Cubs Appear Ripe for "Miracle" Season (in 1984)

No, this isn't a bold Ryan Dempster-like statement about the Cubs 2008 chances. We're going to hop into the DeLorean we have sitting around here at the sprawling TCR headquarters and visit my all-time favorite Cubs team - the 1984 ballcub.


I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who can point to the 1984 Cubs as the reason why they're still Cubs fans today. As a young nine-year old living in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, I had not yet quite sworn my life-debt to either Chicago team. If anything I was leaning towards the White Sox as they had just come off of a successful 1983 season and Dad G. fancied himself more a White Sox fan over the Cubs. Plus me and my brother scored like 8 White Sox helmets on a giveaway day the year before and that was kind of cool.

Then 1984 hit and the Cubs-love swept through Chicago. The mix of the "Daily Double", WGN, Harry Caray and being able to catch the end of most Cubs homes games right when I got home for school was enough to sway me to the Northsiders.

But, this piece isn't about my reasons for being a Cubs fan, rather about one man's bold prediction.

I recently finished a rather impressive historical account on the Cubs by Glenn Stout, aptly titled "The Cubs: The Complete Story of Chicago Cubs Baseball". Of course, as I approached the section on the 1984 Cubs, my ears perked up a bit as they are my all-time favorite Cubs team. In his research, Stout came across a rather intriguing article posted on April 1st of that year. Reading through it, you'd think it was an April Fool's Day joke.


If anybody offers you 100-plus odds against the Cubs' winning the National League East in 1984, take it.


Say what? The Cubs finished 5th in the six team NL East the year before, 19 games back of the division winning Phillies with a 71-91 record and, you know, they're the Cubs.

The author continues:
A substantial portion of the 19-game difference between the Cubs and the top of the division is not a real difference in talent. It might be called an illusion. It might be called a difference in the ability to play one-run baseball. But whatever it is, it isn't a difference in the ability to score runs or the ability to prevent the opposition from scoring runs.
That sounds dangerously like sabermetrics, doesn't it? But Billy Beane was still cutting his teeth in the Mets organization as a player at that point and hadn't invented it yet (like the Moneyball pundits seem to think).
This is an unusually large disparity - eight games - between projected performance and actual performance, and such disparities do not hold up from year to year.

I believe it's called the Pythagorean Theorem and it still holds true today and will hold true tomorrow, in 15 years, in 100 years and maybe even 200, if global warming doesn't get to us first.

So who this mysterious Carnac? Bernie Lincicome? Jerome Holtzman? One last clue...

The Cubs certainly don't have the potential to be a great team, a dominant team over time. But that's not really germane; miracle teams are never great teams. They're teams that have a moment, teams that slip through a window of dominance.

Alright, that wasn't much, was it? Let's see if this helps:

The Cubs have a specific, correctable weakness, action on which can have a huge impact on their record. I speak of their ability on artificial turf. The Cubs last year were 58-56 on grass fields, but were the worst team in baseball [13-35] on artifical turn by a wide margin.

The reasons for this are not hard to understand. They have a power-hitting offense, and Larry Bowa and Ron Cey don't move so much as sort of melt toward the ball. Their staff is composed heavily of ground-ball pitchers - they had more ground balls hit off them than any other staff in the majors- and ground-ball pitchers get killed on artificial turf.

Well if you haven't guessed yet, there weren't a lot of sabermetrically-inclined authors back in 1984 and the article was actually an excerpt from the "Bill James Baseball Abstract/1984", naturally written by the true father of sabermetrics, Bill James. Thanks to Transmission for finding the actual Trib article for me, which you can view the full text by following this link.

PS - The Cubs were 2 games behind their Pythagorean record last year if it makes anyone feel better about 2008. They won 85, but "should" have won 87.

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Comments

So there it is, the gauntlet has been laid down. Rob G. says Cubs win it all in 2008!

I'm a little older Rob as you might recall from the famous TCR West Coast Meetings of 05?? so '69 was my first big collapse err year but '84 was special too -- I personally witnessed Game 1 of the NLCS -- Cubs 13 Padres 0 from the bleachers as HRs by Sandberg, Sarge and Sutcliffe, yes Sutcliffe came whizzing by, Trout's mastery in game 2 (I don't recall if he was truly masterful but I do know it was 4-2 Cubs so he couldn't have been awful) and then...well it might have been worse than a Bartmanian collapse. Somebody should post an article on which was the bigger heartbreak 69 vs 84 vs 03...

'03 was hard, but '84 was soul crushing.

not living through '69 I can't speak of it....


I can't choose between '84 or '03. I suppose '03, just because I was older and realized how sparse the opportunites have become to get that far.

I was too young in 84 to know about the cubs. 89 was my 84. I just couldnt understand why they sucked so bad in 1990. I thought it was a slam dunk that they would be back in 91 with the George "Taco" Bell and Danny Jackson pickups. Little did I know that there would be many a let-down season in the following years.

I love the 1984 team. Every year on June 23 I celebrate the "Ryno Game" from that year. It is still the greatest game I have ever seen. Of course, the 1984 playoffs were among the worst moments for a Cubs fan.

I celebrate it too, it's my birthday, the '84 game was my 23rd birthday, I should have been there, but can rememeber watching it...Jody, Jody Davis king of Wrigley Field..Geovany, Geovany Soto king of Walgreen's Field doesn't have the same ring to it...

as my bio says on "our writers" page...


Rob G. has been obsessing with all things Cubs since he adjusted the rabbit ears on his parents old TV set and watched Ryne Sandberg take two out of Wrigley against Bruce Sutter in 1984. For better, and often for far worse, he's married to the Cubs and can attest that this love...is certainly blind.

Interesting question, but I have to go with 2003 being worse. In '84, I was in college in May and then from September through the playoffs, so I missed my share of games. It was such a novel thought that they were in the playoffs. Of course, the Garvey HR and the Durham error linger. But being older and having experienced more bad baseball and more heartbreak PLUS going to three NLCS games (1, 6, 7) and watch them blow leads in all three....much worse for me personally.

Tito, I think I speak for everyone when I say:
Quit going to playoff games.

Kidding... I agree, '03 would have to be the worst, just because they came soooooo close.

And no one mentions '05 when talking about bad years, but let's face it, it was like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard for an entire season. It was agonizingly long and painful.

... btw, I was a kid in '84 so I don't remember it much.

Still think the 1989 team was a load of fun. Good young hitters in Grace, Sandberg, Walton and Dwight Smith, classic vets in the Hawk and Sutcliffe, and the madness of Mitch Williams and the famous Shawon-o-Meter. Plus, night baseball at Wrigley!

Weird. I'm the same age as Rob G.

1984 was my first Cubs year too. I remember being frustrated at the games preempting my afternoon cartoons toward the start of the season. But by the end of the summer, I was intrigued, if not hooked. I count that year as the first I was a baseball fan.

Good read on the Bill James. Any chance he has good predictions for us this year? : )

Come to think of it, I went to the playoff loss last year, too. Screw the goat, it's me!

I remember Howard Cosell saying on a game of the week broadcast that the Cubs didn't have a chance against the Mets that year.

The Mets won that game behind Gooden and the Cubs took the next three if I remember right.
I'm old so I might not.

It was a fun season until the end anyway.

Rob:

Was the Bill James article written and taking account the trade with Philly (Campbell for Dernier and Matthews, on March 26th)? Seems unlikely. It couldn't have taken into account the Sutcliffe trade on June 13th (for Mel Hall and Joe Carter, also getting George Frazier and Ron Hassey) or the Eckersley for Buckner trade (May 25th)

Those moves shaped the team and without them the 84 Cubs would have been about as good as the 1983 team. So pythagorean theorem or not the fact that James stats showed the 1983 Cubs underachieved and should have done better needed the trades to become reality. That and two front of the rotation pitchers (hard having your aces be Steve Trout and Scott Sanderson).

Now those were awesome trades.

well I don' know about the Dernier trade of course, but yeah, likely it was written before that. Cubs though started off the season pretty well before the 2 big pitching trades you mentioned, so I'm not sure they would have been just as good as the '83 team without them, as you suggest.


The fact is Bill James labeled them as a good bet on 100-1 odds to win the division, which is impressive, even if he didn't know how they'd get there.

fwiw...the last couple of lines of the article which you can view for yourself of course...

I certainly am not saying that the Cubs will be a miracle team and win the division. I am saying the true odds against the Cubs winning the division are not all that long, that they are probably about 6 to 1 or 8 to 1. I expect the Cubs to play about .500. In this division. that puts them in the race.

i would go with 84 very disappointing always interesting how
you remember where you were when it happened
ah just like yesterday had just turned 21 month before went
to a bar called the bedrock cafe and learned to hate steve
garvey and leon durham. buddy and me were interviewed by local tv after loss
my buddy said #### ... ****. i said the cubs are back to being
the cubs.

in a true, what could have been moment?...


the Cubs and Dallas Green actually pursued Steve Garvey pretty heavily before the 1983 season as a free agent, but he ultimately chose the Padres.

yeah he probally didnt want to get to far from his girlfriends or his wife

I'm the old fart here apparently, but as bad as the '84 team tore at my heart the '69 team was as heartbreaking as it gets. Unlike the '84 club where many players had career years, the '69 team had a perennially - talented core of position players and pitchers. Think about it -Banks, Santo, Williams, Hundley, Hands, etc. - with the exception of Banks, all were in the prime years of their careers. They choked badly but it's also true that the Mets went nuts over the last third of the season, where their #5 pitcher (whom nobody ever heard of) had something like a 3.0 ERA and less than 2 walks/game. The scars are still there, the '84 team just added a few.

Like Rob, it was the '84 team that hooked me onto the Cubs and naturally:

1) Sandberg became my all-time favorite player
2) I learned to call everybody by nicknames like the Deer, the Red Baron, Sarge, the Bull, the Penguin, Ryno (damn this team sounds like a zoo!)
3) I honestly thought Dunston would one day harness his hall of fame potential.
4) I would forever hate Steve Garvey

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