Cubs manager Jim Frey remembers clearly his conversation—what little there was of it—on the telephone last December with Ray Fontenot, the left-handed pitcher the Cubs had recently acquired from the Yankees. Frey was calling Fontenot at his home in Lake Charles, La. to spell out the pitcher's duties for the forthcoming season. "I told him we needed a lefthander in the bullpen and that I intended to use him there," says Frey. "I knew he'd been a starter with the Yankees, but I said we needed him in the bullpen." And what was Fontenot's reply? "Well," says Frey, "there was a long pause...."
This is an article from the April 15, 1985 issue
In truth, Fontenot is not entirely happy with his new assignment. He recalls all too vividly the anguish his former teammate Dave Righetti suffered when he was transferred from the rotation to the pen. "But I'll do the best I can," he says. "It's nice being on a contending team. It's a lot better when you're pitching for a reason, so right now I'll label myself a middle reliever, knowing that anytime I get the ball for this club it's important."
Getting the ball shouldn't be all that much of a problem, even though the Cubs have an excellent starting rotation in Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout, Dennis Eckersley, Scott Sanderson and Dick Ruthven. Frey will use Fontenot both as a setup man for his "closer," the intimidating Lee Smith, and as a situation pitcher against lefthanded hitters. A lefty in the pen was about the only ingredient missing from Frey's team after he and general manager Dallas Green finally got the club fine-tuned in mid-June.
What a difference a year will make. The Cubs looked like a contender for nothing higher than the cellar in spring training a year ago. They lost 11 spring games in a row and 18 of 21 at one point. "I was wondering if I'd make the traveling squad north myself," says Frey. Then the help started arriving—Gary Matthews and Bob Dernier from Philadelphia, Eckersley from Boston and finally the eventual Cy Young winner, Sutcliffe, on June 13 from Cleveland. Frey will have all of these standouts from the start this season, along with Fontenot in the pen. And no question about it, the manager will make the trip north.
Frey's problem spot this spring on a club otherwise set was at shortstop, where Larry Bowa, who at 39 may be too old to play, and Shawon Dunston, who at 22 may be too young, were competing for the job in a most unsettling way. Bowa, never a candidate for the Mr. Congeniality trophy, groused all spring over what he regarded as the favoritism exhibited by Frey and the organization toward Dunston. Bowa said from the outset of training that the youngster need only have a fair spring to win the job. Dunston's efforts (.282, four errors) and potential won Frey over, although, in truth, Frey was unhappy with both players. Dunston, who hit only .233 in 61 Triple A games last year and had 58 total errors in two leagues, didn't look ready, and Bowa hit only .223 for the team last year. The Cubs, who didn't do much in the off-season except sign existing players to enormous salaries—Sutcliffe $9 million for five years, Trout $4.5 million for five and Eckersley $2.35 million for three—may look to the trade routes once more.
In the meantime, their problem would seem to be re-creating that old hungry attitude. "We're starting fresh," says Frey. "We've got the talent. We need to get in the same frame of mind we had last year." It's doubtful their fans, still waiting for a World Series team after 40 years, will let them get too complacent.
LEON DURHAM (L)
RYNE SANDBERG (R)
SHAWON DUNSTON (R)
RON CEY (R)
GARY MATTHEWS (R)
BOB DERNIER (R)
KEITH MORELAND (R)
JODY DAVIS (R)