Dickie Noles, the rarely tranquil pitcher, was seated at the far end of the dugout at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz. last week, steadfastly not watching a spring training B game. Because he wasn't a scheduled participant in this struggle, he was startled to hear his name called. "Noles," the voice said, "get out there and coach first base." With the devotion that typifies the new character of his team, Noles dutifully trotted to the box—which, to his humiliation, was already occupied by a Milwaukee Brewers coach. Noles's team wasn't even at bat. "I don't believe this one," he said on the way back to a dugout filled with teammates howling with laughter, notably Larry Bowa and Keith Moreland.
Oh, what a bunch of cutups those Phillies are, you might say. Maybe so, but HoHoKam Park is the spring home of the Chicago Cubs, and Bowa, More-land and Noles are Cubbies, and part of the new look the North Siders have taken on. The Broad Street look, it could be called, because, at last count, 18 former members of the Philadelphia organization, from executive vice president-general manager Dallas Green to rookie in-fielder-outfielder Ryne Sandberg, are now Cubs. The first edition of the Tribune Company-owned team is jokingly called the "Chicago Phillies."
The Cubs have always been as rich a source of humor as mothers-in-law. They are the lovable losers of baseball, the "Munchkins of the Midway" who haven't won a World Series in 73 years and haven't even been in one in 36. "There is no off-season in Chicago," Tribune columnist Steve Daley once observed. "It is only when the teams start playing that the fans lose interest." Japery of this nature doesn't amuse Green, a mountainous man with a fierce aspect. "It bothers me," he says. "I know Cub fans are totally loyal, but the way it's been, if you're a Cub, you're loved whether you play well or not. That's not the way it should be."
The Cubs' new slogan is "Building a New Tradition," which, of course, defies the true meaning of tradition. "Years of losing had permeated this entire organization," Green said last week from the HoHoKam ball park—which, in the old tradition, is situated across the street from a cemetery. "This is a great franchise, but a change of ownership was paramount. A fresh approach is what the Tribune Company wants, and we're going to give it to them."
March 29, 1982
Green more than trebled the size of the Cubs' understaffed front office, largely with former Phillies, among them Gordon Goldsberry, who has the formidable assignment of rebuilding the rickety farm system. Green puts high priority on the minor league operation, because he ran the Phillies' farm system when he joined the front office in 1972. "When Ruly Carpenter brought Paul Owens [as general manager] and me in, we had a team that finished 37½ games behind. We had no semblance of a team. But we put the right people in the right places and turned it all around."
Green proved to be one of the right people when he was appointed field manager late in the 1979 season as an emergency replacement for the cashiered Danny Ozark. Green's uncompromising manner and his dedication to the work ethic didn't exactly endear him to his players, who had won NL East titles in 1976, '77 and '78 but never made it to the Series. The Phillies fought against him, among themselves and with almost everyone throughout the 1980 season. They also won the club's first National League pennant in 30 years and the first World Series in the 97-year history of the franchise.
But Green remained a reluctant manager. He had been happy in the front office and had good reason to believe that someday he would succeed his good friend Owens as general manager. Then the team was sold last year by the Carpenter family to a group headed by Team President Bill Giles. Meanwhile, Andrew J. McKenna, the man the Tribune Company put in charge of the Cubs when it bought them from the Wrigley family, was looking for a G.M. of his own. Green had been a winner and he had had front-office experience: The perfect man for the job, McKenna reasoned, and he called him. Green at first said he wasn't interested; he'd been a Phillie for 24 of his 26 years in baseball. But McKenna was convincing, and Green soon recognized that the Cubs represented the same challenge the Phillies had nine years before.
Green picked an old Phillies friend, Lee Elia, as his manager. Green and Elia first met when Green, now 47, was a senior and Elia, 44, a freshman at the University of Delaware. "I really didn't know Dallas that well then," says Elia, who played for the White Sox (1966) and the Cubs (1968). "The next time we got together was in 1963, when he pitched and I played shortstop for Little Rock in the International League. Then I didn't hear from him again until August of 1972, when he offered me a third-base coaching job the next season with Eugene, the Phils' Triple A team. I'd been out of baseball three years, was selling insurance and managing a semipro team in Philly. I'd made $19,000 the year before. Dallas offered me $8,000. We settled on $8,500. If I didn't take that job, I knew I'd never get back into baseball, and I guess that was what I really wanted."
Elia managed in the minors for five years, and in 1980 Green gave him the Phils' third-base coaching job. He held that position for two years; now Green has made him field manager in Chicago. Elia hired two former Phillies, John Vukovich as third-base coach and Tom Harman as bullpen coach, to go with holdover batting instructor Billy Williams and former Kansas City coaches Bill Connors and Gordy MacKenzie. Connors, not surprisingly, got his coaching start in the Philadelphia organization.
Several weeks before the start of spring training, Green sent a letter to all the Cub players that read, in part, "Other National League clubs know that if you stay close [to the Cubs], they'll beat themselves by not paying attention to fundamentals, that down deep they don't care about being a Cub or being successful.... Don't slough this letter off as B.S. I know for a fact that most of you are out of shape." The fat, so to speak, was in the fire.
The players not only showed up in good shape, but they also exhibited a new and endearing enthusiasm. "We never had any direction here," old Cub Bill Buckner says. "Now we do. Everything is organized and everything is going in a positive direction. The difference starts at the top."
And what of the new attitude? "The feeling here before was that of a losing club," Billy Williams says. "They've brought in people who've been on winners. That attitude filters down." The winners, of course, are the ex-Phillies: Bowa, Noles, Moreland, Sandberg, plus Pitcher Dan Larson and Catcher Miguel Ibarra. Of these, Bowa, Moreland and Sandberg are the key performers. More-land, 27, can catch, play third and the outfield, and in the 1980 championship season he hit .314 in 62 games. He's a money player in the literal sense. "We all play for money," he says, "and winning gets you more money. We've got people here now who will spend money and players who'll work hard for it. Dallas knew the type of player he was getting."
Sandberg, who is only 22, represents the Cubs' future. He's a natural shortstop who can play third, second and center-field, all Cub weak spots. Green told Sandberg that if he learned to play the other positions, his chances of staying with the team this year were much improved and that when Bowa, who is 36, decides to step down, he can become the shortstop.
Bowa has no interest in stepping down. He's as contentious and outspoken as he was in Philadelphia, and he more than anyone is the spirit of the new Cubs. Green got both Sandberg and Bowa from the Phillies for last year's Cub shortstop, Ivan DeJesus. It was a trade that surprised some, because Bowa and Green were hardly close in their Phillie days. They are not exactly Chang and Eng now, but there is a mutual respect. "Bo had a traumatic 1980 season," Green says. "He got into an argument with Ruly over money. He was the player rep, and he was caught in the middle of the strike talks. Then there was that drug problem up in Reading [Bowa and several other Phillies were accused of obtaining illegal prescriptions but later were exonerated]. And I kept telling him that he wasn't playing as well as he can. I kept screaming at him, in fact. So he hated his manager, he hated the press...and he played like hell in the World Series. That's the kind of person I wanted to bring with me. He put his hurt aside and went out and won for us. Now there are...what?...650 major league players. Fifty of them are so-called superstars. Another 300 are good and 300 are just so-so. The difference is that the good 300 will sacrifice. They'll see a goal and strive for it. The so-so 300 are collecting their paychecks. I want people on my team who are in that first 300 class. Bo is one of them."
Bowa is a voluble, restless, cranky little guy, a master needier who has mastered the macho camaraderie that is so much a part of major league clubhouse life. "Larry Bowa made me feel like we'd been playing together forever," says Leon (Bull) Durham, an outfielder who came to the Cubs last year from St. Louis and was disappointed to discover that "the players in Chicago wanted it, but not enough."
"It always seemed to me that the Cubs would just wait around for something bad to happen," Bowa said last week. "It wasn't that they had bad personnel. There was just something negative. That's gone now, although we're not going to turn it around here overnight. I regret leaving some of the guys in Philadelphia, but there are a lot of them here. Besides, it was obvious to me that the new owners in Philly didn't want me. Dallas and I have had our differences, but it doesn't mean we dislike each other. I'm happy to be here."
Bowa did present Green with one problem. Buckner had been the highest-paid player on the team, as befitted his stature. Then along came Bowa with his $500,000 salary. To preserve harmony and to erase any question of favoritism toward the Philadelphia gang, Green swallowed a principle and agreed to "modify" the Buckner contract, so that at roughly $600,000 he remained atop the salary structure. "This will allow Bill and the rest of the club to prepare physically and mentally for the 1982 season," Green said.
But Green remains committed to "the kids." The Bowas and the Buckners will keep the Cubs competitive until the youngsters can assume their rightful places. "All we're saying about attitude will be nothing more than lip service if we don't get this team out of the doldrums," Green says. "Look, we're not just one man away from winning; we're lots of men. But I do believe in our kids. We'll give them the opportunity, and someday soon we'll be able to hold our heads up."
The Cubs are a long way from being winners, but at least they don't sound like losers anymore. If nothing else, the tough guys from Philly are making them less Chaplinesque. "It's a funny thing," says the 24-year-old Durham. "The other day, Dickie Noles let me hold his World Series ring in my hand. I just looked at that thing. It was beautiful. I want one of those things. Badly." That's the spirit.