Zalusky: Godfather of the Vine Line shares his baseball memories
First of 3 parts
When the Cubs' new executive vice-president and general manager, Dallas Green, named 33-year-old Bob Ibach director of public relations in November 1981, columnist Bob Logan wrote that Ibach's task would be "making people believe the Wrigley Field comedy store is closed."
Ibach said at the time, "I like the challenge. It reminds me of what Dallas was up against when he turned the Phillies around. They were losers in Philadelphia, just like the Cubs have been in Chicago, and I'm sure we'll get the job done here."
Ibach had impressed Green when, as assistant sports editor of the Philadelphia Journal, he co-wrote a book about the Phillies' 1980 championship season, "The Comeback Kids: The Philadelphia Phillies and the 1980 World Series."
Green's goals with the Cubs included upgrading the team's program and producing a newspaper similar to Los Angeles' "Dodger Blue."
Today, Ibach, known as the Godfather of the Vine Line, can look back with satisfaction at being part of the staff that brought the Cubs out of hibernation in the 1980s.
In a recent telephone conversation, Ibach remembered that the prevailing thinking when he was hired was, "If we can just be .500 going into mid-June, when the kids get out of school, we got tickets sold for the rest of the summer.
"That was their mindset until Dallas came along. He really changed the culture of the Cubs."
Winning was now the goal, Ibach said, and it was reflected in the hiring of farm director Gordon Goldsberry, who, he said, "did some amazing things with the development of our ballclub on the minor league level. Some of those players were on the 1989 team that got into the playoffs," such as shortstop Shawon Dunston.
Baseball was in Ibach's blood. Ibach, who grew up a Yankee fan in the Bronx, said his grandfather was once Lou Gehrig's chauffeur. During that time, Ibach's father, as a young boy, had played catch with Gehrig and Babe Ruth.
Ibach said the very first game he ever watched in person was Don Larsen's perfect game.
Later, on a cruise, Ibach had a chance to ask Larsen what he was doing the night before. Larsen said, contrary to wild rumors surrounding his activities, he just brought a six-pack to his room, ordered a pizza, and watched television.
The truth was Larsen had no idea until the next day, when he walked into the locker room and spotted a baseball inside his shoe, that he was pitching.
Later, after graduating from the University of Maryland, where he played basketball, Ibach interned with the Washington Post and then worked as a reporter for the Hagerstown (Maryland) Morning Herald.
One of his first assignments was a feature story on Ted Williams, the Washington Senators manager.
"I went down to RFK Stadium and sat in the dugout. I got there three or four hours before the game and listened to (Senators coach) Nellie Fox and Williams talk about pitching and how they would identify pitches. Williams was talking about spins. He could actually see the seams of balls coming in."
Ibach later covered the great Orioles teams under Earl Weaver for the Baltimore Evening Sun, where he spent nine years, before joining the Philadelphia Journal.
After working at the Journal, Ibach collaborated with former Clemson basketball coach Tates Locke on an expose of Locke's years at Clemson. Locke was forced to resign, and the school was put on NCAA probation for recruiting violations. Locke's transgressions included setting up a phony Black fraternity on campus to lure such recruits as former Atlanta Hawks star Tree Rollins.
The book "Caught in the Net," aided by the exposure Rick Telander created in a Sports Illustrated article titled "The Descent of a Man," caused a sensation by the time Ibach attended his first spring training with the Cubs in 1982.
That spring, ABC's Joan Lunden was going to take batting practice with the team in Mesa, Arizona, as part of a segment for Good Morning America.
Ibach recalled that Lunden was in his office in a trailer outside Ho Ho Kam Park when he asked, "Where are you headed next?"
She said she was looking for the former sportswriter who wrote the book "Caught in the Net."
She said, "I've got to try to go find this sportswriter. I don't know where he is these days."
Ibach said, "Hold on a second, Joan." He then reached behind his desk for an advance copy and asked, "Is this the book you're looking for? She said, 'Oh my God, how did you get it?' I said, 'Look at the bottom.' She said, 'Oh, you wrote the book.'"
The next day, Ibach and Locke were on Good Morning America.
Part 2: Harry, Milo, and Lee Elia