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KEEP AN EYE ON THE KIDS
Hank Hersch
July 11, 1988
The Chicago Cubs, led by some young talent, are stirring up dust—and trouble—in the NL East
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July 11, 1988

Keep An Eye On The Kids

The Chicago Cubs, led by some young talent, are stirring up dust—and trouble—in the NL East

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"Hitting to all fields is something I take pride in," says Grace. "When you're one-dimensional, you're easy to defense."

A 24th-round pick out of San Diego State in '85, Grace began this season in Triple A Des Moines, where he slumped badly. But when Jim Frey, who replaced Green as G.M. in November 1987, went out to watch Grace, the kid went 10 for 18 and made four spectacular fielding plays in five days. Two weeks later, Durham was dealt to the Reds. Since coming to the bigs, Grace has hit .303—and batted 1,000 in personal public relations. Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Dave van Dyck recently showed Grace a letter from a fan who said he could never like the young first baseman because he spit too much. A few days later, Grace informed van Dyck that he had ceased expectorating altogether.

As much as the no-K kids have helped the team, a Maddux redux has been even more vital. One of just two Cub pitchers with a winning record, Maddux is 13-3 in 16 starts, with a 2.16 ERA. That's after a rookie year of 6-14, 5.61. Last winter, however, Maddux went to Venezuela and pitched for a team in Maracaibo under Cub coach Dick Pole. Pole had a hunch it would pay off. "Greg's the kind of kid you have to convince all the time," he says. "But I figured after he lost 14 games he would be more open to suggestion." Pole resurrected Maddux's confidence in his curveball and changeup. "And his fastball," says Pole, "does something different every time."

While growing up in Las Vegas, Maddux learned that by throwing at a lower, three-quarter arm angle, he could make his ball do unusual things. But his tenacity came naturally: He is 4� years younger than his brother, Mike, who now pitches for the Phillies, and as a kid Greg wanted to keep up. "For his age, Greg is probably as supremely confident and supremely competitive as anyone around," says Goldsberry, who selected Maddux in the second round of '84.

"We're still new to the game, still learning what it takes to win," says Maddux. "We come up just happy to be here, but when that wears off you start thinking about winning." Moyer (5-7, 3.17 at week's end), with a little more support, could be an eight-or nine-game winner by now; the league is hitting just .238 against him. Jeff Pico, 22, has already thrown a shutout. Lancaster is being groomed as the stopper of the future. The new youth crew has helped lop almost a run off the team ERA of '87. And the veterans have taken notice. With a 7-5 record and a 4.28 ERA, Rick Sutcliffe is even contemplating a night of Nintendo. "If that's what it takes," he says.

What it usually takes to bolster a young pitching staff is defense, and Chicago's ranks near the top of the league. For that the Cubs can thank a ripened Dunston. When Zimmer took over before the season, he claimed Dunston as his project. "I told my coaches in spring training, "Nobody else monkey with him,' " says Zimmer, who felt that Dunston suffered from excessive advice. Zimmer's patience seems to be working. Through June 26 Dunston had raised his fielding average to a league-high .978, and at week's end his batting average was .305. "People have said I'm out of control and I don't think enough to play shortstop," says Dunston. "It takes some people more time to mature. I'm mature now."

Meanwhile, the really mature Cubs are doing more than baby-sitting. Former MVPs Sandberg and Andre Dawson, 34, are heading for All-Star berths, and third baseman Vance Law, 31, is off to a career start. "I'm getting the same feeling that I had in '84," says catcher Jody Davis, 31, referring to the last year Chicago won the NL East. Despite the age differences, the team has come together; for a recent off-day golf outing, 21 of 24 players showed up. "These guys don't make me feel any younger when every day they're asking, 'Who's the oldest guy around?' " says Dawson. "My comeback always is, 'Just make sure you stick around this long.' "

Says Zimmer, "I've got a pretty easy job. These guys are easy to manage. They get along, they play hard." And apparently they're not burdened by the Cubs' dreary history. Second-year man Martinez offers this thoughtful assessment of Chicago's budding organization: "It's like Harry Caray says every day: 'Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!' " Well, not every day, but more often than not. And for Cub fans, that's a lot.

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