When the Chicago Cubs return to Wrigley Field this week from their first long road trip of the season, the Bleacher Bums, those rambunctious rooters, will be cut off and cooped in. Beer hawking in the bleachers already has been replaced with over-the-counter sales behind the stands by bartenders who have been threatened with unemployment if they serve minors. And beginning Thursday bleacher spectators will be caged behind screens that should prevent debris and delinquents from littering the outfield.
What all this fencing-off will do for the Cubs and, particularly, for their manager, Leo Durocher, remains to be seen. Before the hot club suddenly went into a chilling tailspin in Atlanta, losing three straight games, it was operating in an atmosphere of restraint. The brassy Cubs of a year ago seemed tamed. Third Baseman Ron Santo no longer clicked his heels at the final out of each win, although he knew his team had improved enough to warrant a little celebration. A tape of the Cub fight song that had played interminably on a portable recorder in hotel lobbies, dressing rooms and buses last season was not heard despite another fast start that had already included an 11-game winning streak. By Sunday night the National Leaguers still had a 2½-game Eastern Division lead, the position they held from April 8 to September 10 a year ago. Durocher even hinted he might change some of his strategy of 1969, although in Atlanta he began to sound more than a bit like his old blistery self.
"Last year it was like a kid with a new toy. This season everyone is calm," said Santo after the first of the losses to the Braves. "We've already had a longer winning streak than we had all last season and nobody's said anything about it or a pennant."
Santo walked to the locker-room door to congratulate rookie Jim Colborn, who had pitched 4‚Öì innings of strong relief while Atlanta was beating Chicago 9-2. "Nice going, Jim. You opened some eyes out there tonight," said the man who last year publicly berated rookie Outfielder Don Young for crucial misplays in a loss to the Mets.
"I was surprised to find when I joined the team at the end of the exhibition season that they have so much confidence and are so calm after what happened to them," said J. C. Martin, the catcher who was traded from the Mets last month. "They avoided talking about last year with me. When I came into the clubhouse the first day, I was carrying my gear in a Mets bag and they told me to get rid of that right away. Later when I got my world champions' ring, a few of them stopped over and said 'That's nice,' but that's about all. They learned a great deal from last year, when they always seemed to be looking ahead to some series a couple of weeks off and not worrying about the importance of the game that day. You could see it clearly when you played them."
The strongest reason for the Cubs' quiet new confidence is the addition of Johnny Callison, who is the first solid rightfielder the team has had in almost 10 years. Callison came to Chicago in the trade that sent Pitcher Dick Selma, the uncalmest Cub—-who faded sharply late last season—to Philadelphia. Callison is a fine outfielder and a pressure hitter who can understand his new teammates' feelings. He played on the 1964 Phillie team that lost a 6½-game lead in seven days late in September. Callison drove in 104 runs and hit 31 home runs that year, but when the Phillies in subsequent years fell back in the standings his performances dropped off. The chance for a pennant in Chicago seems to have revived him. After the first month he was second in runs batted in and home runs for the Cubs and was batting .310.
The arrival of Callison solved only one of Durocher's problems. He still must platoon Jim Hickman and Jimmie Hall, who combined for a .231 average last year, in center field and he has no proven fourth starting pitcher, although Colborn and another rookie, Joe Decker, have been impressive. More importantly, if the Cubs are to win the Eastern Division, Durocher must find a way to rest his six other regulars, all of whom have been on the All-Star team in at least one of the past two seasons.
"When we played the Cubs late last season we could see they were worn out," said Martin. "They weren't as sharp and as aggressive as they could have been." Only Billy Williams among the top six hitters batted more strongly in September than in August. Don Kessinger, Ernie Banks, Randy Hundley and Glenn Beckert averaged between 58 and 122 points lower.
"I was naturally more tired last year," said Santo. He has missed only 10 games in his 10 major league seasons and, like his teammates, underplays any off-the-field factors in the Cubs' collapse. "It was a mental tiredness, not a physical one, and it was caused by the constant pressure of the pennant race."
Ferguson Jenkins, the Cubs' top starter, who has worked more innings during the past three seasons than any other big-league pitcher, added, "It's right there in black and white if you look at the numbers. We haven't been a good team in September the past few years. We had some guys on the bench last year who could have helped but we didn't use them until it was too late. Those last three weeks were a nightmare. We weren't getting any runs, the fielding fell down and our pitching wasn't as good on some days either."
Durocher, who refuses to talk about 1969, says he plans to rest his regulars more frequently this season. Last week Ernie Banks, who played in all but seven games in 1969, was rested three times but relief for the other starters may be much longer coming. The Cubs are a set piece with a weak bench.
Even if Durocher works flexibility into his lineups, he showed clearly that he is not changing his style on the field. During the Atlanta debacle, which did not cost the Cubs any ground in the standings, he threw a steel folding chair at a photographer who was violating a rarely enforced National League rule that forbids aiming a camera into the dugout during a game. The next night Durocher, who had been deferential to umpires during his team's winning streak, was ejected for the first time this year when he twice—once in full view of the television audience back in Chicago—made an Italianized version of an obscene gesture at First-Base Umpire Tony Venzon.
Until the losses in Atlanta, Durocher had little cause to display his usual pique because the one player he never has to worry about resting, Leftfielder Billy Williams, was carrying the Cubs into the lead. Williams began the season in an 0 for 16 slump, but since then he has hit eight home runs, driven in 26 runs and played in his 1,000th consecutive game. As unexcitable as his manager is explosive, Williams, who has the lean strength that athletes describe as a "good body," displayed no excitement about this latest testament to his durability, nor was he claiming fatigue after having played in every game since September 21, 1963. "The only thing that's gotten me tired is everybody telling me I must be," he said.
Banks was more impressed. "I think it's extraordinary, but I don't feel there's much luck in it," he said. "Look at the other guys who have played in a lot of games. I didn't know Gehrig, but I know Musial [whose league record of 895 consecutive games was passed by Williams last season]. It's not only the case of having a good body and being lucky about not having major injuries. They're the kind that play hard but don't get into situations where they will hurt themselves unnecessarily. Their instincts are good. They don't run into outfield walls because they know how to go back on a ball properly and they have good communications with the other fielders, so they don't have collisions. They slide hard and they have the coordination to slide right so they won't get hurt. They are even-tempered, so they don't get upset and lose control of their bodies. They have total self-confidence and they do the right things automatically. And they don't complain about things like a sore thumb. Billy plays when he's hurt. I can see it, but he never tells anyone."
Williams batted 121 points higher last September than he did in August and Durocher will continue to start him or use him as a pinch hitter as long as he is able to walk to the on-deck circle. It is the other Cubs, who do not have Williams' fortunate combination of attributes, whom Durocher must worry about resting. If he can find a way, the Bleacher Bums may be granted an amnesty in October.
Ron Santo still clicks, but not his heels.
After slow start, tireless Billy Williams, who improves with the season, is wearing out pitchers.