The Cubs were coming off a horrible season, they had just seen their crosstown rivals win their division as they finished near the bottom of the National League, in fact 19 games back of the Phillies and just 3 games ahead of the Mets for the worst record in the league. They just hired a new manager and were feeling pressure to erase years upon years of losing records….12 to be exact. They had a nice nucleus but needed something to pull it all together. The world around them was changing before their very eyes and the neighborhood around them was in dire need of a facelift.
An entire new generation of Cubs’ fans was born that year, unaware of what lie ahead of them. There was an excitement on the North Side of Chicago that had not been felt since the Hey Hey days of the 60’s. There was a bigger than life voice that cheered every run and savored every victory and the Cubs won ballgames, in fact a lot of them….all was good in the summer of 1984. Fast-forward 23 years and many of the questions and pressures remain the same; even the monkey Jim Frey thought he had gotten rid of still exists. Van Halen and the Police dominated the charts back then and everyone wore white t-shirts with some absurd saying in black ink plastered on both sides of the hideous article of clothing. The Cubs were coming off a 71-91 record in 1983 and in the process survived both Lee Elia and Charlie Fox. Cubs GM, Dallas Green hired Jim Frey to turn around the ill fates of a beloved organization.
The Cubs had a few of the pieces in place that would make the summer of ’84 one to remember. Larry Bowa, Ryne Sandberg, Ron Cey, Jody Davis, Leon Durham, Keith Moreland, Steve Trout and Lee Smith were left over from the previous regime and the likes of Gary Matthews, Bob Dernier and Rick Sutcliffe were two little trades away. Many of the players from the ’84 team cite Gary Matthews as one of the reasons for the season the Cubs had. Matthews came over from the Phillies on March 26th along with Porfi Altamirano and the other half of the “Daily Double”, Bob Dernier, for Bill Campbell and Mike Diaz. Matthews had the take-charge attitude and made players accountable for their actions while Bob Dernier gave the Cubs a much-needed leadoff hitter. That season would forever make Dernier a fan favorite.
Rick Sutcliffe, along with George Frazier and Ron Hassey, came over from the Indians on June 13th for Mel Hall, Joe Carter, Don Schulze and minor leaguer Darryl Banks. The Sutcliffe trade would push the Cubs over the top and in turn he would post a 16-1 record in route to winning the National League Cy Young. The ’84 Cubs did not drop below the .500 mark the entire season. They posted two 6-game winning streaks, five 4-game losing streaks and one 5-game losing streak. After it was all said and done the Cubs won 96 games that season while losing just 65. The 96 wins are the most for any Cubs’ team since 1945 (98-56)….even to this day. Their 25-game improvement was their best since the days of Leo Durocher (Durocher had a 28 game improvement from 1966 to 1967).
The Faithful learned what a “Daily Double” was and Ryne Sandberg became a household name in route to the National League MVP….thanks to a Saturday afternoon on national TV and, of course, Bruce Sutter. While the Cubs won games and Wrigley’s crowds increased, Harry Caray and Steve Stone cemented their names in Chicago sports history and in the process the Cubs helped Lakeview and Wrigleyville become what it is today.
Everyone knows how the season ended, they won their first NL Eastern Division crown in Pittsburgh but were unable to face the Detroit Tigers in the series, a would be rematch from 1945.
After the ’83 season no one could have predicted what the Cubs would accomplish just a year later….arguably one of the best teams the Cubs would ever field.
While there are not many similarities between the world today and what it was way back then, one cannot help but wonder could the ’07 version of the boys in blue repeat the remarkable season that we all witnessed over two decades ago. After all, Sting said the Police would never get back together and with David Lee Roth being back in Van Halen, anything is possible, right?
Dust off the flux capacitor and fuel up the De Lorean….it is going to be an exciting ride.