Cubs-Padres playoff a duel of well-balanced 'Cinderella' teams
What makes the 1984 National League playoffs between the Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres so appealing is the emotional closeness these two teams have developed with the blue-collar worker. That is, the man or woman in the street who either carries a lunch pail or brown bags it.
Yet it is probably also safe to say that thousands of so-called casual fans from all parts of the country and all walks of life are having fun identifying with the Cubs and Padres. While frustrations may not love company, there is always a pleasant reaction when the underdog finally breaks the mold.
Chicago, for example, hadn't been associated with any kind of baseball title since 1945, an incredible dry spell of 39 years, and hasn't won a World Series since 1908. Until this season, the Padres never finished closer to first place than eight games in the NL West, nor higher than fourth overall.
No doubt about it, baseball has improved the story of Cinderella this year by finding the second glass slipper and using it to shoehorn its way to all-time high attendance figures in both Chicago and San Diego.
The first two games of the best-of-five series will be played Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago, then the scene shifts to San Diego for Game 3 on Thursday night. After a day off Friday, Games 4 and 5, if either or both should prove necessary, are also scheduled for San Diego on Saturday and Sunday.
Trying to pick a winner in such a series between two teams which split their 12 regular-season games is a lot like closing your eyes and pulling a number out of a hat.
There are certain rules to follow when forecasting baseball events of this type and the primary one is to always go with the team that wins the first game. One could get cute, of course, and suggest the only way to go is with the team that wins the final game. But for the moment we'll leave the comedy to Steve Martin and Don Rickles.
The first thing you have to remember is that the Chicago Cubs are not the same team that came out of spring training breathing fire in much the same way as Walt Disney's ''Reluctant Dragon.''
While the nucleus of a contender seemed to be there, it wasn't until General Manager Dallas Green began a series of trades after the season opened that the team really put all the pieces together.
When Bob Dernier and Gary Matthews came over from Philadelphia, Chicago's outfield suddenly learned to spell defense. And when Boston chipped in with pitcher Dennis Eckersley and Cleveland with pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, Manager Jim Frey could finally stop thumbing the Yellow Pages to put together a rotation. Green also made several other in-season deals, stretching all the way into September, but nothing the equal of those previously mentioned.
What really put the Cubbies over the top was the acquisition of Sutcliffe who had only a 4-5 record with the Indians. That mark was deceiving, though, and once Rick licked the physical problems that had been bothering him in Cleveland he became the Cubs' stopper by winning 16 of 17 games, including 14 in a row - something no Chicago pitcher had done since Edward Marvin Reulbach (of course you remember him) in 1909.
Basically this is a Chicago team built on balance; one that has gotten exceptional years from Ryne Sandberg, Jody Davis and Ron Cey, and has received the kind of field leadership from Frey that the Yankees once got from Joe McCarthy. Sandberg practically has a lock on the MVP award, and if Sutcliffe doesn't get the Cy Young trophy - well, that toddlin' town might just become the complaining letter-writing capital of the world.
Meanwhile one could definitely say that Dick Williams, the field boss of the San Diego Padres, has improved every team he has ever managed. In addition to one pennant with the Boston Red Sox, Dick won three division titles at Oakland in the early 1970s, continuing on to win back-to-back pennants and World Series in 1972-73.
Williams's Padres are also built on balance, and have some other similarities to the Cubs. One thing they don't have is a starter the equal of Sutcliffe anywhere on their roster. However they do have a well-rested Goose Gossage working out of the bullpen, and Gossage is easily one of the five best relievers of all time. Bringing Goose into the ballgame when the Padres are ahead (he's had 27 saves during the regular season) is almost the equivalent of a victory before he throws his first pitch.
While there are those who think that Padres' shortstop Gary Templeton has lost half-a-step in the field (not true) and that Alan Wiggins (a converted outfielder) is no Sandberg at second base, none of these critics reside in San Diego.
Offensively, Wiggins just might be the best leadoff hitter in the game (his 64 stolen bases are among the highest in baseball), while outfielder Tony Gwynn (.352) has locked up the NL batting title. It is interesting, too, that San Diego could win a division title in a season in which catcher Terry Kennedy is having an off year at the plate.
This is probably going to be a series in which both managers go to their benches often; one in which if the Padres get a one- or two-run lead Williams may bring in Gossage as early as the seventh inning. Chicago, of course, has a fine if less celebrated reliever in Lee Smith, whose 31 saves also make him a key series player.
When Charlie Metro, who has scouted, coached, and managed in the big leagues and now works for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was asked who would win between the Cubs and Padres, Metro replied: ''I'm an imparitial observer. I happen to like them both. However I am a little more impartial toward the Cubs!''