Yes, your first thought is probably the same as mine … if someone paid Chuck $1 every time he was interviewed for a Podcast, he’d now be up to $1.
At any rate, while I was potentially babbling through some Podcast answer that had nothing to do with the question, I started to tell a cautionary tale.
It’s a big “What If” for me. What if the plans being developed in the Dallas Green era were allowed to be played out?
It’s something I think about from time-to-time. It’s easier to block out meetings I wasn’t privy to.
But I remember where I was when the Associated Press bulletin came out saying the Cubs had called a major news conference. And I just did not have a good feeling.
It was October 1987, and I was on a four-day job interview in Boise for a sports desk position with the Idaho Statesman. If they had upped their offer, my entire future would have been different.
Before I had left for Boise, I had called “my people” in the Cubs media relations office – since I had just finished my second internship there just a few months before. At that point, I was two months away from being offered a full-time position with the team.
The Cubs were in a managerial search, and I had called to be nosy. I was told nothing was imminent.
As I sat in the newspaper sports department talking to potential future colleagues, the AP bulletin came out – and the immediate speculation among the group was that the Cubs had hired their next manager. A lot of names were thrown around. I just sat there and listened and didn’t weigh in; something didn’t seem right to me.
As I said, I had just checked in a few days before with people in the know – and I was told the managerial search was going to take some time. Dallas wasn’t going to make a quick decision in the same vein as the Gene Michael hiring the year before. In fact, while Dallas had brought the Cubs and Wrigley Field back to life in a very short period of time – and totally revamped the farm system – he hadn’t found true success in any of his managerial hires.
Truth be told, I didn’t know Dallas that well. As an intern – and a quiet one at that – I was THE low man on the totem pole, and he didn’t know me. Heck, I was too short for him to see me.
Dallas was tall (standing 6-foot-5), he was gruff, and you literally felt his presence when he walked down the hall past the media relations office. Not only did his every step make a booming sound, but – because of his height and the low ceiling – the light coming in from the hallway would get muted for a brief second in the same way the sun disappears when its blocked by a cloud. In other words, you knew when he was coming or going.
So when the news came out later that day that Dallas had resigned over “philosophical differences” with Tribune Company, I wasn’t surprised.
As happens in baseball, once the top guy leaves, someone new comes in – and most (if not all) of the top guy’s trusted posse soon find themselves replaced.
While I never would have spent quality time with Don Zimmer if Jim Frey hadn’t taken over … and might never have been around some of the nicest people I had the opportunity to meet like Dick Balderson and Chuck Cottier and Jose Martinez … and might never have lived the Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams experience … I can’t help but wonder what might have been had the Dallas Green plan played out.
Everyone says they’re going to rebuild a farm system. But think about the players who came into the system during his years in Chicago. Think about the pieces left behind when Dallas left:
- Ryne Sandberg, who Dallas knew from Philadelphia, had just turned 28. He was about to enter his prime.
- Shawon Dunston was just 24.
- Rafael Palmeiro had just completed his first full major league season.
- Greg Maddux had just completed his first major league season – but struggled enough during the year to have to get sent to Iowa for some additional seasoning. That was his last trip to the minors as a player.
- Jamie Moyer had one full big league season under his belt.
- Davey Martinez had played one full season.
- Mark Grace was in the pipeline, having just completed his second minor league season.
- Joe Girardi was in that same pipeline – and hadn’t seen the Double-A level yet.
- Other useful farm system products that had some success at the major league level and were on the cusp of getting to Wrigley included Mike Harkey and Frank Castillo and Jeff Pico and Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith and Gary Varsho and Les Lancaster and Jim Bullinger and Derrick May and the list goes on.
What if that group was kept together … and grew together … and gelled together.
I would have liked to have seen what might have happened.