McGrath: Resurgent Giants of the late ’80s are what Cubs can aspire to be
BY DAN McGRATH For Sun-Times Media June 1, 2012 10:26PM
Hitting coach Dusty Baker (12), Will Clark (wearing helmet) and the Giants beat the Cubs in the 1989 NLCS en route to the World Series. | Getty Images
Updated: July 6, 2012 10:31AM
By sweeping the San Diego Padres last week, the Cubs relinquished their claim to being the National League’s worst team, at least for the moment. Those 12 straight losses and the manner in which they accrued made a compelling case, but then the Padres arrived at Wrigley Field and . . . hoo, boy. Very not good.
Now the Cubs are trying to keep it going in San Francisco, where Tim Lincecum’s atypical struggles have Giants fans fretting that 2010 was an aberration, a lightning-in-a-bottle season unlikely to be duplicated despite the emergence of Melky Cabrera as the team’s most dangerous hitter since Barry Bonds.
The Giants have spotted the Los Angeles Dodgers a substantial early lead in the NL West, but pitching makes them formidable. They wouldn’t have been anywhere near the 2010 World Series if Lincecum, Matt Cain and a lefty named Madison Bumgarner hadn’t been lights-out nightly down the stretch.
It wasn’t always so. In fact, the Cubs who flailed around for the first two months of this season were eerily reminiscent of a 1985 Giants team that lost a franchise-record 100 games, drew just 818,697 fans and sparked an organizational overhaul.
General manager Tom Haller and manager Jim Davenport were popular Giants lifers, but owner Bob Lurie finally put reason ahead of sentiment in dismissing them, hiring Al Rosen to run the front office and Roger Craig the dugout. Like the Theo Epstein cartel, Rosen and Craig were outsiders unencumbered by organizational group-think. They made moves that had to be made and got the Giants to the playoffs within two years and to the World Series within four.
Could it happen here? Sure, but probably not as quickly if it all starts with this month’s amateur draft, as we’re hearing. There are exceptions, but even the best prospects usually require a few seasons of minor-league preparation. And no matter how savvy and meticulous their evaluators are, the Cubs are asking for a miracle if they expect to stock a contender out of one draft.
As bad as the Giants’ major-league product was in 1985 — think hideous — the organization was probably in better shape overall than the Cubs operation handed to Epstein. Will Clark, Robby Thompson and Jeff Brantley were Haller draft picks who became cornerstone players for the Rosen/Craig regime. Matt Williams and Kirt Manwaring arrived in Rosen’s first draft, and he inherited enough assets to use in trades for Kevin Mitchell, Rick Reuschel and other parts who proved useful as the Giants won two division titles in three years and reached the ’89 World Series by beating the Cubs in the NL playoffs.
If you grant the current Cubs major-league credibility at shortstop (or wherever Starlin Castro winds up), second base (Darwin Barney) and right field (David DeJesus) and stipulate that Anthony Rizzo (first base) and Brett Jackson (outfield) are big-leaguers in waiting, you’ve still got holes to fill before contender’s status is conferred.
And where is the pitching behind Jeff Samardzija, James Russell and Matt Garza, if he’s still around?
Those three playoff appearances achieved during Jim Hendry’s tenure as GM were unequivocally noteworthy for a team that had long been synonymous with abysmal failure. But they lose a little luster when measured against the overall health of an organization that is alarmingly short on prospects.
The Cubs ask patience as they seek to address that. Their fans would be more receptive if they weren’t being charged premium prices for an inferior product. A ‘‘field box’’ seat that cost $54 for a Cubs-Reds game in 2007 went for $100.80 four years later. If memory serves, the Cubs were a playoff team in ’07, too. Not likely to happen this year despite that hefty markup.
OK, rising prices are the way of the world in baseball. We get that. But Cubs ownership would inspire more confidence if their approach to renovating Wrigley Field weren’t so ham-handed.
They didn’t know it was a fixer-upper? All the other bidders did and said no to Sam Zell’s asking price because it didn’t include the quarter billion or so required to remodel the ballpark. Joe Ricketts’ political leanings aside, any suggestion of public money for a private enterprise is a tough sell in this economy, despite Wrigley’s undeniable value as a tourist attraction/neighborhood anchor.
The Giants came to realize that after going 0-for-6 on ballot measures to replace creepy Candlestick Park. They built their own yard, and it’s a jewel, a model home befitting the team that plays there.
Right now that’s also true of Wrigley and the Cubs, and not in a good way.