of film, and it took them forever to find another one, so I asked him why guys just didn't WAIT for his pitches to dip down out of the strike zone. He told me that his fastball was so cruddy that guys could not help themselves, they figured if they could reach one, they could mash it.
And, mash it they did a few times in his next three years with the Cubs. But more often than not, things would happen like what happened to the Expos in the 9th inning of September 8th, 1977. A few names you guys might have heard of: Ellis Valentine, Gary Carter, Larry Parrish. Nine pitches, nine strikes. I never knew how he managed to keep it up for so long, why batters could not exercise even a little patience, but that was due to his ability to set up hitters, to psychologically bait them, tease them into thinking that he didn't have it. Bruce was able to do that, not only with us, but with the Cardinals and Braves, long after the novelty faded on his splitter.
For all of 1977, 1978, and most of 1979 before his arm really got tired, I have never seen another relief pitcher like Bruce Sutter. Goose Gossage, Mariano Rivera, Eric Gagne, K Rod, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman, all extremely dominant. For two and a half years, Sutter was MOST dominant, completely automatic, it wasn't even close. Gossage came closest, then Gagne.
And Sutter, like all closers, came on in the 8th, or even the 7th if the 'middle' guy was already in and having trouble. He came, he saw, he closed, game over, Cubs win. Granted, the Cubs starting staff did not always get the game into "Sutter territory". In fact, for the Bandbox Cubs of the era, very often they could not, but when they could, cash money, homey.
Chicago would lose Sutter for good 3 seasons later. He simply needed some downtime, and management gave up on him. He was another victim of the Wrigley inheritance tax/fire sale bonanza and, while he would net the Cubs some key contributors to the '84 division title, Sutter would remain another lost talent who would experience his greatest successes (in terms of championships) away from the Friendly Confines.
Now, Sutter was on the mound, wearing another town's pajamas, for what turned out to quite possibly be THE single turning point of the entire franchise, but that will wait. For now, just imagine for a minute what the Cubs organization would have been like if they'd held onto their finest players, or if they hadn't passed up on some of the talent that fell through their fingers. It didn't have to be this way. It didn't have to go this badly. And yet, the Cubs sale to the Tribune was not the end of the long stream of mismanagement and failure by the organization. More on that next.
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God help the Baby Boomers, and those like me who immediately followed them, for being overly nostalgic about our childhoods. If I've read one, I've read 500 separate memoirs from young Chicago-area boys (and some girls) whose summertime childhood afternoons kicked off with pb&j with the crusts removed, then turning on Channel 9 at 1:00 for "The Leadoff Man", followed by the now antiquated announcement at 1:15 as the telecast proper began. It hasn't been necessary for a long time for a television show to state that it is "on the air", considering that most of us get our teevee through a wire or on a satellite dish.
But my guy, our guy, Jack Brickhouse, the Voice of the Cubs, THE man who brought it home to us 162 times a year, started out when it was still a real curiosity that baseball games could be sucked up through the lens of a big camera, sent over airwaves to our attenae tethered to the tops of our houses, and pumped back down through what I called "ledium wire" to the big ol' Zenith in the corner of our living room. Like most old dogs, he learned his habits when he was young, and saw no reason to change anything as the Cubs and baseball rolled onto the end of the 1970's and beyond.
I understand all of you who might have caught Brick's act on an episode of "Cubs Rain Delay Theatre", like Ernie Banks' 500th home run, or Moose Moryn's shoetop catch to preserve Don Cardwell's no-hitter, with the bad WGN graphics and the cameraman manually zooming the picture in-and-out to enhance the excitement...I get it if you all think he was cheesier than mama's au gratin hashbrowns. Yeah, by the time I came to the party, all of Brick's cornball expressions - "WHEEEEE, boyyyy", "Whewwww, boy", and of course, "Hey, HEYYY!" were dated and stale, but I didn't know that! Unlike many of my baby boomer brethren, who were more used to radio listening and perhaps caught games on the radio with Vince and Lloyd, I had absolutely ZERO tolerance for having to listening to the radio when I could SEE the game on the teevee!
So, as a result, I spend far, far more time listening to Jack Brickhouse than I spent listening to my own dad, or any other adult, for that matter. For most of you, I understand Harry Caray is your guy. It's kind of mind-blowing to think that for a generation of kids, Len Kasper is going to be That Guy.
Don't get me wrong, Jack wasn't Ron Santo as far as the manic-depressive spectrum is concerned. We were never honored with his presence in terms of a postseason run, although they brought Jack back for the clinching game in Pittsburgh in 1984 where he deferred to Harry, of course. So all of my Brick memories deal with individual instances, most of which were negative. My most vivid Brick memory deals with a early-70s game where the Cubs needed to beat the Pirates to stay in the race, and Willie Stargell came to the plate in the 9th with a man on with us clinging to a one-run lead. We got a "whooo-boy" as Pops walked to the plate, AND an "ohhhh, brother" as soon as he connected...that's ALL he said. It was like somebody accidentally snipped his mike.
Of course, we've all heard some of the background on Brick, and probably what happened that either he or Arne Harris took the pre-emptive step of doing just that...turning off his mike as Brick launched into a stream of expletives. As a kid, if you would have told me that Brick swore, and drank, and did other things that most red-blooded men did, I wouldn't have believed it for a second. Brick was kind of like one of my teachers in my mind - beyond reproach! When I was about 12 or 13, and recesses and weekends were spent trying to gross the other guys out, one of my friends who actually followed baseball more than I launched into a story about Jack and his proclivities in his hometown of Pee-oria, particularly concerning the strippers at Big Al's and...well, what happens in Pee-oria should stay in Pee-oria, if you can catch my drift. Naturally, I was totally HORRIFIED!
This, this so-called...friend! Who in the end, has turned out to be a total Sox fan...anyway, I tried as hard as I could to ignore him, but when I heard the same stories from other people in college, etc, I then assumed, like Dickey Dunn in "Slap Shot", that "It must be true!!" Well, Jack Brickhouse was no saint, he probably could match the great Harry Caray beer for beer, but like Harry, Jack was just as bright and just as cognizant of his audience on WGN-TV - namely, the housewives that would flock to the park on "Ladies Day" Tuesdays, and children such as myself. Chicago wasn't really ready for a guy with a hangover and slurred speech on "The Leadoff Man". They wanted cheery, chirpy, corny, and unabashedly partisan. Jack would point out ovations for visiting pitchers who had pitched well in Wrigley, which was quite often. But, primarily, his efforts were spent building up the has-beens and never-will-bes that wore our laundry during the P.K.. Wrigley years.
Once in a while, you would find Brick at his most exuberant, like when the Cubs pulled out a 16-15 game against the Reds in 1977 - I will never forget the glee when Davey Rosello drove across the winning run! Both of Kenny Holtzman's no-hitters, Burt Hooton's early in 1972, and Milt Pappas' disputed call of ball four to Larry Stahl with 2 outs in the ninth that blew uncle Miltie's perfect game. Brick was not into criticizing umps, he merely said the 'pitch was close', but as he said it, his tone informed you that he did not agree with the call at all. And, even though Milt and the Cubs were robbed of something that has happened less than 15 times in all of recorded history, Brick was just as pleased as punch when Pappas held his composure and retired the last hitter to at least preserve the no-no.
Yes, I realize that Brick also called for the Bears, as well as the Sox, and he did national broadcasts (do you know it was Brick who was calling the World Series game where Willie Mays made "The Catch"?) But when I think of all the former Cubs who deserved to be part of a championship season, I always put Jack Brickhouse at the top of the list.
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