In a world where the Cubs are awesome…

TOP: Searles, Jay Johnstone, Henry Cotto, Keith Moreland, Jody Davis, Gary Woods, Steve Trout, Steve Lake, Tom Veryzer, Ron Hassey, Zarris

MIDDLE: Palmer, Gary Matthews, Nimitz, Thad Bosley, Lee Smith, Rich Bordi, Scott Sanderson, Rick Sutcliffe, Tim Stoddard, Rick Reuschel, George Fraizer, Dick Ruthven, Dennis Eckersley, Yosh Kawano, Tony Gorofalo (trainer), Warren Brusstar

FRONT: Davey Lopes, Dan Rohn, Larry Bowa, Billy Connors, Ruben Amaro, Johnny Oates, Jim Frey, Don Zimmer, John Vukovich, Richie Hebner, Ron Cey, Bob Dernier, Ryne Sandberg

A team complete with the Manager of the Year, NL MVP and Cy Young award winner for the 1984 season, this team was awesome. We’ve had glimpses of hope between then and now (essentially four years to be exact) but to look back at this squad today and then peer reluctantly at today’s Cubs team is a painful realization at how far we have to go to reach these heights yet again.

No longer vying for the NL East title, current residents of the NL Central, the stage is basically the same with a few small frills and design changes added and the big picture goal remains the same. This Cubs team won 96 games and the NL East title before going on to face the Padres in a disappointing five game NLCS. On May 24th, the 1984 Cubs were 26-15 and dominating opponents riding high on a six-game winning streak.

On May 24, 2012, our Cubs are in last place, in sole possession of the division cellar at 15-29. The Cubs of today are riding a streak of their own, only not the kind that draws attention for any positive reasons. Nine games up and nine games down, the offense is unable to deliver and the starters’ quality starts are being tossed aside like last year’s promotion schedule. All nine games have resulted in losses. The line-up has put up the kind of fight you would see in overmatched WWF matches growing up in the ’80s where someone like Hulk Hogan would take on someone by the name of ‘Bob Smith’. Bob Smith would try with the few moves he had to offer but in the end, Hogan was too much and you would feel bad for the unknown. Try as he might, this one was over before it started and you knew it wasn’t going to end well for the little guy. His offense was no match for that of the more powerful, more skilled opponent and no matter how brilliant certain aspects of his game were, you wasn’t enough in the end.

In 1984, these Cubs were the Hulk Hogans of their division. Anyone else that rolled into Wrigley for some afternoon baseball or welcomed this club into their house and said make yourself at home, found the Cubs doing just that. A month from this point in the season, the 1984 team took their momentum and threw it into the next gear off the boost they received from the Ryne Sandberg Game. The team rode the momentum of Sandberg’s performance against the Cardinals to a 15-6 record over their next 21 games. Already in a great position, they used this leverage to pull away from the group and ultimately clinch the division on September 24th in Pittsburgh with a 4-1 win over the Pirates, provided by a brilliant performance by Cy Young award winner Rick Sutcliffe (who at that point was 16-1).

The 2012 team has no one like Sandberg to propel them forward. They are already 10 games out on May 24th and it does not look as if this group will find a way to help themselves help their pitchers. The starting pitching has been good enough so that the Cubs should find themselves in the thick of things in the Central, however with no run support it has been a wasted effort. The closest thing this team has to anyone standing out and delivering a performance worthy of a game like that of Sandberg’s would be Castro. However, despite his recent success and ton of potential, Castro has struggled this season to put together hits when they count and without the power capabilities that Sandberg had, Castro’s getting on base alone is not going to be enough. While hitting over .300 so far this season, it is hard to make any of those hits count for runs or even be considered timely when  they are coming at inopportune RBI situations as the rest of the line up struggles to get on base or find their own timely hitting and once they do get on-base, they can’t manage to clear the bases leaving runners on base way too often.

The 1984 team was simply light years away from where we are today. That squad in the picture above is nearly the ideal. They were arguably the best team the Cubs have had in the past three or four decades. The ideal is a title and they were unable to attain that. However, considering the success of the team and the honors that were bestowed upon members of the team at that time, it is still a great level for our 2012 Cubs and for this organization to aim for while looking to the future. To attain 1984 success – and then some – is clearly the goal of Theo & Company. It is going to take some time to get there, I know, I just don’t think I expected the team to be doing this poorly so early on in the year.

Ten games out on May 24th? Wow. I didn’t expect much out of first year heading in a new direction but I did expect to punch out at the end of the season with a respectable showing. So far, this club has been interesting to watch and just as frustrating. To see one side of the team deliver (starting pitching) and yet the other two important aspects fall to the way side (offense and bullpen performance) is just about as disappointing as it gets.  The only thing worse would be for us to simply be blown out night after night.

I can appreciate where we are as an organization right now. I can respect the process and keep expectations low for the present and hopes high for the future. However, I also find myself unable to resist looking back when it comes to the great teams of the past and wondering how long until we become great again. How long before we compete and the chances of next year not being ‘next year’ once again.

The 1984 team was the first trip to the postseason for the Cubs since 1945 so clearly these things can take some time. It’s cool. It’s one of the things that makes it all worth while when it does happen. The 1984 team came out of the Sandberg game and used it to propel itself to the postseason where it delivered two of the most hope inspiring playoff victories a fan could ask for behind a Sutcliffe shutout/blow out victory and a strong showing in game two. The Padres had three chances to survive, three chances to win and ruin the run this Cubs team was trying to make to achieve the ultimate prize. They had three chances and they used all three successfully ending the 1984 season and putting a stop to any thoughts these players, coaches, managers and fans had about seeing the team win a World Series title.

Even the 1984 team was unable to win the World Series and they had an NL Manager of the Year, the NL Cy Young winner and the NL MVP. The Cubs were awesome in 1984 and life was good for Cubs fans. The 2012 Cubs (and by that I mean the team, front office, manager, etc) has a long way to go to even think about competing the way the 1984 team did. The scary part isn’t the wait or wondering how long it will before they do.

The scary part is that, even when they do reach the level of success and potential the 1984 team showed – while that would be a great place to be – it still wouldn’t be enough. More than ’84 will be required to win it all but man, wouldn’t it still be great to be that awesome at least again right now? 

May 24, 2012. The Cubs are 15-29, 10 games out in the NL Central. No longer competing for the NL East and unfortunately, we can say the same about their year in the Central and it’s not even Memorial Day weekend yet.

(sigh) Go Cubs Go.