Raw power but no sense of direction
Strong points: Power, two strong starters. Despite dismal team record (15 straight years in second division), the Cubs always have a batch of long-ball hitters. This year they have four—Ernie Banks, George Altman, Ron Santo, Billy Williams. Williams had 25 HRs and 86 RBIs as NL Rookie of the Year. Banks, bothered by a bad knee and switch to the outfield, had poor year at plate: .278, 29 HRs, 80 RBIs in only 138 games. Altman's .303 BA, 27 HRs and 96 RBIs show he has arrived as major league hitter. Santo, a powerful pull hitter, had 23 HRs, 83 RBIs. Right-handers Glen Hobbie and Don Cardwell give the Cubs a pair of the hardest-working, hardest-throwing pitchers in the league, although a strained back held Hobbie down to 29 starts, seven victories last year. Cardwell led the league in games started (38). After a rocky first half, he improved his control, got his fast ball to sink, wound up with 15 wins, 3.82 ERA.
Weak spots: Catching, defense. The loss of promising Dick Bertell (.273) to the Army leaves the Cubs with the worst catching in either league: Moe Thacker (.171), Cuno Barragan (injured most of year), Sam Taylor (.238). Last year's Cub outfield was filled with chicken arms and uncertain gloves ("a disaster area," one rival called it). New First Baseman Banks may be the strongest link in shaky defensive infield, which will have rookie Ken Hubbs at second, erratic Andre Rodgers at short and Santo, still learning his trade, at third.
The big ifs: Aside from Hobbie (25) and Cardwell (26), Cub pitching is a question mark. The only other sure starters—junk dealer Jack Curtis (25) and fast-baller Dick Ellsworth (22), both left-handers—are green but promising. Reliever Don Elston's ERA soared to 5.61 last year; he has been in constant demand for four years, may simply be wearing out. If so, more short work will fall on 35-year-old knuckleballer Barney Schultz.
Rookies and new faces: Two rookies, Hubbs and Center Fielder Lou Brock, will step into starting jobs. Hubbs, a converted shortstop, is making the jump from C ball. Tall and lean, he makes all the plays, showed poise and some power in spring training. Brock, also up from Class C, has speed and a promising bat. His outfielding, however, is erratic, which will make him a good companion for Left Fielder Williams and Right Fielder Altman. If 19-year-old Danny Murphy, the $125,000 bonus baby, is ready, he will help the outfield defense considerably; he can run and has a mighty arm.
OUTLOOK: Cubs' rotating-coach system may produce enough good ballplayers to make a respectable team someday. Until then, they are a cinch for the second division.
The travails of a head coach
Baseball managers are an unathletic lot. Most of them spend spring training sitting in the shade of the dugout, leaning on the batting cage or standing in the sun with hands in pockets. Elvin Tappe is a head coach, rather than a manager, which may explain his active approach to the game of baseball. Tappe skips around briskly and brightly, as befits a young executive in Philip Wrigley's organization. He pitches batting practice, sometimes warms up a pitcher or plays pepper.
One day last month Tappe was seen catching batting practice. Tappe was a catcher in his playing days, but even rookie catchers try to avoid working batting practice; it is a hot, dusty, unrewarding job. Yet there was El Tappe, squatting on his haunches in the cage, pounding his mitt vigorously and rattling off a peppy line of chatter. When a foul glanced off the top of the screen and rolled a few feet toward the pitcher's mound, Tappe sprang to his feet and brushed by the batter. "I got it, I got it," he yelled. He scooped the ball up, fired it to the pitcher and trotted back into the cage. None of the players looked surprised, but an awed outsider finally asked Tappe if he was trying to stay in shape or what. "Naw," laughed the head coach. "I just screwed up. Sent too many catchers over to the B game."
Ron Santo, the Cubs' fine young third baseman, was getting a lecture from Coach Lou Klein. It was a gentle lecture, but Santo was at first irritated, then angry. "Damn it, Lou," he said, "last year I hit the ball hard. But you guys are constantly on me about double plays.... Yeah, I know I pull too much." The argument sputtered along until Santo broke it off to take his turn in the batting cage.
"Hitting into double plays is a real problem for me," Santo said later. "Last year I tied Frank Boiling of the Braves for the league lead. My lack of speed hurts some, but pulling the ball is what really does it. Last year I was hitting real good but pulling all the time. I bet I didn't get six base hits to the right side of second base. I even pulled outside fast balls. Everything was right toward the shortstop, right into the double play. It got bad toward the end of the season. It started to be a mental problem."
Santo shook his head. "I can't let that happen this year. I have to stop pulling all the time. I don't want to pull. I just seem to get around too quick on the pitch. So they pitch me outside. Earlier in the season you can pull the outside pitch over the fence. Later you get tired and you hit into the dirt. That's when the double plays start and you feel terrible. Heck, you can take the team right out of an inning that way."
What has to be done? Different stance, different stride? "No, it's a matter of waiting a split second longer before you swing. In the majors you try to get around quick, because the guys throw real hard. If I can wait a bit longer, I'll get some hits to the right side. Once the pitcher knows you can hit over there, he doesn't know where to pitch you. And it doesn't have to be often. If just once during a series I can hit one to right, that'll be enough. That will make them think, and that's what I want."