MONTREAL — In a season tinged with sorrow over the death of Bart Giamatti and tainted by the Pete Rose scandal, finally something fun: The Chicago Cubs are in the playoffs, in one of the bigger upsets in baseball history.
Those lovable losers are winners again.
The team that no one, not even the Cubs themselves, gave a chance at the start of the year clinched the National League East championship Tuesday night. The Cubs beat Montreal 3-2 shortly after second-place St. Louis lost in Pittsburgh 4-1. (Story, Part III, Page 1.)
The Cubs celebrated in style, spilling 10 cases of champagne and drinking some, too. In the middle, Manager Don Zimmer and General Manager Jim Frey hugged and shouted.
Frey took a lot of heat when he hired his longtime friend to manage for the 1988 season. Critics called Zimmer a retread and said it was time to break up the old-boy network and look for someone fresh.
After a 77-85 record last season and a 9-23 mark in spring training this year, Frey's gamble looked bad. But with the 58-year-old Zimmer making aggressive new moves--who else issues intentional walks with runners on first and second or puts on the hit-and-run with the bases loaded?--it all worked, and the Cubs became the first team to clinch this season.
'The Best Win'
"I've been with some bad teams and I've been with some good teams, fortunately more good ones than bad," said Frey, who managed the Cubs to their last division title in 1984. "But this is the best win of any team because no one gave us a chance to win."
"I would've taken .500 at the beginning of the year," Frey said. "But this, who would believe it?"
The Cubs will open the playoffs Wednesday night at Wrigley, most likely against San Francisco. The Cubs and the Giants, who have clinched a tie for the NL West championship, split 12 games this season.
Since 1977, the only Cubs team to finish .500 or better was the 1984 group that won the divisional title when Frey was manager. That team lost to San Diego in the playoffs.
Don't look for any Cy Young or MVP candidates on the 1989 Cubs. The team has none. Ryne Sandberg had a good, solid year and hit more than 30 home runs, but it was nothing like 1984 when he was the National League MVP.
Andre Dawson, injured early in the season, struggled all year at a .240 pace with little explosion from the bat that produced 49 home runs and 137 RBIs in 1987, when he was MVP.
"It's been a total team effort," Dawson said. "It's difficult to explain. I've had a down year, but so many good things have happened. For most championship teams, there are one or two guys who carry the load. Not here. You can't name the player who has been most valuable. You'd have to pick anywhere from six to nine guys. Give Zim a lot of credit."
Frey's only major winter trade was a multiplayer deal in which he sent Rafael Palmeiro to Texas and received reliever Mitch Williams.