"I've had more fun in the last month than I had in my previous 2½ years combined in Chicago," third baseman Steve Buechele said.
"Dunston says he's still dizzy," a reporter said to Cub trainer John Fierro.
"Dunston's always dizzy," Fierro said. "What's new about that?"
The win gave Chicago a 7-2 record for the trip, a 17-8 record for the season. This was the Cubs' best first 25 games in 20 years. Chicago was the most unlikely of division leaders, in first place by three games over the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central. "Rejuvenated" was a description of the new attitude.
"It's all so different now," says Buechele, who had described 1994 as "baseball at its most miserable." "It's a whole new mind-set. Guys get here early, three hours before the game. Guys want to be here. I was thinking that this was going to be my last year, that I didn't want to play anymore. Now it's so different. You actually see guys smiling on the field."
The indignities of a year ago have been washed away with the arrival of a new, kinder and gentler administration. While the strike was dominating headlines, the Cubs quietly were restructuring their entire operation. Gone is autocratic general manager Larry Himes, who insisted on daily team meetings and seemed to have his hands and eyes everywhere. He has been replaced by Andy MacPhail, the 42-year-old architect of two world champions with the Minnesota Twins. MacPhail is now the president of the Cubs, and he hired Ed Lynch from the New York Mets as his general manager, and Lynch hired Jim Riggleman from the San Diego Padres to replace Trebelhorn as manager, and Riggleman hired Ferguson Jenkins from the Cubs' past as pitching coach, and Jenkins has talked long on the virtues of throwing strikes and keeping the ball low, and...first place? Everything has worked faster and better than anyone could have expected.
"The strike gave us time to get organized," MacPhail says. "We were all new, and we had time to organize a system. By the time that one important week in April arrived, when everything started again, we were ready."
"We had three priorities when we took over," Lynch says. "First, we wanted to re-sign Mark Grace. We did that. Second, we wanted to upgrade our defense in centerfield. We not only did that, getting Brian McRae from Kansas City, but he brought along some extra offense. Third, we wanted to upgrade our pitching. That's a goal you'll never fulfill in this league, because as a general manager you'll go to your deathbed trying to upgrade your pitching, but we did make some moves. The big one was signing Jaime Navarro, from the Milwaukee Brewers. That really has worked out."
Grace, a free agent who had looked at moving crosstown to the White Sox, was brought back on a one-year deal. McRae was obtained from Kansas City for two minor leaguers in one of those 1990s trades that really is not a trade, a small-market team dumping a large salary to a large-market team. Navarro was enticed from the Brewers by an incentive-filled contract with an $850,000 base salary.
"The important thing is that the guys we got really wanted to come here," Lynch says. "You have a lot of things to offer with the Cubs. Does a player want to play in a big market? Does he want to play every day on national television? Does he want to play mostly day games at home, living a relatively normal lifestyle? This is the one place he can do that."