Search

5 Chicago Cubs With a proven hand at the helm, better things are in store (knock on Wood)

March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

Table of Contents
March 27, 2000

Baseball Preview 2000

5 Chicago Cubs With a proven hand at the helm, better things are in store (knock on Wood)

Even if Don Baylor hadn't known what he was getting himself into
(though, in fact, he says he took the Cubs' managership because
Chicago was a toxic mess in 1999) he found out on the first day
of full workouts in training camp. Sammy Sosa wasn't there, but
fellow outfielder Henry Rodriguez was, lurking near the last row
of players during morning calisthenics in a line unto himself.

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

"The Sammy Sosa line," Baylor said after the workout. "He won't
be there tomorrow. He'll be up front." He was.

Such a mess were last year's Cubs that they deserve to show up on
a list of Superfund cleanup sites. They ran their loss total to
95 games in the most heinous of ways: They quit. Eight games out
of first place in the Central Division and one game under .500 on
July 22, they mailed in a 52-game stretch in which they won only
11 times and failed to put together so many as two victories in a
row. That surrender cost manager Jim Riggleman his job.

"Riggs was a nice guy," says one veteran Cub, which is becoming a
redundant identifier. "Probably too nice of a guy. Guys took
advantage of him. There were some guys who would walk in and say,
'I don't feel like playing today.' It was ugly. We'll find out
how Baylor handles it. His biggest job is how he handles Sammy.
There was some tension in the clubhouse last year with Sammy, so
we'll see."

Sosa's 129 home runs over the past two seasons are the most in
baseball history this side of Mark McGwire. Sosa has also missed
just four of Chicago's 487 games over the past three seasons.
Last year, however, the once multidimensional Sosa played the
outfield erratically and stole fewer bases (seven) than the
Phillies' lumbering Rico Brogna (eight), while getting caught one
more time than he arrived safely. His affection for home runs and
even the volume of his clubhouse boom box raised eyebrows on a
team wary of Sosa's becoming self-satisfied and self-absorbed.
"I'm aware of it, and I know it's a challenge," Baylor says. "I
knew it when I took the job, and I welcome the challenge. In all
my years in baseball I never went to spring training before with
a team that finished in last place. Things will change here."

Baylor's disinfectant job began with laying down rules of
decorum: no cutoffs or gym shorts at the ballpark, no unkempt
facial hair, no caps worn backward and mandatory attendance on
the top step of the dugout for the national anthem. Each
violation carries a $50 fine.

Left unsaid by Baylor is that getting his players to make an
attitude adjustment is a more realistic goal than that of getting
the Cubs into the race for the division title. Chicago has
replaced six starters (including pitcher Steve Trachsel) from its
Opening Day lineup of a year ago without getting much better. In
fact the Cubs' profile hasn't changed much: They're still a
high-strikeout, old-legged team with a shallow pitching staff.

Chicago can, however, make a significant leap if righthander
Kerry Wood regains his electric stuff one year after undergoing
elbow surgery. The Cubs liked what they saw from Wood in spring
training, but they will bring him back slowly, with no plans to
expose him to early-season cold weather.

"It's a fragile team," concedes club president Andy MacPhail.
Righthander Kevin Tapani is 36 and coming off a season cut short
by back pain. Fellow starter Jon Lieber staggered to a 2-8 finish
while throwing a career-high 203 1/3 innings. Ismael Valdes,
acquired in a winter trade with the Dodgers, is 30-35 over the
past three seasons despite what scouts consider superior stuff.
The bullpen is weak.

Still, even a half season from Wood and a typically
underachieving year from Valdes will improve what was the worst
pitching staff in the 124 years of Chicago National League
baseball. Ah, but it's a tribute to the charm of Wrigley Field,
not to mention that of consuming cold alcoholic beverages
alfresco, that more people than ever before in franchise history,
2,813,854, paid to see those miserable Cubs. Such devotion is a
big reason that Baylor, who had his pick of several off-season
managerial openings, wanted to come to Chicago. "I knew about the
fan support, but I really experienced it during the winter when
we did our promotional caravan," Baylor says. "I had two ladies
come up to me and tell me they've been Cubs fans all their lives.
There was a 92-year-old lady who said she'd been a Cubs fan for
70 years. And there was a 93-year-old lady. Seventy years a Cubs
fan! My dad's 72! It was amazing. It just blew me away."

Of course, the Cubs haven't won a World Series since those ladies
were in diapers (1908) and have gone 0-10 in postseason series
since. The Angels, the Brewers, the Orioles and the Tigers, who
also had managerial vacancies, offered no such daunting challenge
to Baylor. He chose a place where he could make the biggest
impact, even if at first he'll have to do so with a mop and
pail.

--T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA HANDLE WITH CARE The Cubs' fragile starting rotation will get a big boost if Wood continues to show the progress he evinced this spring.COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA

around the Horn

offense
[3 stars]
defense
[2 stars]
starting pitching
[2 stars]
bullpen
[2 stars]
manager
[4 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)

Batting average .257 (15)
Runs scored 747 (13)
Home runs 189 (6)

1999 record: 67-95 (sixth in NL Central)

Opponents' batting average .286 (15)
ERA 5.27 (15)
Fielding percentage .977 (14)

next up...

Only two years ago Corey Patterson was playing ball for Harrison
High in Kennesaw, Ga., which is why the cautious Cubs didn't
intend to invite him to spring training this year--until manager
Don Baylor requested it. Though he looks like a leadoff man--he's
5'10" with superior speed--the lefthanded hitting Patterson has
the kind of power to be Chicago's No. 3 hitter for years to come.
The only question is how long the Cubs can resist keeping him out
of the big leagues, especially when the only centerfielder on
their roster is journeyman Damon Buford. According to one member
of the Chicago hierarchy, you can bet Patterson will be at
Wrigley before his 21st birthday in August.

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Don Baylor (first season with Chicago)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

2B Eric Young[1] R 101 .281 2 41 51
SS Ricky Gutierrez[1] R 331 .261 1 25 2
RF Sammy Sosa R 7 .288 63 141 7
1B Mark Grace L 132 .309 16 91 3
LF Henry Rodriguez L 117 .304 26 87 2
3B Shane Andrews R 240 .195 16 51 1
CF Damon Buford[1] R 246 .242 6 38 9
C Joe Girardi[1] R 284 .239 2 27 3

BENCH

OF Glenallen Hill R 231 .300 20 55 5
IF Willie Greene[1] L-R 269 .204 12 41 0
C Jeff Reed L-R 308 .258 3 28 1
IF Jeff Huson[1] L-R 378 .262 0 18 10
IF Jose Nieves R 393 .249 2 18 0

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Ismael Valdes*[1] 88 9 14 6.4 1.33 3.98
RH Jon Lieber 96 10 11 6.6 1.34 4.07
RH Kevin Tapani 155 6 12 5.9 1.35 4.83
RH Kerry Wood*[2] 176 13 6 6.4 1.21 3.40
RH Kyle Farnsworth 201 5 9 5.6 1.48 5.05

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Rick Aguilera 40 9 4 14 0.98 2.94
RH Matt Karchner 271 1 0 0 1.39 2.50
LH Felix Heredia 280 3 1 1 1.56 4.85
RH Greg McMichael[1][3]340 1 1 0 1.63 5.08
RH Brian Williams[1] 302 2 1 0 1.54 4.41
LH Andrew Lorraine 288 2 5 0 1.51 5.55

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Will begin season on DL
[2] 1998 stats
[3] Combined AL and NL stats

the book an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cubs

"Last year the Cubs were old, slow and awful up the middle.
Manager Jim Riggleman paid the price.... Now they're slightly
better, and new manager Don Baylor will help. He's good at
getting guys ready to play, and he comes to the park expecting to
win. But are the Cubs good enough to contend? No. They have a
chance to contend for .500. I can see them making a 10-game
improvement on last season.... I like what they've done up the
middle. Their double-play combination is more stable and has more
speed. Eric Young is a decent second baseman who'll give them
offense and speed. He's better than Mickey Morandini, who had no
range. And Ricky Gutierrez is an upgrade over Jeff Blauser at
short.... Catcher Joe Girardi is a great addition. He'll hit .230
to .250, but he moves runners and his greatest value is how he
handles a staff. Pitchers rave about the guy. He was born to
catch.... The Cubs need pitching. Starters Kevin Tapani and Jon
Lieber are battlers, and every once in a while they can shut
someone down, but stuffwise they're both a little short."