Have you figured out the keys to the Cubs season yet? The average fan would tell you that the biggest factors in the 2007 Cubs season would be the health of Derrek Lee, the bats of Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez, or the performance of our revamped starting rotation. Perhaps you feel the same way? You know better…. Remember When….
Taking a look at the Cubs last three division titles, you sense that the unexpected is often the bigger cause of success than the expected. In 1984, Ryne Sandberg had a breakout season, which officially started his Hall of Fame career, in my eyes. That same year, a huge trade brought Rick Sutcliffe to the North Side, and he was nothing short of amazing and unstoppable on the mound. In Spring Training of 1984, would you have been able to predict the seasons that Sandberg and Sutcliffe were about to have for the Cubs? Nope….
In 1989, the Cubs outfield corps received a huge boost from two rookies, Dwight Smith and Jerome Walton. The also received a great sophomore season from Mark Grace, and a career year of 18 wins from the legendary Mike Bielecki. Think the Cubs would have still won the division if those 4 guys hadn’t performed the way they did? By the way, Andre Dawson only hit .252 with under 80 RBI’s that year….not the kind of performance you were probably hoping for prior to the start of the season.
Finally, 2003 had its share of surprises….can’t remember them? How about the fact that Todd Hundley may have had the biggest impact on the team, by virtue of the players he was traded for: Mark Grudzielanek and Erik Karros. These two virtual castaways from the Dodgers cranked out great seasons (by their standards) and enabled the Cubs to keep from relying on unproven youngsters, such as Hee-Seop Choi and Bobby Hill. Furthermore, Gruds made Hill expendable, and he helped bring Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs….and all Aramis has done is become the best 2nd baseman in Cubs history….ok, maybe 2nd best! The contributions of those three position players was instrumental in the Cubs doing as well as they did in the 2nd half of 2003. It also helped to get some impressive contributions from Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano, in just their first full seasons in the majors. Could you have predicted all of this, in the off-season after the dreary 2002 season, that saw manager Don Baylor get fired? Doubtful….
Predict the Unpredictable….
Pardon the short column this week, but hey, the Bears are doing something pretty special right now! In order for the Cubs to follow in the footsteps of the Bears, and reach the title game of their sport, what needs to happen? I ask this to you, the CCO Reader, expecting the intelligent and outside-the-box thinking that I have come to expect. So don’t just tell me that Prior and Wood need to be healthy, or that Aramis needs to hit 40 HRs….give me the unexpected. Odds are that something will happen this year that we couldn’t have seen coming. Maybe it is a trade involving our excess pitchers? Maybe it is a rookie/prospect getting the call other than Felix Pie? Could it be an offensive player whose defense surprises, or a defensive whiz whose offense is elevated? We expect that Piniella will make a huge impact, but could another coach rise to the occasion, and impress us all with how the players improve under their tutelage? You don’t have to write the Tale of the Whole Season for me….just give me your 2 or 3 top surprises that will have the biggest impact for our Cubbies. I will follow-up with my own surprise predictions after hearing some of your responses. Until next time, keep the faith CCO Readers, hope for no Spring Training injuries, and let’s go Cubs!