Every year the Cubs Convention puts together that “must see” panel. Last year it was the All-Star panel with Banks, Williams, Santo, Jenkins, Sandberg, Smith, Dawson and Sutcliffe. While this year there were not nearly as many big names on the “can’t miss” panel, it was just as entertaining. Since it is the 18th anniversary of the 1989 Division championship, or maybe it was because Grace was back for the first time, the Saturday afternoon panel was entitled, “The Boys of Zimmer.” Taking us on a trip down memory lane was the aforementioned Grace, along side Sandberg, Jerome Walton, Dwight Smith, Mike Bielecki, Doug Dascenzo and Les Lancaster. I wrote previously about my love of that team and my addiction to the video with the same name. 1989 was a magical year and for the most recent adult generation, it is our 1969.
Now I have never been to a real rock concert, I am sure Jimmy Buffet and Dave Matthews do not count, but I will tell you the response the women gave Grace mirrored that of a younger Mick Jagger or more recently, maybe an Axl Rose, or heck, even John Mayer. The only thing I did not see were undergarments flying through the crowd. During the question and answer session, girls simply sold out and went to the mic just to ask Grace for his autograph. One lucky fan even got her picture taken with him. Half of the time there were not even questions, just simply, “I love you Mark,” “I am so happy you are back Mark,” and the most common, “Mark you are sooo Hot!” In case you are curious, it did get rather annoying and the boos followed, which seemed to help quiet this behavior while prompting actual questions.
There were so many funny stories shared. Dwight Smith regaled the crowd with multiple instances where Sandberg pranked him. Until Saturday, I had no idea Ryno was that kind of guy, but between ‘booby-trapping’ buckets of water and messing with Mr. Smith’s wardrobe, Sandberg pulled off a couple of whoppers. Smith also went into some detail about how Yosh Kiwano, the clubhouse attendant, could never understand what Jerome Walton was saying. Dwight then gave his impression of Jerome and it floored the audience, pure hilarity.
Keeping with the recent theme Dwight Smith went on to discuss a certain confrontation he had with Zimmer following a game. Dwight was on a hot streak with guys on first and second and Chuck Cottier gave him the bunt sign. He admittedly was steamed, but he went ahead anyway with the bunt. However, he was unsuccessful three times ending in a strikeout. After the game he was summoned to Zimmer’s office prepared for a tongue lashing. Smith said he kept pleading with Don, saying,
“I was trying, I was trying, I promise, I was trying.”
Zimmer then responded by saying,
“I will call up the travel secretary and send you straight to Iowa because that is where they try!”
Laughter filled the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton and Towers and you could tell everyone, including the panel, were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Each player went on to discuss how important Don Zimmer was and how much respect they had held for him. They described the family like atmosphere he helped create and maintain. They spoke reverently of him, almost like a son discussing a father. Then the most awkward question of the weekend was put forth. A fan asked if any of them were surprised with the Zimmer vs. Pedro incident during the 2003 playoffs. The room fell eerily silent and no one responded. Then, in keeping with his leadership mentality, Sandberg spoke. He pointed out that Zimmer still has a metal plate in his head and that he is wildly against throwing at someone’s head. He never believed it had any part in the game and when Pedro started pointing at his head, Zimmer exploded. Sandberg went on to say that in no way was he surprised at all. No one else spoke up and the subject quickly changed.
One of the most intriguing parts of this session was the four men who all had career years in 1989. Les Lancaster had a 30 inning scoreless streak. Mike Bielecki won 18 games and Walton and Smith finished first and second in the Rookie of the Year voting. I think it is safe to say that 1989 was the best professional year for these men and without even one of them, the team may not have made the playoffs. I am still astonished that neither Walton nor Smith ever experienced that level of success again, and in a way I was saddened. Both men were on the precipice of greatness, but neither fulfilled that destiny, and I will never forget it.
It is hard to put into words what I saw, and these are just some of the highlights. Both Grace and Sandberg spoke highly of Shawon Dunston, saying it was an honor for the three of them to play together for so long. Grace called Mitch Williams “an interesting human being.” Dwight Smith shared one of Grace’s famous quotes from their days in the minors, “If you ain’t hitting .300, don’t hang with me.” But I think it was what Mark Grace said at the beginning that summed up The Boys of Zimmer….
“1989 was my favorite year in a Cubs uniform.”
It has been 18 years since that fabled season, but after an hour of questions, quotes and stories, it felt like yesterday.
Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and until next time….
Stay Classy Cubs Fans!!!