Bearish Times for the Cubs
Andre Dawson has hit a lot of big homers, but few have generated as much excitement among his teammates as number 381 did last Saturday in Cincinnati. His three-run blast in the first inning ended a string of 36 scoreless innings by the Cubs—12 short of the major league record, shared by the 1968 Cubs and 1906 Philadelphia Athletics—and sparked Chicago to a 10-3 win. "When Andre hit the homer, it was like, Finally, we can relax," said Cub first baseman Mark Grace. "You could sense it. It was over. We can have fun again."
It has not been a fun season for last-place Chicago, which through Sunday was 8-15 and already eight games out of first place. The rest of the year won't be much fun, either. The Cubs are not a good team and have little chance of becoming a good one anytime soon, even if they're not quite as bad as they were during their scoreless streak.
"A lot of teaching has to be done on this club," says manager Jim Lefebvre. "We're not going to be crushing the ball all the time. We've got to learn how to win when we're not hitting. We're going to do it until we get it right, or we might make some changes."
The Cubs have made a number of significant changes in the past two years, many of which have backfired. Most recently they traded veteran outfielder George Bell to the White Sox in the last week of spring training because, sources say, the front office didn't think Bell was a good influence in the clubhouse. So far the deal has turned out to be a steal for the Sox: At week's end Bell was hitting .333 and had a team-high 15 RBIs, and the two players for whom Bell was traded were struggling. Outfielder Sammy Sosa was batting .220 with only one RBI, and middle reliever Ken Patterson had a 3.86 ERA.
Cub general manager Larry Himes made the Bell deal with an eye toward the future, which is his custom. Before joining the Cubs, Himes built the White Sox into contenders by trading veteran players—most notably outfielder Harold Baines, a longtime favorite in Chicago—for younger ones. Himes left the South Side following the 1990 season, in part because he didn't get along with Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The Cubs hired him last November to replace Jim Frey, who was reassigned within the organization.
Himes brought in Lefebvre, who had managed the Mariners the previous three years. Lefebvre's intense, gung-ho style went over well in Seattle for a while, but by the end of the '91 season it had worn thin, and even though he had guided the Mariners to their first winning record, he was fired.
Lefebvre's ideas—he's high on daily meetings and constant instruction—haven't been embraced by a number of Cubs. He has instituted what he believes is a baseball first: an optional 9 a.m. "throwaround" for players before night games on the road. For the first throw-around, on April 28 in Atlanta, only Grace, Sosa, Doug Dascenzo and Derrick May showed up.
Naturally the Cubs' slow start hasn't helped morale, but the shuttling of players on and off the roster has only made it worse. After Bell was traded, veteran reliever Les Lancaster was released. Since the start of the season, six players have been sent back to Triple A, including outfielder Dwight Smith, who hit .324 in 1989 and finished second to teammate Jerome Walton in the Rookie of the Year balloting that year. Smith has been in a slump pretty much ever since. The purpose of the shuffling has been to help the offense, but at week's end Chicago was still hitting only .216.
More moves will surely be forthcoming. Rumors have begun again about trades involving shortstop Shawon Dunston. Dawson and pitcher Greg Maddux can be free agents after the season. Dawson has hinted at wanting to play for a contender in '93, because he has never been in a World Series.