Too Much of a Good Thing? Building a New Tradition in the 80's

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The end of yet another dismal season on the north side has brought about a number of questions for this franchise. Since 2003, Cub fans have seen management continue to patch and paste while chasing an elusive championship. With new ownership, the time may be right to move in another direction.
Sound familiar?

In 1981, the Cubs ended 60 years of ownership by the Wrigley family when they were purchased by the Tribune Company. Among the company's holdings included the Chicago Tribune newspaper, WGN television (the Cubs television outlet), and WGN radio (their radio outlet). The Tribune Company wasted no time in hiring Philadelphia Phillies Manager and former front office executive Dallas Green as their new General Manager. Together, they announced that they were "Building a New Tradition" for the Cubs.

But before looking at how Green changed the culture of the Cubs, let's take a brief look back at some of their former General Managers.

Ask any diehard Cubs fan about their favorite season and you'll usually end up in 1969. While the legendary names from that season will roll off the tongues of the faithful, the name of General Manager John Holland, who assembled the core of the team, remains relatively forgotten. Holland, the General Manager from 1957 to 1975, presided over an organization that developed Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Glen Beckert, Ken Hubbs, and Ken Holtzman. Sadly, everyone knows what happened in 1969. By 1972, Holland had seemed to have lost his touch, developing only outfielder Billy North, first baseman Andre Thornton, and pitchers Rick Reushel and Bruce Sutter.

When Holland retired after the 1975season, he was replaced by Cubs' Vice President E.R. "Salty" Saltwell. Saltwell lived up to his nickname, feuding with many of the team's top players, including fan favorite Jose Cardenal. He would end up trading Kessinger, Thornton, and third baseman Bill Madlock while non-tendering free agent pitcher Steve Stone.

After only one year, Saltwell was replaced by baseball veteran Bob Kennedy. Kennedy's tenure bears a striking resemblance to current GM Jim Hendry. Like Hendry, Kennedy acquired some past-their-prime players (Dave Kingman, Woodie Fryman, Ted Sizemore, Jerry Martin, Mike Tyson, Lenny Randle, Cliff Johnson), made some good trades (outfielder Rick Monday for infielder/outfielder Bill Buckner and shortstop Ivan DeJesus), failed to close the deal on other trades (couldn't pull off several deals for his son, catcher Terry Kennedy), and failed to promote promising minor leaguers (outfielders Scott Thompson and Karl Pagel, second baseman Jim Tracy) while uncovering others (pitchers Donnie Moore, Dennis Lamp, and Lee Smith).

The team that Green would inherit in 1981 was truly abysmal. The Cubs had finished no higher than third in the standings in each of the previous eight seasons, finishing last twice. What's more, Wrigley Field had become run-down, with poor facilities for both fans and players. The neighborhood was also in poor condition, and was considered an unsafe place to be after ballgames or anywhere within a half a block of the park. However, Kennedy and interim GM Herman Franks had not left the cupboard totally bare. The minors included outfielders Mel Hall, Joe Carter, Billy Hatcher, and Henry Cotto, as well as first baseman Carmello Martinez. Kennedy would trade closer Bruce Sutter to the Cardinals for third baseman Ken Reitz and promising infielder/outfielder Leon Durham. The Cubs also acquired catcher Jody Davis in the Rule 5 draft.

Green and the Tribune Company started the aggressive rebuilding of the organization with Wrigley Field and the neighborhood. The dingy old park was cleaned up, and became more fan and family friendly. Through their media influence, the Tribune was able to push community improvements through the city council. It helped make Wrigleyville a destination, even when the Cubs weren't playing. Green then initiated the "Cubs Caravan" that toured local towns in order to rally fan support and court new fans. Two years later, the "Cubs Convention" continued to stir interest and satisfy a rabid fan base. His greatest capital achievement wouldn't be realized until he had left the club. After threatening to move the team to Schaumburg or Arlington Heights (two northwest suburbs), the Chicago City Council agreed to have lights installed at Wrigley Field.

All these improvements and renewed interest generated money, and lots of it, for the Tribune Company. Green was able to persuade the Tribune Company to invest the money in their minor league system. He hired scout Gordon Goldsberry as his Director of Player Development to assist him in drafting and managing the minor league system. And soon, the prospects began to come into the system. Some of the players Green and Goldsberry would end up drafting include: Pitchers Greg Maddux, Jamie Moyer, Drew Hall, Johnny Abrego, Les Lancaster, Shawn Boskie, Jim Bullinger, Frank Castillo, Heathcliff Slocumb, and Mike Harkey; Outfielders Darrin Jackson, Dave Martinez, Dwight Smith, Doug Dascenzo, Rafael Palmeiro, Derrick May, and Jerome Walton; Catchers Damon Berryhill, Hector Villanueva, Joe Girardi, Matt Wallbeck, and Rick Wilkins; Infielders Gary Varsho, Mark Grace, and the player Green considered the biggest jewel of them all, shortstop Shawon Dunston.

However, it was Green's impatience with the major league roster that would have him make, alternatively, some of the best, worst, and most controversial moves in franchise history. In trying to change the culture of losing, Green traded underrated shortstop Ivan DeJesus to the Phillies for aging shortstop and team leader Larry Bowa and minor league shortstop Ryne Sandberg. But he also traded homegrown pitcher Mike Krukow to the Phillies for pitchers Dan Larson and Dickie Noles, and catcher Keith Moreland.

Trading for backup catchers was a weakness of Green's, making 4 separate deals in 6 plus years as GM. Carmelo Martinez was part of a three team deal that brought pitcher Scott Sanderson. He also traded promising infielders Pat Tabler and Scott Fletcher for pitcher Steve Trout. By 1984, Buckner had become a spare part on the team, and he was traded to the Red Sox for pitcher Dennis Eckersley. However, Green's biggest and most controversial trade included outfielders Mel Hall and Joe Carter to the Indians for pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and George Frazier, and catcher Ron Hassey.

Cubs' fans will forever remember Sutcliffe's 16-1, Cy Young award winning season in 1984. However, his career record and ERA following that season is remarkably similar to long time Cub Rick Reushel during the same period. Reushel was non-tendered following the 1984 season. Frazier was a non-factor, while Hassey injured his knee shortly after arriving, ironically while playing first base, depriving Green of yet another back-up catcher. Carter would become a superstar, whose dramatic walk-off homer would win the World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993.

In the end, it was Green's prickly manner that would be his undoing. Green was promoted to team president after the1984 season. The Cubs' pitching staff had injuries in '85 and the team sputtered in '86. Green fired manager Jim Frey and wanted to replace him with longtime associate John Vukovich. But he lost a power struggle with ownership, who forced him to name major league veteran Gene Michael as manager after two games under Vukovich. The Cubs would finish last in 1987 under Michael, who was fired over Labor Day weekend. Green would then blast the 1987 team for "quitting" in the Chicago Tribune. Green wanted to name himself the Cubs' new manager following the season. Instead, he resigned in October of that year, citing "philosophical differences".

To this day, the Cubs continue to use marketing strategies developed under Dallas Green. The 20 million dollar investment by the Tribune Company in 1981 grew to a 900 million dollar sale of the Cubs in 2009. The competitive philosophy of Green helped produce playoff teams in 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, and 2008. Now, Cubs fans no longer accept "loveable losers", but results. Sadly, the minor league organization built by Green would be dismantled by subsequent GM's Jim Frey, Larry Himes, Ed Lynch, Andy MacPhail, and Jim Hendry.