Last night, when I should have been doing something else, I was stumbling through the Chicago Tribune historical archive when I chanced upon an article by Rick Talley, written in mid-December, 33 years ago.
(I'm not sure what's sicker: that this is how I spend my time or that I actually remember this point in Cub history, when the Durocher-era stars were beginning to get packed off and replaced by the likes of Vic Harris and Peter LaCock.)
Anyway, Talley wrote:
If the Cubs had to post an opening day lineup right now, it would probably read something like this:
Vic Harris, 2b
Don Kessinger, ss
Jose Cardenal, rf
Billy Williams, 1b
George Mitterwald, c
Rick Monday, cf
Bill Madlock, 3b
Jerry Morales or Pete LaCock, lf
Rick Reuschel, p
There’s no question the Cubs will be quicker on the bases...Harris is a burner. Madlock can’t be too slow at age 23...and we know that Monday, Cardenal, Kessinger and Morales are fast.
Mitterwald should hit home runs in Wrigley Field but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be an excellent defensive receiver or only adequate. He made only six errors last season (.992), but had 15 passed balls.
Madlock, tho, remains the biggest question.
His glove is suspect at third base but his bat could make Cub fans forget Santo quicker than they realize. Or, he could fail when the balls start curving.
There is a popular theory around the town’s watering holes that...the Cubs traded away [their] “name” players just to break up a loser.
I don’t think so. There’s more there. There’s potential, and after all the failures, the dice simply had to be thrown.
If Williams can have another big year at the plate and play first base...IF Madlock is a major leaguer...IF the young pitchers improve...IF the Cubs can score enough runs...IF...
At Clark & Addison, you have the Go-Go Cubs...and a whole bunch of teenage girls scurrying around forming new fan clubs.
In the winter of ’73...the spring of ’74 looks awfully interesting. But it always does to a baseball fan.
(Note: I absolutely LOVE the use of the term, "watering hole." Look for it in many future posts at this site.)
Epilogue: The '74 Cubs finished 66-96, 6th and last in the NL East. Talley's guess at the opening day lineup was pretty close. (Morales started in left instead of LaCock and Talley was a little off on the batting order). Otherwise, Harris "the burner" stole 9 bases and hit .195. Mitterwald did, in fact, hit home runs at Wrigley Field--7 of them!--but was eventually pushed out of the starting lineup by Steve Swisher (no further comment required there). Madlock had the first of three consecutive .300 batting seasons with the Cubs and fielded well enough to not be embarrassing. Williams did not have another big season at the plate. In fact, after '74, he didn't have any seasons for the Cubs. The young pitchers were mostly not so good and the Cubs didn't score nearly enough runs to aid the cause.
As for Rick Talley, I don't know where he is or if he's even still alive. I hope so. If he's not, I can't help but think the cause of death might well have been excessive confidence in Vic Harris.