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The '89 Cubs and the disease of hope

April 04, 2012|By John Dooley, For RedEye

Somewhere in a Chicago convenience store, a Cubs fan is thumbing through the pages of his baseball preview.

The prospects for next year look bleak. A cast of has-beens and could've-beens and probably-wont's fill the Cubs' roster page. The projection shows fourth in the NL Central. The overall preview is depressing.

Unfortunately for him, this fan carries a life-threatening disease.

It's called "The Disease of '89"; an improbable case of hope that plagues every Cubs fan, but especially those older than 30.

No matter what the projection shows, no matter where the players came from, no matter what little ray of hope exists, this group of hopeless Cubs fans clings on to the hope of '89.

The '89 Cubs were projected to finish last in every major publication.

The '89 Cubs were a lost cause, a dysfunctional group that many thought could lose 100 games.

They would need more than 10 things to go their way just to compete.

More than 10 would happen.

Greg Maddux needed to duplicate his 18-win performance from '88. He won win 19. Rick Sutcliffe, injury-prone since '84, won 16. Mike Bielecki, a cast-off from Pittsburgh, won 18 games. Steve Wilson and Les Lancaster decided to have their best seasons in the bullpen. Mitch Williams, the wild lefty from Texas, got 36 saves. Ryne Sandberg developed a sudden surge of power by cracking 30 home runs. Rookies played like veterans: Jerome Walton hit .293. Dwight Smith hit .324. Lloyd McClendon hit 12 home runs and batted .286 while playing multiple positions. Mark Grace topped his '88 campaign by hitting .314.

It was worth 93 wins in the most improbable, ridiculous, mind-numbing way. It defied common sense--and it would kill Cubdom for years.

1989 taught us that anything can happen.

That was a teaching that warped my generation.

When we look at this year's preview, we think quietly: What if LaHair is the answer? I hear DeJesus' swing looked good in Arizona. Wood and Maholm are due for solid seasons. I think this is the year Castro goes from good to great. Darwin Barney came to camp in great shape. Maybe, just maybe.

Just like that, I'm sucked in.

Hope is a terrible drug.

John Dooley is a RedEye special contributor. @chicagotough

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