A middle-aged ball club which did well to finish sixth last year, the Cubs have little chance of going higher in '56—and could wind up lower. They have the best second-base combination in either league in Ernie Banks and Gene Baker, but have only hustle and high hopes to go with it, and sometimes—with Don Hoak, Walt Moryn, Frank Kellert, Russ Meyer, Dee Fondy, Eddie Miksis and Paul Minner—resemble nothing so much as a team of second-string Brooklyn Dodgers. Manager Stan Hack is two-deep at most positions, but quantity is not likely to make up for a shortage of quality. The Cubs have a long-ball hitter in Banks and potential power from Kellert, Moryn, Fondy and Monte Irvin. But, like the pitchers, Rush, Hacker, Jones, Minner and Meyer, the hitters are all crowding 30—or over—and have had plenty of chances to come through before.
14 ERNIE BANKS, SHORTSTOP: Tall and slender, he swings his light bat with such a vicious snap they are calling Banks the best-hitting shortstop in the National League since Honus Wagner. Set a record with 44 home runs last year, also fielded brilliantly.
17 BOB RUSH, PITCHER: Always just on the verge of greatness, this 6-foot-5 right-hander has never quite made it—but he is still the best the Cubs have. Won 13 last year with good fast ball and sharp control, finished very strong.
27 SAM JONES, PITCHER: A tall right-hander with one of the best curves in the business. Toothpick Jones has only one big problem: how to get it over the plate. Last year he pitched the only no-hitter in the majors and led the league in strikeouts—but also in walks and hit batsmen.
37 GENE BAKER, SECOND BASE: Even smoother around the base than Banks, he steadies the Cub infield, comes up with the big play. A fair hitter with good power.
While newcomer Moryn (see below) looks like an outfield regular in right, center field is a tossup between the Veteran Miksis and two speedsters, Solly Drake and Gale Wade. Big Harry Chiti and little Hobie Landrith will share the catching, but neither figures to hit too hard or too consistently; neither does Fondy, who will probably play first base against right-handed pitching. Behind Rush and Jones on the pitching staff are steady Warren Hacker and Paul Minner, who could win 15 games apiece. The No. 1 reliefers are Jim Davis (left-hander) and Turk Lown (right). Owen Friend supplies infield insurance; Bob Speake could help at first or in the outfield if he corrects a weakness (high, inside pitch) which ended a brilliant early spree in '55.
NEWCOMERS OF WATCH
7 DON HOAK, THIRD BASE: Cubs traded Randy Jackson to the Dodgers for him to strengthen infield defensively and to pick up a "holler" guy. Fair hitter, real speed, great arm.
34 RUSS MEYER, PITCHER: Returns to Cubs after seven years with Phillies and Dodgers. Has good stuff but too much temper; Hack hopes to keep one, control the other.
39 MONTE IRVIN, LEFT FIELD: Back from the minors for another chance. Has hit hard this spring but at 37 is slower in the field and may not be able to play regularly.
Moryn, who couldn't crack Dodger lineup, could give Cubs a big lift with his power; Kellert, who had the same trouble, will play first against left-handed pitching.
BOARD OF STRATEGY
6 STAN HACK, MANAGER: An all-time Cub great, Hack moved into the top job after six years of leading Chicago farm teams, has finished seventh and sixth in two seasons. He's a sunny, soft-spoken man who gets along well with his players, runs a hustling ball club.
Coaches are tough RAY BLADES (41), a good man at appraising rookies; former Senator great EMIL (Dutch) LEONARD (20), who handles the pitchers, and the fabulous JOHN (Pepper) MARTIN (19).
6 STAN HACK