Strong young players brighten Cubs' future
Dallas Green is no longer general manager of the Chicago Cubs, but his legacy in building a productive farm system will probably go on for years. It was in 1981, the year after he managed the Philadelphia Phillies to the world championship, that Green began building the foundation for today's Cubs. He and Gordon Goldsberry, a scout he brought with him from Philadelphia, started by revamping the organization's minor league operation. They replaced several veteran scouts with young and hungry part-timers, then asked them to look for kids who could play more than one position.
The team had its ups and downs in the ensuing seasons while these youngsters developed, and as recently as last year finished in the National League East cellar. But the much-improved 1988 version is another story - and while the current Cubs are still not prime time when compared with a team like the New York Mets, the potential is there.
Starting with shortstop Shawon Dunston, who was Goldsberry's first pick in the '82 draft, has come a steady stream of youngsters who can hit, hit with power, steal bases if necessary, play defense, and drive in runs.
Here are four kids who give the Cubs one of the brightest futures in the major leagues:
Dunston: Practically nothing gets by this fielding genius, who has the same instincts for vacuuming up potential base hits as the Cardinals' Ozzie Smith, plus a rifle for an arm. The Cubs think Shawon has a chance some day to be a consistent .290 line-drive hitter. He's 25.
Pitcher Greg Maddux: A year ago Greg had a 6-14 record, finishing the season with six consecutive losses. But a winter of minor league ball in Venezuela, during which Cub coach Dick Pole rebuilt his curve and change-up, has made the big right-hander an All-Star as well as the first 15-game winner in the majors this year. He's 22.
First baseman Mark Grace: Growing up, Grace patterned his hitting and infield play after Keith Hernandez, who shared the National League's MVP award with Willie Stargell in 1979. Mark is a contact hitter with power, who forces opposing teams to play him straightaway by spreading his offense over the entire outfield. Right now it looks as though Grace will hit more home runs than Hernandez ever did. He's 24.
Outfielder Rafael Palmeiro: In 84 games with the Cubs last year, after starting the season in Iowa, Palmeiro batted .276, hit 15 home runs, and drove in 30 runs. Rafael's swing has been compared with Rod Carew's and his range in the outfield to a Boeing 747. He's 23.
Other young players on the team who are well worth watching include pitchers Jamie Moyer (25), Les Lancaster (26), and Jeff Pico (22); catcher Damon Berryhill (24); and outfielder Darrin Jackson (24).
Acting as though he cannot believe his good fortune is manager Don Zimmer, who has never played by the traditional book.
Zimmer, after managing stops in San Diego, Boston, and Texas, should have few qualms about going out and buying a house in the Chicago area.
Foxy Mr. Steinbrenner
From a headline-making standpoint, owner George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees upstaged baseball's annual All-Star Game last week by ripping into three of his best players. They were outfielders Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson and first baseman Don Mattingly.
``I'm not sure they have what it takes to win,'' Steinbrenner told the media. Later he would say that there are too many ``me first'' players on the Yankees.
I was at breakfast the other day with Jay Johnstone, who played for eight major league teams including the Yankees, when the subject of Steinbrenner's remarks came up.
``I doubt if what Steinbrenner said bothered Winfield or Henderson or Mattingly,'' Johnstone explained. ``It's not like they haven't heard it all before. Besides, George likes to have a full ballpark for Yankee games, and right now he's having to compete for the tough New York entertainment dollar with the first-place Mets.
``Steinbrenner knows if he gets the fans mad enough at what he says, they will come out to Yankee Stadium in droves to cheer Winfield, Henderson, and Mattingly and to boo him. With George, it's just a way to sell more tickets.''
Elsewhere in the majors
When the Boston Red Sox front office fired John McNamara as manager last week, it wasn't so much because the team was nine games out at the All-Star break as because of their belief that Mac had no chance of turning the situation around. John had lost control of his ball club. Joe Morgan, who replaced him, is not the ex-Cincinnati Reds star, but a career organization man who has spent most of his years managing in the minors.
Owner Bob Rich of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, who is one of the country's frozen-food kings, hopes a thaw in baseball's thinking will get him a major league franchise by 1991. Rich already has a $43 million stadium (with luxury boxes) to showcase his franchise, and the Toronto Blue Jays are only a couple hours away. In fact, the Bisons this year have a chance to become only the second minor league franchise in history to draw 1 million fans. Rich is a former Williams College ice hockey player and is currently vice-chairman of the NHL Buffalo Sabres.
There is growing speculation that A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former president of Yale University and currently president of the National League, will be baseball's next commissioner when Peter Ueberroth's contract expires at the end of the 1989 season. As a kid, Giamatti grew up in South Hadley, Mass., rooting for the Boston Red Sox. A few years ago Richard M. Nixon was reportedly interested in the commissioner's job.