MESA, Ariz. — Jim Frey can only grin and bear it.
He knows he will be consistently bombarded--as he has been since the end of the 1985 season--by people asking the same question: "Who is going to play third base for the Cubs?"
Frey grits his teeth, usually smiles, and does everything he can to avoid losing his temper. The answer, as it was in October, remains the same.
"Ron Cey is our third baseman," Frey says.
But what about other people beating him out this spring.
"Ron Cey is our third baseman," Frey repeats.
But didn't Cey have a poor 1985 and didn't Cey not do this and not do that and isn't Cey 38 years old?
"Ron Cey is our third baseman," Frey insists.
While Frey remains loyal to his statement, he can be pressed enough to concede under certain circumstances, he could change his thinking. An injury to Cey, possibly acquiring a superstar or someone getting so hot that he has no choice but to replace Cey.
"I've said all along that Cey is our starting third baseman as of spring training," Frey says. "I don't know much more you can say about it than that. I suppose people can keep asking but that's what we are going with right now."
It would be unfair to place the burden of the disappointment of the 77-84 campaign of 1985 on Cey's shoulders. He got off to a quick start and had 12 homers about the time the Cubs were 15 games over .500 in mid-June and leading the pack.
But he went on a two-month power drought that saw no homers, a scattering of RBI and few hits. For the most part, Frey stuck with the veteran as the Cubs began to slip in the standings.
"We had a lot of problems last year at various spots and we needed more offensive production out of a lot of people," Frey says. "Ronnie didn't have a great year and he knows it."
Cubs' President Dallas Green summed it up more accurately.
"What we have to find out is whether Ron had an off-year or whether this is the beginning of the tail end of his career," Green says.
Green also has to be aware of the financial implications of benching Cey. The former Los Angeles third baseman signed on with the Cubs for a reported $950,000 a year. Cey also has a lucrative attendance clause which pays him extra when the Cubs have a banner gate at Wrigley Field.
Frey insists that isn't a consideration. Of more pressing need is whether the Cubs would weaken themselves more by replacing Cey.
"I hear all the suggestions but I'm not going to weaken ourself at one position by robbing Peter to pay Paul," Frey says.
Translated, Frey doesn't want to move Keith Moreland, the team's leading hitter one year ago, from right field to third base. Moreland has played the position and also has caught but according to the Cubs' skipper, merits the stability of staying in the outfield.
"He's gone from one position to another but heck, he's proven himself as one of the leading hitters in the league and one of the better outfielders," Frey says, "so what's the point of moving him."
How about returning Ryne Sandberg to third, the position he broke into the majors at several years ago?
"I'm going to take the Gold Glove award winner at second and move him to third?" Frey barks. "That doesn't make a lot of sense."