After a night of lines of Cubs fans and bloggers, a morning with Cubs front office brass, and a fundraiser party which I’ve already written about in these three linked articles, I dragged myself out of bed for the final morning of Cubs Convention and the 1984 Cubs panel.
The 1984 Cubs team was my first baseball love. I waved my bat around wildly like Gary Matthews in Little League. Caught like Jody Davis. I faked sick from school to watch the first six innings, instead of only the final few after rushing home after the 3 o’clock bell. My mom said I looked like Keith Moreland as we shared red hair and I dreamed of being Harry Caray someday.
I consider myself lucky to have been 10 years old in 1984, an age when you are perfectly primed to be put under the spell of baseball’s magic. And 1984 was a magical year indeed. As Steve Trout said Sunday morning: “1984 was the year fans started piling in and never stopped.” I guess Steve didn’t attend a Cubs game in 2013, but I get his sentiment. 1984 was the first time in a long time the Cubs contended and Chicago’s love affair with the Cubs hasn’t been the same since. We haven’t forgotten it and neither have the players who played on that team that brought us so close to winning the pennant.
On the 9 a.m. panel were Lee Smith, Bob Dernier, Ryne Sandberg, Gary Matthews, Jody Davis, and Steve Trout. And yes, as you can see in the lead photo, it was noted that Dernier, Sandberg, and Matthews were sitting 1-2-3 as they had batted in the order. The panel was hosted by anthem singer Wayne Messmer.
The team reverenced that enchanted year with Jody Davis reminiscing, “Watching the city come alive and believe in us was one of the best moments of my career.” While Lee Smith remembered, “The ‘84 club was not a team, but a family.” Ryne Sandberg felt “it was the first year I belonged in the Major Leagues.” But who do they give all the credit to? Gary Matthews.
Gary Matthews was traded along with Bob Dernier and Porfi Altamirano to the Cubs for Bill Campbell and Mike Diaz at the end of Spring Training in 1984, and that lopsided trade made all the difference. Jody Davis said “Matthews brought the swagger,” with Bob Dernier telling the story of Matthews telling him they had been traded to the Cubs and saying “We don’t play that lovable loser stuff.” Steve Trout even compared Gary Matthews to Joe Maddon in the way he motivated the team. Matthews was also credited with coaching the other Cubs hitters in the lineup about “what they were gonna do to the pitcher that day.” And Ryne Sandberg said “He deserved the MVP that year”, which Sandberg actually won. Gary Matthews believed in himself and the others around him. He believed they could win. And they won a lot! 96 games for the best record in the National League.
One particular win received quite a bit of attention at the morning session. The Sandberg Game. A game in which Ryne Sandberg had seven RBI and tied the game twice in what could have been the game’s last at-bat with home runs in the 9th and 10th off tough Cardinals reliever Bruce Sutter. June 23, 1984 must have been one of those days that Sandberg felt he had truly arrived and belonged in the big leagues. But on Sunday morning, Sandberg blamed Steve Trout for falling behind in the first place, giving up seven runs in 1⅓ innings. He also jokingly pretends he doesn’t remember the game when people bring it up, just to confuse them. Lee Smith also thanked Ryno for having been the winning pitcher despite giving up two runs in the 10th.
Speaking of Lee Smith, Jody Davis surmised that “if you (Lee) had shook off a bit more you’d be in the Hall of Fame.,” a milestone Lee Smith was just sadly deprived of. Lee Smith looks like a man you could still throw out on the mound today, and when a fan asked about Maddon’s use of relievers in the World Series, Lee said “Maddon can throw my ass in there in the fourth!” He also joked that Jim Frey, the manager he pitched for in 1984, didn’t like to use him unless there were “bases loaded on the ninth and nobody out.”
The ‘84 Cubs ribbed each other, laughed, and reminisced for the entire hour. Only a few times did the mood in the room darken with talk of what could have been. Jody Davis said the replacement umpires, in there due to a strike, in San Diego were nervous and wouldn’t call strike three. Bob Dernier said they would never have lost at Wrigley and should have had the home field advantage they had earned, which they continue to claim it was denied due to the Cubs lack of night baseball — that was definitively debunked in this article Al wrote in 2013. They all agreed Steve Trout should have pitched in San Diego. However, Gary Matthews looked on the bright side, “If we had won, everyone would be saying ‘it’s just another one now’.”
You can tell that these six storied Cubs players truly love each other. Possibly even more than we love them. One emotional fan asked the assembled ‘84 team permission to replace them with the 2016 Cubs. It’s a strange question, but one I sort of understood, being that I had welled up in tears a few times already that morning. Partly from emotion, partly from exhaustion, and partly from the horrible air freshener in my Uber driver’s car. The 2016 Cubs are forever embedded in history as the team that went all the way, but I’m not alone in feeling that the 1984 team, who almost did, means something special to Cubs fans and the players who were there. The Cubs of 1984 could no more be replaced in my 10-year-old heart than the 2016 team could be replaced in the heart of a 10-year-old falling in love with baseball today. There I go with the sweating eyes again.
It was just nice to see them all again, and you just know it was nice for them to see each other.
The session ended and I went downstairs to hand a $675 surprise check to Cubs Charities that we had raised the night before at “The Unconventional” party at GMan Tavern. It seemed a fitting way to end Cubs Convention this year, to give back to the Cubs, who have given so much to me and to so many others, since I fell in love with the team along with the rest of Chicago back in 1984.
Well, there it is! The 2017 Cubs Convention. Just 26 more days till “pitchers and catchers!”
Some more pics from the ‘84 session and around Cubs Con...