GENEVA – A trio of 1984 Cubs transformed a Cougars conference room into a big league clubhouse Thursday with lefty Steve Trout’s eight magic words:
“Who’s got the cards? Who’s got the chips?”
With that, Trout joined former teammates Gary Matthews and Lee Smith in joking, debating and reflecting for 20 unfettered minutes before fulfilling other duties as part of the Cougars’ Chicago Sports Night.
How would the National League East champion ’84 club have fared against Detroit had it advanced to the World Series? Why did Smith enjoy traveling to Montreal so much? Where is reserve infielder Tom Veryzer?
Matthews, Smith and Trout may have fallen short in their bid for a title 30 years ago, but here’s a look at how they won an informal interview:
• Only the eventual world champion Detroit Tigers won more regular season games than the Cubs in 1984, 104 to 96.
The Cubs, however, were unable to do their part to clinch the dream matchup after squandering a 2-0 series lead to San Diego in the best-of-five National League Championship Series.
Matthews, the left fielder nicknamed “Sarge,” contends the Cubs would have repeated as NL East champs in 1985 had injuries not beset the pitching staff down the stretch.
“We would have won it that year if we had stayed healthy. There’s no question we would have won it again,” Matthews said. “We had already intimidated the whole National League East. They were done from the year before. If we don’t get hurt. … It’s just something about, again, you know, with the Cubs and not being able to finish it. It’s almost sad in a way, to be quite honest.”
A former longtime Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster, Matthews also channeled a conversation with Cubs Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, now the Phillies manager, about the Padres series.
“And I asked Sanberg, how often does he think of that ’84 playoff game, and he said, ‘Like every day,’ ” Matthews said. “Because it never leaves you. Because we know that, really, realistically, they were the better team that won, but we were the better team. We would have had a dogfight against Detroit. That would have been some kind of fun. But, you know, you can always say, ‘if.’ ”
• Matthews said the recent deaths of contemporaries Bob Welch and Tony Gwynn “kind of hits home a little bit, you know.”
There’s a similar sentiment toward Don Zimmer, who served as manager Jim Frey’s third-base coach in 1984. A veteran of 66 years in baseball, Zimmer died June 4 at 83.
“If there’s a thing where it was good cop, bad cop, he was the good cop. All the time,” Matthews said. “And he had an infectious personality, really liked to win. Didn’t always take it serious, but he was the type of guy that would be back-to-back to you regardless of if he thought he could help in that fight or not, like he did with the Yankees. He was just a good baseball guy.”
Matthews referred to an incident in the 2003 American League Championship Series in which Zimmer, then the New York Yankees’ bench coach, charged at Boston Red Sox righty Pedro Martinez in a bench-clearing brawl. Martinez summarily threw Zimmer to the ground.
“Zim” often made others tumble without raising his fists.
“I used to love to be behind him and [broadcaster] Lou Boudreau going through customs in Montreal,” Smith said. “You know, you’ve got Boudreau with the metal hip and Zim with the plate in his head. The thing’s buzzing. It was always fun.”
• Asked about any perceived change in atmosphere as Wrigley Field celebrates the centennial of its opening this season, Trout said, “Beer prices sure did go up.”
Later in his career, Smith experienced the side of Cubs fans that would rather have doused him with an Old Style than toasted him with one when he closed for the rival St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1990s.
“To come back, it was so different to go to Wrigley as a Cardinal and have home fans. And then the Cubs would come to St. Louis, and they’d have home fans,” Smith said. “And I’m like,’ Where the [heck] is the home field at?’ It was different, you know.”
Third all-time on baseball’s career saves list with 478, Smith also played on both ends of one of baseball’s other iconic rivalries, bookending his St. Louis stint by pitching for the Red Sox and Yankees.
“That was just bragging rights, the Cubs[-Cardinals] thing, man,” Smith said. “But the [darn] Red Sox-Yankees thing was hatred, man.”
• Matthews remains involved with the Phillies organization, Smith is a roving pitching instructor with the San Francisco Giants and “Rainbow” Trout “seems to know everybody,” in Smith’s estimation.
Maintaining ties with one another and other former teammates, then, is made easy.
“[Heck], everybody thinks I work for the Cubs because I’m in town so much,” said Smith, who added he also likes to “go to the rooftops and harass some people” and visit with friends on the Wrigley grounds crew.
The consensus was that most of the ‘84 Cubs other than Veryzer seem to keep the baseball fraternity at least an arm’s length. Trout said he recalls Veryzer telling him once about aspirations to run a liquor store in New Jersey – just something simple since Veryzer knew he’d never be a megastar.
Wikipedia, a source sometimes shakier than Carlos Marmol in the ninth inning, reports Veryzer lives with his family in Islip, New York.
Perhaps he has cards and chips resting in a drawer.
• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.
Who’s hot, part I
First baseman Jacob Rogers, who earned Midwest League Player of the Week last week, was hitting .450 (9 for 20) in the second half entering Friday. He has four extra-base hits and three RBIs in that span.
Rogers’ surge coincides with his parents’ visit from Clearwater, Florida, to see him play.
“It’s been nice having them around,” Rogers said.
Who’s hot, part II
Right-handed reliever James Pugliese pitched a perfect ninth in Thursday’s win and has a 1.23 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 22 innings in his past 10 appearances.
“I feel good. Everything feels normal,” Pugliese said. “Just keeping the ball down, and offspeed’s working well.”
You’re my boy, blue
Umpires ejected Advanced-A Daytona’s music operator from a 2012 game for playing “Three Blind Mice” over the PA system in response to a controversial call against the Cubs.
After his team’s three-game series against Wisconsin this week, Cougars manager Mark Johnson might have opted for a less sardonic song to salute the men in blue.
Johnson lauded the work of would-be replacement ump Jon Lindstrom, a Homewood native who was hired to fill in for Midwest League regular Brandon Butler, presumably out with a knee injury. When doctors cleared Butler shortly after Lindstrom agreed to terms, the Cougars-Timber Rattlers series suddenly rated a rare three-man crew.
Andrew Chesnut also was scheduled to work with Butler.
“To do the right thing, they just said go ahead and work the series as a three-man crew, which is nice,” Johnson said. “It should be a three-man crew throughout the minor leagues. That’s a no-brainer. It really helps out.”
Now Johnson is looking to return the favor to Lindstrom, speaking with Cougars general manager Curtis Haug about how to endorse Lindstrom for full-time work.
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com
LEADERS IN THE KANE COUNTY COUGARS CLUBHOUSE (before Friday’s game)
Will Remillard, .320
Ben Carhart, .293
Cael Brockmeyer, .287
Jacob Rogers, 7
Yasiel Balaguert, 5
Jacob Hannemann, 4
RUNS BATTED IN
Yasiel Balaguert, 39
Jacob Rogers, 31
Jake Hannemann, 31
Jacob Hannemann, 24
Carlos Penalver, 16
Trey Martin, 16
James Pugliese, 1.24
Jen-Ho Tseng, 2.35
Tyler Skulina, 2.63
Daury Torrez, 8
Paul Blackburn, 6
Tyler Bremer, 5