For the Chicago Cubs two seven-year eras of contention, 1967-73 and 2015-21, bear remarkable similarities.
In both eras the Cubs contended for seven years straight and had some of their greatest teams.
The 1967-73 team was the Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Fergie Jenkins Cubs, and the 2015-21 Cubs had Anthony Rizzo, Krys Bryant, and Javier Baez. The big difference was that in the second era, the Cubs made postseason play five times and won the World Series in 2016, but in the first era, the Cubs never even made the playoffs. But way fewer teams made the playoffs then—in fact in 1967 and 1968, there were no playoffs other than the World Series—a team either won the league or went home. Under the current playoff system, the 1967-73 Cubs would have made the playoffs in six of those seven years, and probably would have won a pennant or two, and maybe the World Series.
For example, the computer analysis I did for my book The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs: Go and Glow shows that if they would have made the World Series that year, they would have won rather easily.
In both eras in the seventh year, the teams started off really well, leading their division into mid-season, but then they fell off drastically. In 1973, Cub management kept the team together until the end of the season and then started trading off stars for youngsters in a rebuilding effort. In 2021, they didn’t wait and started trading off their stars for youngsters in mid-season.
In the 1970s, after three lean years from 1974-76, the rebuilding effort put the Cubs back in contention in 1977. The rebuild from 2011-2014 lasted three years too. So if the current Cubs are on that pace, 2023 will be another non-contending year, but they should be back fighting for the playoffs in 2024.
But we don’t know which players will be on the team. In the post-1973 rebuild, they got some good players like Bill Madlock and Andre Thornton, but ended up trading them for different players.
Cub president of operations Jed Hoyer promised he would be aggressive over this winter after they stood pat last winter. The Cubs need a lot. Everyone needs pitiching. The Cubs need help in center field, first base, and third base.
Christopher Morel showed some spark this year and he can play a lot of positions. And he’s good at all of them. It’s not like in 1970 when the Cubs tried to play old, slow right fielder Jim Hickman in center field. One of the Cub coaches, Jonathan Mota, thinks Morel can be another Krys Bryant. Morel hit well early on and then tailed off to .235, but that happens with a lot of rookies.
Nico Hoerner at short and Nick Madrigal at second are bright spots. So is Ian Happ, who just won a Gold Glove.
The Cubs need some free-agent acquisitions, not only to improve the team but to show the fans they’re trying to.
After contending in 1977 the Cubs signed the major leagues’ top home run hitter in Dave Kingman for 1978, and he led the league in homers for the Cubs in 1979. Wouldn’t free agent Aaron Judge do great in Wrigley Field? He’d be rocket launching baseballs into the street like Kingman used to do.
But the Dodgers’ Trea Turner, the Red Sox’s Xander Bogarts, the Twins’ Carlos Correa, or the Braves’ Dansby Swanson could help the team too. Yeah, they’re all shortstops but one of these gentlemen, or Hoerner, could move over to third base. Word is the player the Cubs are pursuing is Swanson.
The Cubs’ farm system is strong, which has not usually been the case. But they have three top prospects in outfielders Pete Crow Armstrong, Brennan Davis, and Kevin Alcantara. Pitchers Jordan Wicks and outfielder Alexander Canario also are good, and are expected to join the team next year.
They’ve already got three good young pitchers in Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, and Keegan Thompson, much like the 1970 Cubs had good rookie pitchers in Larry Gura, Jim Colborn, and Joe Decker. The problem was in the 1970s is that they traded them away in bad trades. Hopefully the current Cub management will be smarter.
In the 2014 rebuild, the Cubs hired Joe Maddon as manager, traded for Dexter Fowler and Miguel Montero, and signed Jon Lester. The Cubs need to make some moves like that this year and not wait a year. With six teams in each league making the playoffs now, they could make the playoffs in 2023 if they make some moves.
The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs: Go and Glow, published by The History Press of Charleston, SC, is available at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467149082.