Not since 1946 have the Chicago Cubs finished in the first division. No other team in the major leagues (excluding expansion clubs) can make that depressing statement.
Asked what his main concern was for the 1964 season, Owner Philip K. Wrigley replied, "Washrooms in Wrigley Field." More washrooms would be nice, but what the Cubs need most are a few dirty old hitters. For the Cubs to reach the first division they will have to hit more (their .238 ranked 17th in the majors) and score more (they also were 17th in scoring). Their chances for a stronger offense rest with two first basemen, Ernie Banks and rookie John Boccabella. Banks, now 33, had alltime personal lows of 18 home runs, 64 RBIs and a .227 batting average last season, a slump that was caused, it is believed, by a case of subclinical mumps and a blood infection. It was a trying year for Banks off the field as well. His wife underwent major surgery in May. "I almost lost her," Banks says. "Thank God it all worked out." His wife's hospitalization also helped Ernie. "The doctor talked to me one day," Banks says. "He told me he watched our games on TV and he thought I was having trouble hitting because I wasn't concentrating. That afternoon I tried to concentrate more. I went three for three and got a walk." His streak continued until he had gone 12 for 26. But Ernie's problem was deeper than that. It was not long before he was caught up in another slump because of his illness. Those were long, painful days for Banks ("I didn't feel alive"), and what made them worse was that he knew that if he had been hitting like the Ernie Banks of old the Cubs would finally have moved out of the second division. Should Banks continue to have trouble at the plate, Boccabella will take over. Boccabella joined the team last September after just 10 weeks of professional experience. At Pocatello—yes, Boccabella from Pocatello—he batted .365 and in just 84 games had 92 RBIs and 30 homers. As a man and a player, Boccabella is a worthy successor to Banks. "He is," says Third Baseman Ron Santo, "the most modest person I have ever met. And the best part is that he's Italian." Boccabella, 22, is a solidly built 200-pounder who stands 6 feet 1. Undoubtedly, his hitting would benefit from another season of sharpening in the minors. Still, he gave every indication this spring that he will do at least an adequate job if he fills in. for Banks. Another promising rookie is Billy Cowan, who was one of the top minor league players last season, having hit .315, 25 homers and knocked in 120 runs at Salt Lake City. But he also struck out 148 times. Other newcomers who might stick are Paul Popovich (.313, 17 HRs, 60 RBIs with Amarillo) and Jim Stewart (.264 for Salt Lake City and .297 in 13 games with the Cubs). Back for another try are Bob Will (.370 for Salt Lake City) and Ken Aspromonte (.236 for Salt Lake City). The offense will rely mainly, though, on smooth-swinging Billy Williams (.286, 25 HRs, 95 RBIs) and Santo (.297, 25 HRs, 99 RBIs). Only late-season slumps have kept Williams from hitting .300 in each of the past two years. Merritt Ranew, who saw here-and-there service, batted .338. Lou Brock (.258) put his speed to good use, scoring 79 runs and stealing 24 bases.
Only one other major league team allowed fewer walks than the Cubs last year, and only three had a better ERA than Chicago's 3.08. Left-hander Dick Ellsworth rebounded from 20 losses in 1962 and put together a 22-10 record. His 2.10 ERA was the second best in the majors. Larry Jackson had a 2.55 ERA and 14 victories but was victimized by lack of hitting. The Cubs scored only 29 runs in his 18 defeats. Also starting will be Bob Buhl (11-14, 3.38) and Glen Hobbie (7-10, 3.93). For two years Hobbie used a no-windup delivery to protect his injured back. This spring he went back to his normal style, regained his curve and looked much like the same Hobbie who won 16 games in both 1959 and 1960. If Fred Norman's curve ball retains any resemblance to the one he threw in the minors, Cub opponents may have trouble believing their eyes. Norman is a 21-year-old left-hander, built like Bobby Shantz, who in two and a half minor league seasons struck out 532 men in 417 innings. His record for Binghamton showed 13 wins, 14 losses, a 3.09 ERA and 258 strikeouts in 198 innings, and he should fit right into an already impressive Cub pitching staff. Fork Bailer Lindy McDaniel (13-7, 2.86 and 21 saves in 57 games) and Don Elston (4-1, 2.83 in 51 games) are outstanding relief pitchers.
How much the tragic death of Kenny Hubbs means to the team can never be told by statistics. Hubbs was one of the most gifted second basemen in the game, but although he is gone he may still be an asset to his teammates. "We had a meeting this spring," Santo says, "and we decided Kenny wouldn't want us to feel sorry for him. We felt he would want us to try our hardest, and that's just what we're going to do." Upon the young shoulders of Popovich, 23, or Stewart, 24, may fall the burden of replacing Hubbs. Popovich did not get out of the Army until late March, but of the two he is the better fielder, especially on the double play. Another possibility at second base is the old Giant bonus baby (1954), Joey Amalfitano, who was obtained from Tacoma after working out with the Angels this spring. Joey is a superior gloveman at second, short or third, but a weak bat has kept him from winning a regular job all these years. Shortstop Andre Rodgers' 35 errors were the third highest total for any big leaguer at any position. In compensation he took part in more double plays than any other shortstop. Santo has few peers at third. Banks does a workmanlike job at first, and Boccabella is already a fine fielder. Long workouts with Manager Bob Kennedy helped transform Brock from a bungler into a capable right fielder. Williams does a good job in left, and Cowan has the speed to be a fine center fielder. Of the three catchers—Jim Schaffer, Dick Bertell and Ranew—only Schaffer is adequate defensively.
To reach the first division this year, the Cubs must hit right to the end, for 25 of their last 32 games are against the Dodgers, Cardinals, Giants and Reds.