But Franks and most of his players were there in 1977, when he managed the Cubs to a startling 8�-game lead on June 29. They hung on until the All-Star break, but after Aug. 1, the time of the season that, Rojas says, "separates the men from the boys," the Cubbies toddled in their diapers, playing 19 games below .500 and finishing the season 20 games behind the Phillies. The Santo-Banks-Williams bunch could hardly have folded more convincingly. Youngsters around Chicago are growing up thinking that the dog days of summer refer to the way the Cubs play in August.
Why might 1978 be different? "One year more experience, better pitching, and righthanded power," says Franks, who at 64 is the oldest manager in the major leagues. If it were not for the fat cigar he wraps his mouth around and the occasional smile that sneaks out of him, Herman does a nearly perfect imitation of a sea lion with belly cramps.
The new righthanded power comes from Kingman, who signed with the Cubs last fall after being peddled from the Mets to the Padres to the Angels to the Yankees in 1977—leaving 26 home runs and 143 strikeouts in his wake. In Kingman, the Cubs have their first home-run threat from the right side since Santo left in 1973. He also gives the city its first slugger with his ego in an eggshell since Richie-call-me- Dick Allen left the White Sox in 1974. Teammates, coaches and reporters tiptoe around Kingman, hoping they will not find out what it's like to see a 6'6" man burst into tears while armed with a bat. Asked how he feels about being with the Cubs, Kingman sat back on the bench and said, "I've had a wonderful day. I'm in a great mood. If I talk about baseball it will ruin it."
If Kingman were to let his bat talk for him, his interviews would be long periods of anguished silence interrupted by occasional wild-eyed screams. More than a third of his hits have been homers, but more than a third of his times at bat have resulted in strikeouts. The Cubs knew what they were getting when they signed him—before this season Kingman had whiffed 853 times in 2,657 at bats—and his run production has offset the inconsistency that is the mark of streak hitting. He leads the team with 39 RBIs, and his 14 homers are 11 more than any other member of the Cubs, whose power from the left side—in the form of Bobby Murcer—has fizzled into oblivion.
The I-hate-you-ball swings that Kingman takes lead his line-driving teammates to see him for what he is: a potential game breaker who more often than not will kill a rally. "He will hit his 30 home runs and knock in 100, but I will be on the bases many times before I come home," says leadoff man DeJesus, one of the best—and most underrated—shortstops in baseball. During the ninth inning of a 1-0 loss to Cincinnati last week, Kingman stepped to the plate with men on first and third and one out. Not surprisingly, he fanned. Asked if he had considered pinch-hitting for his top strikeout and RBI man—which Franks has done in the past—the manager said, "If I knew then what I know now, yes, I'd have pinch-hit for him."
Such surly wisdom is vintage Franks, who only steps far enough onto the limb of predictions to say, "We will go as far as our pitching will carry us this year." With a starting four—Rick Reuschel, Ray Burris, Dave Roberts and Dennis Lamp—that entered the season with a lifetime record of 220-227, such a statement should bring helpless laughter and the retort, you're going nowhere, son.
But consistent pitching is what has lofted the Cubs to the top. Reuschel, 20-10 last year, leads the league with a 2.07 ERA and is 8-4. The other starters have kept the games close enough for the strong Cub bullpen, led by Bruce Sutter, to take over. Sutter had 31 saves a year ago, throwing a "split-fingered fastball" and averaging better than a strikeout an inning, a ratio he has maintained this year. So far in '78 he has eight saves, four wins and a 1.62 ERA.
It was an injury to Sutter that precipitated the Cub fall last year. On Aug. 2, with Chicago two games in front of the Phillies, Sutter went on the 21-day disabled list. When he returned, the Cubs trailed by nine games. If there is any hope of the bleacher bums being decked out in finery come October, Sutter's arm will have to stay sound.
Holtzman, who has lived near Chicago since 1965, the year the Cubs signed him, has dressed for five World Series, as many as any other active player. However, he does not wear any of his championship rings. He keeps them locked in a vault. "But when this team gets in, you'll see me wearing that ring around," says Holtzman. "I'll be strutting."
On the off-chance that the dog days lay waste another Cub team, Chicago fans will still have the words of syndicated columnist George F. Will to console them: "In the deepest sediment of my soul, I know that the Cubs have been good for me. They have taught me the first rule of reasonable living: discern the inevitable and submit to it without tears."