Friday, June 16, 2006

Tigers-Cubs Nice, But An '84 Version Would Have Been Nicer

Kenny Rogers and I have something in common -- at least for the next 48 hours.

Neither he, nor I, have pitched in Wrigley Field.

That common ground between us will end Sunday, when Rogers will get the nod against the Cubs in an interleague game. Amazingly, Wrigley is one ballpark that The Gambler hasn't experienced on the mound. He was a member of the Mets in 1999, but didn't pitch against the Cubs in Chicago.

"I'm looking forward to pitching there," Rogers said earlier this week.

Hasn't anyone told him it's not exactly a pitcher's park?

These interleague games are nice, I suppose, but had the Cubs not folded like a tent in 1984, we'd have been treated to a REAL dandy: Tigers/Cubs, World Series-style.

The '84 Cubs had a 2-0 lead over the San Diego Padres in the NLCS -- winning the first two games at Wrigley. Back then, you only had to win three games to capture the pennant. But the series shifted to San Diego, and so did the momentum. The Cubs dropped all three in Southern California, including a Leon Durham error that cost them a game -- kind of a Bill Buckner play, before Billy Buck came along to ruin the Red Sox in the '86 WS.

But when the Cubs had that 2-0 lead, and the Tigers were doing the same to the Kansas City Royals, visions of a Tigers-Cubs World Series filled our heads like sugar plums around Christmastime. It would have been dubbed the I-94 Series. Two old, historic ballparks. Two old, historic teams. And they had some WS history -- the Tigers beating the Cubbies in 1945, and the Cubs vanquishing the Tigers twice in a row late in the 20th century's first decade.

It would have had another meaning, but not too many folks would have been aware of it. In the book, They Call Me Sparky -- published in 1998 -- it was revealed that Tigers manager Sparky Anderson was very close to signing on as Cubs manager for the 1980 season. He was doing California Angels TV games as an analyst early in the '79 season, having been fired by the Cincinnati Reds after the '78 season. Tigers announcer George Kell found out Sparky was in negotiations with the Cubs, and so he told Tigers GM Jim Campbell. The word was that Sparky was going to take over the Cubs starting in 1980. The thought of Sparky managing the Tigers started to intrigue and interest Campbell more and more, and before long, he was peppering Anderson with phone calls. After a lot of persuading and determination, Anderson agreed to join the Tigers -- and in 1979 instead of 1980.

"I couldn't look [then manager] Les Moss in the eye if I knew I was firing him after the season," Campbell was quoted in the book.

So Sparky took over in June 1979 -- and the team promptly lost 9 of its next 11 games.

Things got better after that.

So here we are with Tigers-Cubs '06, and this version ain't bad. The first place Tigers -- owners of baseball's best record -- invading the Cozy Confines. Kenny Rogers taking the hill for the first time at Wrigley Field -- as a 41 year-old.

So NOW what will Kenny and I talk about, now that some common ground will be lost forever?

1 comment:

Ozz said...

There's a sports bar right by Wrigley called Murphy's Bleachers. Hanging inside is a Cubs "1984 National League Champions" pennant. Obviously it was printed before the Padres bounced them, but I got a kick out of seeing it before the Friday Tigers/Cubs game.

The Tigers/Cubs World Series connection was in evidence during Saturday's game. Andy Pafko, an outfielder with the '45 Cubs that lost to the Tigers that year, threw out the ceremonial first pitch and led the crowd in singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the 7th Inning Stretch.