#TBT: 1984 Cubs clinch first crown in 39 years
It's not easy to clinch a postseason berth on the road. Hostile fans and an unfamiliar environment can often factor into big games, especially if the home team is also hoping for a spot in the postseason.
On Sept. 24, 1984, the Cubs had to deal with none of that. First of all, they were playing the Pirates, who, at 71-85, were most definitely not contending for the playoffs. And although the Cubs were on the road for this critical game, fans didn't exactly show up in droves, eliminating that whole hostile environment phenomenon.
Besides, the fans who did show up were rooting for the Cubs anyway.
The announced attendance that night was 5,472. Judging by the crowd noise that can be heard from WGN footage of that game, it seems that, at the very minimum, 5,000 were Cubs fans.
The Cubs coasted to a 4-1 victory behind a two-hit complete-game effort by Rick Sutcliffe, who would go on to win the National League Cy Young Award that season. His performance, nearly flawless, stands out in history as one of the Cubs' best -- not only because he struck out nine and didn't allow a run past the fifth inning, but also because it ended a playoff drought for the Cubs that had extended 39 years.
Sutcliffe, a midseason acquisition from the Indians who was still learning about the Cubs' somewhat hard-luck past, did not know that bit of information until he went out to the bullpen to warm up for the game. He saw a sign that said "39 years" and asked a fan what it meant.
"He said, 'We haven't been to the playoffs in 39 years,'" Sutcliffe recalled. "I didn't mean it to be cocky or anything, but I said to him. 'After tonight, that's all going to change. I promise you that.'"
It didn't take long after the game started to see where this was all headed. Announcers Jack Brickhouse, Harry Caray and Steve Stone sensed, from the early innings, that the team was headed toward victory.
"Even if you're a teetotaler, ice something up," Caray bellowed. "I don't care what it is."
Having coasted through the first eight frames, Sutcliffe, determined to finish what he started, had a brief exchange with catcher Jody Davis as he headed to the ninth.
"Jody grabbed me and said, 'I want that last out to be the baseball in my glove,'" Sutcliffe said. "So all of a sudden, now I have to get three outs, and I have to make sure I strike out the last guy, or [Davis is] going to be mad at me."
Sutcliffe struck out Joe Orsulak, and the party was on.
From the Chicago Tribune: "Club executives with three-piece suits and wads of money, entered the sanctuary of soiled players with musty two-piece uniforms and wads of tobacco. And the music blared."
And, of course, the bubbly flowed. This exercise wasn't limited to just the uniformed personnel -- as WGN footage shows, it was bottoms up for the broadcasters, too.
"Can I tell you something, Harry?" Brickhouse said. "I've been waiting 39 years for this, which is better than half of my life. Here we are together, and isn't that great about the game of baseball?"
Answered Caray, champagne bottle firmly in hand: "It couldn't have happened to nicer people. Here we are. And I hope we get loaded tonight!"
What happened after the initial celebration, however, is what stands out Sutcliffe's mind, even decades later. When the last bottle of bubbly had emptied, Arne Harris, the longtime producer of WGN-TV's Cubs telecasts, grabbed Sutcliffe and said, "Bring the guys on the field. I have something for you."
In a quiet Three Rivers Stadium -- the fans were long gone -- Cubs players sat on the playing surface and watched on the big scoreboard as Harris piped in footage of what was happening around Wrigley Field right then. Thousands of fans had poured into Wrigleyville, celebrating this division title in a manner most players had never seen.
"That's when it started dawning on me that what went on there was a little bit more than what I imagined," Sutcliffe said. "It was chaos down at Wrigley. I don't think anybody said anything on the field. We just watched for 20, 30 minutes. It was really cool."