SI Vault
 
How 'bout them Cubillies?
Ron Fimrite
March 29, 1982
Now that 18 Phils have joined Chicago's Cubs, the team has higher hopes
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 29, 1982

How 'bout Them Cubillies?

Now that 18 Phils have joined Chicago's Cubs, the team has higher hopes

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Dickie Noles, the rarely tranquil pitcher, was seated at the far end of the dugout at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz. last week, steadfastly not watching a spring training B game. Because he wasn't a scheduled participant in this struggle, he was startled to hear his name called. " Noles," the voice said, "get out there and coach first base." With the devotion that typifies the new character of his team, Noles dutifully trotted to the box—which, to his humiliation, was already occupied by a Milwaukee Brewers coach. Noles's team wasn't even at bat. "I don't believe this one," he said on the way back to a dugout filled with teammates howling with laughter, notably Larry Bowa and Keith Moreland.

Oh, what a bunch of cutups those Phillies are, you might say. Maybe so, but HoHoKam Park is the spring home of the Chicago Cubs, and Bowa, More-land and Noles are Cubbies, and part of the new look the North Siders have taken on. The Broad Street look, it could be called, because, at last count, 18 former members of the Philadelphia organization, from executive vice president-general manager Dallas Green to rookie in-fielder-outfielder Ryne Sandberg, are now Cubs. The first edition of the Tribune Company-owned team is jokingly called the " Chicago Phillies."

The Cubs have always been as rich a source of humor as mothers-in-law. They are the lovable losers of baseball, the "Munchkins of the Midway" who haven't won a World Series in 73 years and haven't even been in one in 36. "There is no off-season in Chicago," Tribune columnist Steve Daley once observed. "It is only when the teams start playing that the fans lose interest." Japery of this nature doesn't amuse Green, a mountainous man with a fierce aspect. "It bothers me," he says. "I know Cub fans are totally loyal, but the way it's been, if you're a Cub, you're loved whether you play well or not. That's not the way it should be."

The Cubs' new slogan is "Building a New Tradition," which, of course, defies the true meaning of tradition. "Years of losing had permeated this entire organization," Green said last week from the HoHoKam ball park—which, in the old tradition, is situated across the street from a cemetery. "This is a great franchise, but a change of ownership was paramount. A fresh approach is what the Tribune Company wants, and we're going to give it to them."

Green more than trebled the size of the Cubs' understaffed front office, largely with former Phillies, among them Gordon Goldsberry, who has the formidable assignment of rebuilding the rickety farm system. Green puts high priority on the minor league operation, because he ran the Phillies' farm system when he joined the front office in 1972. "When Ruly Carpenter brought Paul Owens [as general manager] and me in, we had a team that finished 37� games behind. We had no semblance of a team. But we put the right people in the right places and turned it all around."

Green proved to be one of the right people when he was appointed field manager late in the 1979 season as an emergency replacement for the cashiered Danny Ozark. Green's uncompromising manner and his dedication to the work ethic didn't exactly endear him to his players, who had won NL East titles in 1976, '77 and '78 but never made it to the Series. The Phillies fought against him, among themselves and with almost everyone throughout the 1980 season. They also won the club's first National League pennant in 30 years and the first World Series in the 97-year history of the franchise.

But Green remained a reluctant manager. He had been happy in the front office and had good reason to believe that someday he would succeed his good friend Owens as general manager. Then the team was sold last year by the Carpenter family to a group headed by Team President Bill Giles. Meanwhile, Andrew J. McKenna, the man the Tribune Company put in charge of the Cubs when it bought them from the Wrigley family, was looking for a G.M. of his own. Green had been a winner and he had had front-office experience: The perfect man for the job, McKenna reasoned, and he called him. Green at first said he wasn't interested; he'd been a Phillie for 24 of his 26 years in baseball. But McKenna was convincing, and Green soon recognized that the Cubs represented the same challenge the Phillies had nine years before.

Green picked an old Phillies friend, Lee Elia, as his manager. Green and Elia first met when Green, now 47, was a senior and Elia, 44, a freshman at the University of Delaware. "I really didn't know Dallas that well then," says Elia, who played for the White Sox (1966) and the Cubs (1968). "The next time we got together was in 1963, when he pitched and I played shortstop for Little Rock in the International League. Then I didn't hear from him again until August of 1972, when he offered me a third-base coaching job the next season with Eugene, the Phils' Triple A team. I'd been out of baseball three years, was selling insurance and managing a semipro team in Philly. I'd made $19,000 the year before. Dallas offered me $8,000. We settled on $8,500. If I didn't take that job, I knew I'd never get back into baseball, and I guess that was what I really wanted."

Elia managed in the minors for five years, and in 1980 Green gave him the Phils' third-base coaching job. He held that position for two years; now Green has made him field manager in Chicago. Elia hired two former Phillies, John Vukovich as third-base coach and Tom Harman as bullpen coach, to go with holdover batting instructor Billy Williams and former Kansas City coaches Bill Connors and Gordy MacKenzie. Connors, not surprisingly, got his coaching start in the Philadelphia organization.

Several weeks before the start of spring training, Green sent a letter to all the Cub players that read, in part, "Other National League clubs know that if you stay close [to the Cubs], they'll beat themselves by not paying attention to fundamentals, that down deep they don't care about being a Cub or being successful.... Don't slough this letter off as B.S. I know for a fact that most of you are out of shape." The fat, so to speak, was in the fire.

Continue Story
1 2