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The Cubs 1984 Playoff Myth Surfaces Again

The Tribune's Fred Mitchell interviewed former Cubs GM Dallas Green in an article about the current Wrigley renovation negotiations. Unfortunately, he got one key fact wrong.

Al Yellon

This morning, I wanted to call your attention to an example of lazy reporting by a mainstream writer, this time Fred Mitchell of the Tribune; in this article about the Cubs' ballpark plans (registration/digital subscription required), he interviews former Cubs GM Dallas Green. That's fine in and of itself, but then Mitchell writes:

MLB forced the Cubs to relinquish home-field advantage to the Padres, who wound up winning the final three games of the best-of-five NL Championship Series at Jack Murphy Stadium.

No, no, NO! This is completely false. In the 1980s, MLB rotated home field between East and West for the LCS. In 1983, the East had home field; before the LCS were expanded to best-of-seven in 1985, they were played in 2-3 format. As you can see at that link, the West Champion Dodgers had the first two games at home, then the Phillies were home for games 3 and 4, and would have had game 5 at home, but they won the series in four.

The N.L. West champions were always scheduled to have home field advantage in 1984; the fact that the Cubs didn't had nothing to do with their lack of lights. The Cubs would have lost home field in the World Series had they made it; as you can see here, the American League had home-field advantage in the 2-3-2 format 1983 World Series and the National League was scheduled, in the same alternating format, to have home field in 1984. As it turned out, the Cubs lost nothing that year, except the NLCS.

Mitchell's article continues:

"There was talk of moving the playoffs to some other venue (with lights) and that would have really pulled the heart out of the Chicago Cubs fans," Green said. "No question about that. We didn't do it because it didn't make sense to do it."

Green is remembering correctly, but not the right year. This happened in 1985, not 1984. I have a copy of a four-page letter (way too long to reproduce here) the Cubs GM sent to Cubs season-ticket holders July 19, 1985. Green wrote:

The Chicago Cubs will not be able to play its (sic) World Series home games in Chicago this year because of the light situation at Wrigley Field. It is also possible that our League Championship games will also be moved. I want to explain why, and why we need lights in Wrigley Field, as well discuss longer-term alternatives to Wrigley Field.

There was talk at the time of playing Cubs home playoff games at Comiskey Park, or, as the letter stated, "another National League Eastern Division stadium which our players are most familiar with." Most observers at the time thought this meant St. Louis. The 1985 NLCS was indeed played in St. Louis -- because the Cardinals won the division. At the time Green wrote that letter, the Cubs were 46-42, in fourth place, still in contention at 6½ games behind the division-leading Cardinals. But they went just 31-42 the rest of the way. That letter was the first salvo fired in the battle to bring lights to Wrigley Field, which happened three years later.

Now the Cubs and the city are arguing over something similar, renovations to Wrigley Field and talk of more night games. It would be wise for the mass media in Chicago -- I'm looking at you, Fred Mitchell -- to research the history of these things properly, when writing an article about Dallas Green's battles to get lights in Wrigley Field. Green's memory is pretty good, but he's in his late 70s and these fights were nearly 30 years ago. I wrote about this in the 2008 Maple Street Press Cubs Annual (some of you might still have that; go look at my article about the 20th anniversary of the first night game) and again right here at BCB on May 23, 2009. I've emailed Mitchell about this; I'll post any reply he sends in the comments to this post.

I still believe the Cubs and the city of Chicago will get things done and make an agreement on Wrigley Field renovations that will be good for everyone involved. It doesn't help when a longtime mass media writer doesn't get his facts right.