Dunston took off for winter ball in Venezuela with Chicago coach Ruben Amaro, the former Phillie shortstop, but his season was cut short in December when he got hit by a pitch in the groin. As Dunston convalesced, Bowa stroked balls off the tee until spring training. On the first day, Frey called Bowa into his office and told him he did not know who his shortstop would be. "We have six weeks to decide," said Frey.
"I have one bad year, the team wins its division, and everyone wants to get me out," Bowa says. "I don't understand that. I had one off year. No excuses. But I did what I was supposed to do defensively and we won. I don't think, as a player with 15 years in the big leagues, that I should go down to April 4th on a string. I've never been treated like this."
Green and Frey must decide which way they want to go—with a gifted, un-proven youth, a raw talent with little past and all future, or with the skilled, polished veteran, all past with little future. When Bowa came up, the Phillies were rebuilding and he was flat given the job with a license to lose ball games. Such is not the case in Chicago.
"We're not in the character-building stage," says Green. "This is a good baseball team. You can't afford a high-error guy in a key position."
The Cubs particularly need a gifted hand at short, Green says, because their pitchers are not a strikeout staff, relying more on finesse than heat. That means lots of ground balls. "Consequently," says Green, "we have to catch the ball. If Shawon Dunston proves he's ready to do that and play major league shortstop on an everyday basis, we'll probably go with him at short. We don't know."
For Dunston, the spring of 1985 may be too soon. He still charges those easy grounders and muffs more than his share.
The day after he took batting practice with Frey, coach Don Zimmer hit bouncers to him at short. "Can you make ten plays in a row for me?" Zimmer asked him. Dunston set himself. He bobbled the second grounder—"Ohhh," Zimmer scolded—and misplayed the fourth.
"You have to start over again," Zimmer said.
Over he started. Zimmer hit him several easy one-bouncers, which Dunston swept up and threw to first, and of each Zimmer said, "Another cookie." After Dunston fielded eight balls errorlessly, the coach cautioned him, "Make a play on this one." Zimmer rapped it deep into the hole. Dunston raced to his right, snagged the ball backhand, leaped in the air, spinning, and rifled a peg to first base. Lovely it was.
Zimmer called out, "That was a big league play!"