clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

1989 Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats: Introduction

New, 24 comments

Welcome to the fourth installment in this series.

Getty Images

Welcome back to Historical Heroes and Goats. For the past three offseasons, I’ve helped pass the time in between live action with a look back at memorable seasons in Cubs history. In our inaugural edition, I looked at the season that ignited my Cubs passion, the 1984 Cubs. That was, of course, one of a few frustrating Cubs seasons that came up just shy of returning to the World Series. Still, for me that is a season that I treasure in my memory bank. That one will always be near and dear to my heart and one of my favorite Cubs seasons.

For some, our second edition of HH&G was an even more painful season. Two years ago we looked at the 2003 Cubs. That team made the deepest run of any Cubs team in the playoff era until the Theo Epstein era. But of course, that team blew a 3-1 NLCS lead and failed to reach the World Series. If I hadn’t traumatized you by then, it’s possible that I did with the 1969 Cubs in our third edition of HH&G. That team jumped out to a division lead that at seemed insurmountable in late August. Of course, we all know that the Mets got unbelievably hot and ran away with the division like a thief in the night.

For this, our fourth installment of Historical Heroes and Goats, we’re going to return to the 80’s. This time, we are going to look at the 1989 Cubs. The 1984 team was a ballclub that I looked at in spring training with all of the experience and wisdom of a not quite 10-year-old kid and predicted that team was going to the playoffs. Obviously, I should have quit making predictions after that one. If only I’d understood the magnitude of that prediction and ended on a high note.

I remember looking at that 1984 team and seeing a team with six power hitters, a defensively minded shortstop and a speedy center fielder, paired with some veteran starting pitchers and a strong closer. Those were all of the things I knew to be the recipe for a championship team at that point. So I turned that same eye on the 1989 Cubs. Albeit, with a little bit more seasoning under my belt. With all of my wisdom gained over those five years, I knew exactly what the 1989 Cubs team was.

They were a joke. A collection of has-beens and never-weres. At ages 33 and 32 respectively, I believed that the best years of Rick Sutcliffe and Scott Sanderson were behind them. Mike Bielecki had basically one year of starting experience for the Pirates in 1986 and had maybe been vaguely okay out of the bullpen after coming over to the Cubs in 1988. Greg Maddux? He figured to be a bright spot coming off an All-Star season in 1988. He looked like he could carry the pitching staff as he entered the prime of his career.

The bullpen? “Wild Thing” Mitch Williams was set to be the closer. An imposing pitcher on the mound for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a wild delivery that seemingly led to the ball being hurled randomly towards the plate with little idea where it would end up. Calvin Schiraldi was the experienced arm in the pen. Then the Cubs were looking at a handful of young relievers in Steve Wilson, Jeff Pico and Les Lancaster. They’d also brought in Pat Perry in the trade the previous year that cleared first base for Mark Grace (Leon Durham). With very little experience in the pen, it figured to be nerve-wracking when the Cubs had to go to their relievers.

On the offensive side, the opening day lineup started with rookie Jerome Walton in center field. Jerome definitely fit the part of the speedy center fielder, having stolen 90+ bases across two minor league levels the two previous years. Then he jumped the Triple-A level and was heading straight to the big leagues. He’d been a second-round pick by the Cubs in 1986 out of junior college.

Mitch Webster was batting second and playing left. Mitch was 30 and had his best year in 1985 playing for both Canadian teams after being traded from the Blue Jays to the Expos mid-season. He’d had two decent but unspectacular seasons in 1986 and 1987. He’d appeared in 70 games for the Cubs in 1988 after coming over from the Expos in a trade, compiling a .717 OPS. He didn’t exactly bring the kind of power hitting bat one would traditionally look for in a left fielder.

Ryne Sandberg was the third-place hitter and manning his usual second base spot. Sandberg remained an All-Star from 1986-1988 after his breakout 1984 season and successful 1985 encore. But his OPS and power numbers had dropped off and it looked like he might fail to really live up to all of that potential shown in those two seasons.

Andre Dawson was batting in the fourth spot and playing right field. Those of us who were around for the 1987 Cubs season will always love Andre. But it was clearer with each passing season that years of playing on the artificial turf in Montreal had really torn up Andre’s legs. He was no longer able to stay healthy and his speed was evaporating. He slugged 49 homers and drove in 137 runs in 1987, but tailed to just 24 and 79 respectively in 1988. At 34 years old, Andre didn’t figure to be the same offensive force he’d been in the past.

Mark Grace batted fifth and played first. Certainly, the first thing that came to mind was that Grace lacked the power one would expect of a middle-of-the-lineup hitter and first baseman. He’d put together a solid rookie season the year before, putting up a .774 OPS in 550 plate appearances and finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. He managed only seven homers and drove in 57 runs. He was still young, but he was definitely one of the guys who I wondered if they had any real future. He just wasn’t what one would normally look for in a first baseman.

Vance Law batted sixth and played third base. Vance was 32 years old. He’d been an All-Star for the Cubs in his first season with them in 1988. That came about after he put up a .770 OPS in 621 plate appearances. He slugged 11 homers and drove in 78 homers, not particularly booming power out of the other corner spot. This team was going to play in Wrigley Field. Where was the power going to come from? Law was certainly one of the guys who I also wondered if his best days were behind him. And indeed, 1989 would be his last full season in the majors.

Shawon Dunston had rocketed to the majors after being drafted by the Cubs in 1982 with the first overall pick. Dunston had taken over as the Cubs regular shortstop by 1986. He had speed and power along with a prodigious throwing arm that certainly made one understand why scouts had drooled over him. He also had a penchant for striking out, doing so over 100 times in both 1986 and 1988 (that was a lot back then!). He’d been selected as an All-Star in 1988 despite posting only a .627 OPS in 599 plate appearances. The Cubs were hoping he could continue to develop.

Joe Girardi received the opening day nod at catcher. He was one of three catchers the Cubs had, all aged in their mid-20s. There was no experienced catcher among the trio of Girardi, Damon Berryhill and Rick Wrona.

Indeed, the Cubs were relying on a very young group of hitters surrounded by the experienced vets Dawson, Sandberg and Law. This collection of talent was to be led by Don Zimmer. Zimmer was in his second year as Cubs manager after replacing Jim Frey (who had moved up to the General Manager role). Don was in his fourth stint as a manager in the major leagues after previously managing the Padres, Red Sox and Rangers but never having reached the playoffs.

Zimmer, as most of you know, was a baseball lifer. Don was involved in professional baseball in some capacity from 1949 (age 18) all the way until his death in 2014 (age 83). He had played in the majors for the Cubs in 1960 and 1961. In 1988, the Cubs won 77 games and finished 24 games behind the Mets in the NL Central. If you had a lot of optimism heading in 1989, you were seeing something that I just wasn’t.

Next time we’ll start our look at the games from the 1989 season. Each edition of Historical Heroes and Goats will have one larger player feature and look at one week of the season. I’ll keep you up to date on the division race and try to bring you some anecdotes along the way. With each game we’ll look at the Heroes and the Goats and ultimately, we’ll crown a H&G Player of the Year.

As we wrap up this introduction, I leave you with a few questions. Please answer honestly, I’m trying to gauge my audience a bit as we dive into this.

Poll

My experience with previous Historical Heroes and Goats installments is...

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    I’ve never read any of the previous installments
    (25 votes)
  • 37%
    I’ve read a few individual installments along the way
    (36 votes)
  • 37%
    I was a regular reader for one or more of the seasons
    (36 votes)
97 votes total Vote Now

Poll

My relationship with the Cubs in 1989 was...

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    I was already a diehard even before the ‘89 season
    (78 votes)
  • 13%
    I had been a casual fan and the ‘89 season was where my love affair with the Cubs began
    (13 votes)
  • 4%
    I wasn’t a Cubs fan yet in ‘89 and didn’t follow it closely
    (4 votes)
  • 3%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (3 votes)
98 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who will be the 1989 Cubs Player of the Year as determined by Heroes and Goats?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Greg Maddux
    (26 votes)
  • 33%
    Ryne Sandberg
    (35 votes)
  • 3%
    Andre Dawson
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Rick Sutcliffe
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    Mitch Williams
    (3 votes)
  • 13%
    Mark Grace
    (14 votes)
  • 11%
    Jerome Walton
    (12 votes)
  • 4%
    Dwight Smith
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Someone else (leave in comments)
    (2 votes)
103 votes total Vote Now