The Cubs won the NL East in 1984, making the postseason for the first time in 39 years. Just to give some perspective: If the 2016 World Series win had been their first postseason appearance in 39 years, the previous one would have been in 1977. All of the Cubs’ postseason appearances after 1945 came after 1977.
So if you did not live through that era, you can understand the joy Cubs fans felt when they won the division and won the first two games of the NLCS at Wrigley Field.
I’ve already written here about how the Cubs did NOT lose a home game in the NLCS that year because of the lack of lights. (The lost home game would have been in the World Series, if they’d won the NL pennant.)
One thing I’ve always wondered is why MLB gave the ALCS matchup between the Tigers and Royals a travel day — for the 90-minute flight from Kansas City to Detroit, with one time zone difference — but the Cubs and Padres had to play on consecutive days and THEN get a day off, with two time zones separating them. The two games in KC were night games, as the games at Wrigley were in the afternoon those two days, then they waited until Friday afternoon to play at Detroit — while the Cubs and Padres were off after a Thursday night game in San Diego. It made no sense then and it doesn’t now.
You all know the story about Game 5, Leon Durham’s error with one out and the Cubs clinging to a 3-2 lead that opened the door to a big Padres inning.
What if Durham makes that play? Then there’s a runner on third with two out and maybe the Cubs get out of the inning with the lead, and from there go on to win the game and the NLCS.
What would have been different in Cubs and MLB history if that had happened?
Game 1 of the World Series would have been in Detroit instead of San Diego
That was the “lost home game.” The Padres, in winning, got home field (as the NL was supposed to have in 1984 on the then alternating-year system). But if the Cubs had won, they would have flown to Detroit for Game 1 and Game 2, with Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley on October 12, 13 and 14. As I wrote last year:
October 12, 1984 was a Friday. MLB made a concession to lightless Wrigley Field, they thought, by having a proposed afternoon game on a Friday. The Saturday and Sunday games in that series would have been scheduled to begin at 1:45 p.m. Central time — but the Friday game, in order to try to get at least some of it into early evening in Eastern time, would have begun at 2:45 p.m. Central time, 3:45 p.m. in ET.
Sunset on October 12, 1984 in Chicago was at 6:12 p.m. That would have been interesting as darkness started to fall in the late innings. (Also, I have a vivid memory of the weather that day in Chicago being an all-day chilly rain. The game likely would have been rained out, which would have caused a whole new set of problems.)
Would the Cubs have won the World Series over the Tigers? I’d have to say probably not. The Tigers were a 104-win juggernaut in 1984. I do think the Cubs would have given them a better series than the Padres did, though.
Season-ticket sales at Wrigley Field go through the roof
In real life, season-ticket sales at Wrigley didn’t really take off until after 1998. Even though the Cubs didn’t get to the World Series in 1984, many people who had a tough time getting playoff tickets that year did buy season tickets in an effort to make sure they’d be covered when the Cubs made it again, and even though the real-life 1985 Cubs failed, finishing at 77-85, the team broke its 1984 attendance record (2,107,655) by a few thousand at 2,161,534.
Had the Cubs even made the World Series in 1984, that number could have increased by a couple hundred thousand. Keeping in mind that NL teams still reported turnstile count (rather than tickets sold) in that era, the Cubs’ average of 26,686 in 1985 could likely have been closer to 30,000 if they had been defending NL champions.
The Cubs not only re-sign Rick Sutcliffe, they make a run after other free agents
It’s been a truism for years that playing for the Chicago Cubs and having Wrigley Field as your home park is something many players want to experience. Years after 1984, Eric Karros famously said, “Every player should spend at least one year as a Chicago Cub.”
Having the Cubs as the defending NL champions might have attracted free agents who wanted to be part of the show at Wrigley.
The Cubs’ lineup was pretty solid in those years, but they could have used some more pitching — especially after the entire ‘85 rotation wound up injured. Ed Whitson, who had pitched for the Padres in 1984 and eventually signed with the Yankees (a decision he’d come to regret), might have been a useful target for Dallas Green.
Green also should have kept Rick Reuschel around. Reuschel signed with the Pirates and had a 6.2 bWAR year in 1985.
The team probably has more leverage to get lights installed
I chronicled the battle over the postseason games in 1984 in the article linked above. But Green was clear to everyone involved — he wanted lights at Wrigley Field. There was a subtext that the team might consider moving out of Wrigley if they didn’t get them, and in July 1985 Green sent this letter to season-ticket holders (.pdf) regarding Cubs postseason games that year — hinting that if the Cubs did win the NL East, their home postseason games might be played in St. Louis.
I think you know how well that would have gone over with Cubs fans.
The Cubs, having not done what everyone thought they’d do in ‘84 and not playing up to that standard in ‘85, didn’t have much leverage with the city of Chicago.
But as defending league champions? Or maybe defending World Series champions? I bet lights get installed at Wrigley a couple years earlier than they did — and maybe the Cubs aren’t saddled with the ridiculous restrictions on Friday night games and the total number of night games 30-plus years later.
Dallas Green might have stuck around longer
With the Cubs in flux and having had three losing seasons since 1984, Green wanted to know what his status would be going forward. He wanted to be named team president. Tribune Company executives balked at this and instead of sticking around, Green resigned as general manager October 30, 1987.
This left the ballclub in flux. Jim Frey (who was exquisitely unqualified for the position) succeeded Green, and was followed by Larry Himes and Ed Lynch. This all left the farm system, which Green was just beginning to build up (his drafts produced Greg Maddux, Mark Grace and Joe Girardi, among others), in disrepair. It can be argued that the Cubs didn’t really have a strong executive on the baseball side after Green until Theo Epstein.
But if Green is the architect of a pennant winner, something that hadn’t been done in four decades, or a World Series winner, something not accomplished in nearly eight? Maybe he gets a contract extension.
At the very least we wouldn’t have seen Lee Smith traded for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi.
The Chicago Cubs franchise would have been transformed in many different ways if they had won the NL pennant in 1984. Perhaps you have some more ideas of what might have changed.