Cubs fans were teased in 1969, but the 1984 and '89 teams finally rewarded their devoted following by reaching the postseason for the first time since 1945. The two teams proved it takes a team, a few significant acquisitions and some luck to have a winning season.
The '84 campaign was Jim Frey's first year as the Cubs' manager, and it didn't get off to a good start. The team went 7-20 in Spring Training. General manager Dallas Green, not happy with the personnel, began to retool in late March, and acquired outfielders Gary "Sarge" Matthews and Bobby "the Deer" Dernier from Philadelphia in a five-player deal. Matthews provided the energy; Dernier was a legit leadoff man.
"Sarge was the guy who made us feel we could win," said Jody Davis, then the Cubs' catcher and now the manager for the Class A Daytona Cubs. "Sarge is the guy who brought confidence."
On May 25, Green dealt Bill Buckner to the Boston Red Sox for Dennis Eckersley and Mike Brumley. On June 13, the Cubs had a half-game lead in the NL East, and Green made another big move, shipping Mel Hall, Joe Carter and two other players to the Cleveland Indians for Rick Sutcliffe, George Frazier and Ron Hassey.
Sutcliffe was a perfect fit. He went 16-1 for the Cubs en route to winning the National League Cy Young Award.
The highlight game of the '84 season came June 23. The St. Louis Cardinals were playing at Wrigley Field in the backup game of the week, which became the No. 1 game because of a rainout. St. Louis had a 7-1 lead after two innings, and led, 9-8, going into the bottom of the ninth. St. Louis closer Bruce Sutter was on the mound, and Sandberg changed the mood by hitting a game-tying leadoff home run.
"I just remember Bruce Sutter coming in and Larry Bowa told me to just look down and in against this guy -- that's where his ball ends up, down and in," Sandberg said. "Sutter was one of the best relievers at the time. He came in to get three outs and the game would be over, and then I ended up hitting a home run to tie the game.
"Then I came up an inning later," Sandberg said of the 10th. "I've seen a tape of the game. They had the credits going over the screen, and they named Willie McGee the player of the game. Right in the middle of the credits, Bob Costas goes, 'Nuts, he's done it again and hit a home run again.' It was just like a fairy tale game for me."
The Cardinals had taken an 11-9 lead in the 10th when McGee, who hit for the cycle in the game, smacked an RBI double and scored on a groundout. Sandberg then connected on his second game-tying homer in the 10th, also off Sutter, and the Cubs would eventually win, 12-11, on pinch-hitter Dave Owen's RBI single in the 11th.
The Cubs were 36-31 prior to that game, and would go 60-34 the rest of the season, including a 20-10 record in August (15-3 at home that month) to win the division and reach the playoffs for the first time in 39 years.
"The thing I remember the most about '84 was the way the whole 25-man team came together," Davis said. "There was nobody who had an attitude, there was nobody out there playing for themselves. It was 25 guys trying to win a game every day. That's a special thing when you can get a group together like that."
Sandberg batted .314 with 19 homers, 36 doubles, 19 triples, 84 RBIs, and scored 114 runs to win MVP honors. He was one triple and one homer shy of becoming the only player in history with 200 hits, 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in a single season. Ron "the Penguin" Cey led the team with 25 home runs, Leon "the Bull" Durham hit 23, and six players drove in 80 runs. Lee Smith finished with 33 saves. Matthews, the inspirational leader on the team, drew 103 walks and led the NL in on-base percentage.
The '84 team was able to avenge the '69 Cubs' struggles against the New York Mets, going 12-6 head-to-head, including a four-game sweep in early August. Sutcliffe clinched the pennant on Sept. 24, throwing a two-hitter at Three Rivers Stadium for his 14th win in a row.
This was a team comprised mainly of players from other clubs. The only two players on the 25-man postseason roster who had spent their entire career with the Cubs were Smith and reserve outfielder Henry Cotto.
The 1984 season marked the first year more than 2 million fans crammed into Wrigley Field, and the city of Chicago was in a state of euphoria. For the first time since 1945, the Cubs were in the playoffs. They won the first two games of the National League Championship Series against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field, 13-0 and 4-2. Sutcliffe homered in Game 1, one of five home runs by the Cubs in the game.
Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko wrote: "All of a sudden, it hit me. These are the Cubs -- the Chicago Cubs -- beating the [heck] out of people. Bullies, that's what we've become. Big, bad, mean bullies. And, oh boy, does it feel great. Why didn't we think of this years ago?"
The series shifted west to the land of "quiche-eating wimps," as Royko called Padres fans. San Diego won the first game, 7-1, as Ed Whitson shut down the Cubs on five hits. In Game 4 at Jack Murphy Stadium, the Cubs rallied from 2-0 and 5-3 deficits, and the game was tied at 5 going into the San Diego ninth. With one out, Tony Gwynn singled to center and Steve Garvey homered off Smith to post a 7-5 victory.
Sutcliffe started Game 5, and the Cubs opened a 3-0 lead. But the game was decided in the seventh. The Padres had one on and one out when pinch-hitter Tim Flannery reached on a ground ball that scooted through Durham's legs for an error. It was a play the Cubs first baseman said he usually makes "200 times in a row." Wiggins then singled, and Gwynn hit a two-run double and scored on Garvey's RBI single. Final score was 6-3, and the Padres were going to the World Series.
"I can't recall if I ever touched it, or nipped it, or what," Durham said. "It was one of those crazy-type balls that came at you that you think would come up, but never came up."
It was a crushing defeat. The Cubs were eight outs away from a World Series in Game 5.
"We had them by the throat," Green said, "but we just didn't go for the jugular."
Cubs faithful did not have to wait long for another postseason appearance. Don Zimmer was the manager in 1989, and Frey had moved into the front office as the general manager. Only Sandberg, Sutcliffe and Scott Sanderson were leftovers from '84. Rookies Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith provided the spark. Again, the team didn't impress in Spring Training, posting a 9-23 record.
At the end of June, the Cubs had lost seven in a row, were 41-37 and trailed by 2 1/2 games. But instead of folding, they went 18-9 in July. There was the memorable rally from a 9-0 deficit against Houston on Aug. 29, which ended in a 10-9 Chicago win. St. Louis pulled within a half-game of the Cubs with a win on Sept. 8, but Chicago won, 3-2, in 10 innings the next day, which kicked off a six-game winning streak. On Sept. 26, Greg Maddux picked up his 19th win in a 3-2 victory over Montreal, and the Cubs clinched the division.
In 1989, the Cubs won 17 games in their last at-bat, including seven in August. Ten of those games were extra-inning affairs. Sandberg belted 30 homers and drove in 76. Walton compiled a 30-game hitting streak, and won Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .293 with five homers, 46 RBIs, and 24 stolen bases. Smith finished second in the ROY voting, hitting .324 with nine homers and 52 RBIs, and also sang the national anthem before the July 21 game.
Maddux was 19-12 with a 2.95 ERA, Mike Bielecki went 18-7, Sutcliffe was 16-11, and Mitch Williams -- "I pitch like my hair is on fire" -- finished with 36 saves, including several nail biters.
These were the Boys of Zimmer: Backup catcher Rick Wrona's squeeze bunt in the 10th scored Lloyd McClendon in a 5-4 win over the Mets on June 8. Pitcher Les Lancaster delivered a walk-off RBI single in the 11th on July 20 for a victory over the Giants. Lefty Steve Wilson pitched in relief on Sept. 9, then started the next day and struck out 10 over five innings in the Cubs' 4-1 win over the Cardinals.
The Cubs opened the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, and it had a different look than '84: Wrigley Field had lights. It didn't help Maddux, who took the loss in Game 1, 11-3. The Cubs scored six runs in the first inning in Game 2 and eventually won, 9-5.
Robby Thompson's two-run homer in the seventh off Lancaster give the Giants a 5-4 victory. Maddux struggled again in Game 4, and Matt Williams drove in four runs to give San Francisco a 6-4 win.
In the deciding game on Oct. 9 at Candlestick Park, the Cubs clubbed 10 hits but Will Clark delivered a clutch tie-breaking, two-run single with two outs in the eighth off Williams for a 3-2 win. Grace and Clark put on a hitting display, with Clark batting .650 with two homers, including a grand slam, and eight RBIs to win MVP honors. Grace hit .647 with five extra-base hits and eight RBIs.
"Everybody picked the Cubs last," Zimmer said of the '89 season. "And I think that's what made it more important and a bigger thrill for me, because nobody picked us and our guys played so good. Little things, they did every little thing.
"We had a season that everything went right," Zimmer said. "It was absolutely amazing."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.