Mac O'Dea is not the reason Chicago is called the Windy City—it only seems like that from the back of his cab. The garrulous hack, in mid-filibuster, rolls his taxi to a stop at Clark and Addison. Wrigley Field awaits outside, waging an early-season battle against winter temperatures and common sense for the hearts of Cub fans. O'Dea, for one, loves baseball in April. "That's why they make whiskey," he says.
Any kind of fortification would have helped last week in frigid Wrigley, which was temporarily devoid of its ivy and its charm as the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates opened a three-game series with wind-chills in the teens. "This is two different ballparks," acknowledged Chicago manager Don Zimmer. "One when the wind is blowing in and another when the wind is blowing out." Last Friday and Saturday arctic winds blew in, and neither of the National League East cofavorites could put the chill on the other. The teams swapped wins, the Pirates taking the first game 3-1 and the Cubs the second 7-3.
Then, with rain forecast for Sunday, the sun inexplicably came out, the winds inexplicably blew out, and Cub fans, likewise, exhaled. Chicago's 6-4 win gave the Cubs two victories to the Pirates' one in the series. "Tell me about it," said Zimmer late Sunday afternoon. "We've already won half as many games as we won against them all last year." What's more, Chicago won Game 3 with its $30 million men: Danny Jackson pitched, George Bell hit and Dave Smith saved a game that actually resembled baseball.
Even the first frozen days of the series offered abundant reminders that baseball is back, accompanied by all of its glorious sights and sounds. There was, for instance, the reverent whisper of a fastball pitcher talking about the old heater. "I try to stay away from the heater," Pirate lefthander John Smiley said on Friday. "I just wear my jacket in the dugout. I think if you sit right next to the heater, you'll feel twice as cold when you have to go back out on the mound."
The teams also giddily anticipated the roar of the crowd. "I'll go out to the bullpen," Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Miller predicted, "and there will be one guy in the bleachers, wearing a tank top, bombed out of his mind—and calling me an idiot."
There was the crack of the bat. Or was that a wristbone? "You take one off the end of the bat [in this weather]," said Cub first baseman Mark Grace, "and you're on the DL."
There was the pop of the mitt: Unsheltered Pirate relievers, wearing forearm-length oven mitts, constantly clapped their hands together for warmth.
And what would baseball be without the smell of the freshly mown...what? "Frozen tundra," Miller said while surveying the field before Friday's game. "Tundra. I learned that one in the crossword puzzle."
Try this one, then: What's a seven-letter word that means "loved one" in Hawaiian? Kealoha. Chicago started righthander Shawn Kealoha Boskie against Smiley in the series opener, a contest that came with considerable advance billing—as these April affairs go, anyway. It was not merely the season's first matchup between the alleged two best teams in the division; the game would also provide a glimpse of two teams that, like their nicknames, Cub and Buc, appear to be going in opposite directions.
The Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune as well as the monster-market, nationally cabled Cubs, spent that $30 million on the three aforementioned free agents in the off-season. Rest assured, the Tribune Co. is still in no danger of becoming the answer to the question, What's black and white and in the red all over?
The small-market Pirates, conversely, lost $7 million and two free agents after winning the division last fall and are now doing all they can financially merely to keep their outfield intact. Forty-eight hours before the start of their Opening Day game in Pittsburgh, the Pirates signed centerfielder Andy Van Slyke to a three-year, $12.65 million contract that would seem to ensure the eventual departure of slugging rightfielder Bobby Bonilla, a free-agent-to-be who is demanding a five-year deal worth more than $20 million.
Oh, to have the Cubs' chump change. "That would be wonderful," says Pittsburgh general manager Larry Doughty, a faraway look in his eyes before he snaps back to reality. "But when you exceed your limit like we did last season, with a $10.8 million collusion ruling against you, it has to have an effect. But I still believe in free enterprise. Whatever the market will bear is your privilege."
"The Pirates have my services for the year," said Bonilla, seemingly resigned to not being re-signed. "I'll go out there with a smile on my face. Andy Van Slyke deserved what he got—he's one of the best players in the game."
Shortly thereafter, Van Slyke was scoring two runs and Bonilla was driving in one in Game 1. Pittsburgh needed only three runs Friday, for as sharp as Shawn Kealoha Boskie was, the Loved One couldn't overcome the fact that his Cub teammates scored only one and took several key alohas at the plate. At the end of the day, Chicago's Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Bell could count themselves a collective 9 for 46 for the four-game-old season. In the four games, the home team had now scored eight runs, only one of them driven in by the above free-swinging trio of former MVPs.
"Look at those guys' careers," said the 24-year-old Boskie, who went 5-6 in his rookie season before having elbow surgery in August. "Those are great careers. I don't think they're going to just stop hitting now."
Of course not. But the similarly loaded Pirates were shut out for the first 15 innings of their season, against Montreal. What gives? "It's a pitcher's game now," says Zimmer, whose starting rotation is supposed to be suspect beyond Greg Maddux and Jackson. "You see temperatures around the league like 25 degrees. Forty-one. Wait until summertime, when the wind's blowing out."
On the other side of the ballpark, Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland thawed in his office. "It was a miserable day today," pronounced the jubilant victorious skipper. "And tomorrow will probably be more miserable than today."
Leyland's forecast proved meteorologically prescient. Weatherwise, Saturday was a lot like Friday, only with drizzle. Pirate reliever Bob Kipper, who grew up in suburban Chicago, peered out of the dugout before the game to see the 41 flags that fly above Wrigley rippling stiffly toward the northeast. "I heard a commentator ragging last night about there only being 8,000 people here yesterday," said Kipper. "I mean, who in his right mind would come to sit in this?"
Nobody in his right mind, though that didn't prevent 22 college boys from sitting shirtless together in the rightfield bleachers for Game 2. It is not known how many called Pittsburgh's Miller an "idiot"; it is known that the display of fish-belly-white flesh lasted little more than 20 minutes before the kids had their coats on again.
Curiously, the game was almost as abrupt. Pittsburgh starter Doug Drabek put two Cubs on in the second inning before intentionally walking rookie third baseman Gary Scott to get to Chicago pitcher Mike Bielecki. Bielecki singled sharply up the middle for two RBIs. Two innings later he singled again, just inside first base, for two more runs batted in, giving himself the team lead in that category and chasing last season's Cy Young winner, Drabek. On the mound, Bielecki was equally efficient, giving up three hits and no runs in eight innings. All this came from a man who had had five RBIs in his seven previous major league seasons and who had gone nine straight starts without a W last summer.
Following Chicago's 7-3 win, Zimmer, like Bielecki, was at a loss to explain the pitcher's hitting. "But as far as his pit-chin', that's why he's pitchin'," said Zimmer." 'Cause he can pitch."
"I'm not worried about Drabek," Leyland said of his ace, who fell to 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA. "If I have to worry about him, we're in trouble." Nor does Leyland appear to be worried about leftfielder Barry Bonds, who was removed from Saturday's game in the fifth with a bruised knee and thumb after sliding into the brick wall in foul territory upon completion of a spectacular catch. The catch burgled Grace and seemed to bear out Grace's statement a day earlier about the Pirates and their contract troubles: "Nobody goes to the plate or out in the field thinking about money. That's just the professional in all of us."
Even before Bonds was forced to sit out Sunday's game, Leyland conceded, "We're not a perfect team by any means." A couple of immediate concerns spring to mind. Can the Pirates trade Bonilla anytime soon? Or do they keep him for one more run at a pennant this summer and risk receiving only two draft picks for him in the off-season? Management isn't saying, and Leyland considers it "out of my jurisdiction," though Bonilla, for one, admits to a strong motivation for remaining in Pittsburgh. "I don't want to mess up the back of my bubble-gum card," he says.
Leyland does have to concern himself with the Bucs' first-base-and-leadoff platoon of Gary Redus and Gary Varsho, a tag team necessitated by the loss of free agent first baseman Sid Bream to the Braves and leadoff hitter Wally Backman to the Phillies. On Sunday, Leyland tried inserting Carmelo Martinez at first. Bad idea. Martinez responded with back-to-back errors in the fifth inning that allowed one run to score. And in the eighth, he experienced a brain cramp, unaccountably holding on to a ground ball instead of throwing it to second baseman Jose Lind, who was covering first, allowing two more runs to score. Leyland's trouble is that, at the plate, neither Gary Redus nor Gary Varsho reminds anybody of Gary Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees. And in the field, neither Gary is Gary Scott. Then again, who is?
Scott, a 22-year-old defensive whiz who made the Cubs' starting lineup as a non-roster player this spring, is as well-adjusted as a lad can be after going from Class A to The Show in one year. Which isn't to say that Scott hasn't undergone the trials of youth. He admits, after all, to having subjected himself to the entire Stephen King oeuvre and to watching most of the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steven Seagal. "I listen to everything from George Winston piano solos to Guns n' Roses," Scott adds, if you weren't already convinced.
Scott's bat, if it's for real—he hit .366 in spring training and now occupies the No. 8 spot—would make Chicago's offense Ziploc tight, and his glove leaves the team with only one gap afield. That gap, however, sometimes looks gaping: Leftfielder Bell was victimized for four inside-the-park home runs this spring. But as Zimmer is quick to point out, seasons change.
As for April: "Both sides have to play in the same conditions," said Leyland. "If you still score only two or three runs in July, with the wind blowing out, people will sneeze at it." Too bad. We were hoping that by the time the Cubs and Pirates are playing again at Wrigley on the Fourth of July, people would have recovered from their colds.