Steve Zalusky: PR triumphs, pennant disappointments
Part 3 of 3
When Bob Ibach took over as Cubs PR director in 1981, he immediately began overhauling the team's publicity machinery.
That included hiring as his assistant one of his former reporters on the Philadelphia Journal, Ned Colletti, later general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ibach remembered Colletti's starting salary was $14,000.
"Ned was driving around in this beater of a car that had a hole in the floorboard by the brake. And he actually could put his foot through sometimes and it would drag on the concrete below. I told (Cubs GM) Dallas (Green), 'If we're not going to be able to give that kid a raise, you got to at least get him a rental car from one of our dealers that we had a sponsorship with.'"
One of the first tasks facing Ibach and Colletti was reconstructing the last five or six weeks of prior Cubs seasons by consulting the Sporting News and the Elias Sports Bureau -- "Apparently, whoever was doing the PR before us, in the official score book they stopped keeping score sometime in August," presumably when the Cubs were out of the race.
When Ibach took over, the 2 million gate was still on the horizon. In 1982, a Wrigley Field crowd of about 5,000 fans watched as the Cubs honored a retiring Willie Stargell. As Stargell addressed the crowd before the game, he waved people along the foul lines closer to home plate, prompting an angry call to the dugout from WGN television director Arne Harris, who complained that if the people didn't go back to their seats, he would be forced to rely mainly on his center field camera, saying "If a ball goes down the left field line or the right field line, I can't follow it 'cause nobody's here."
Dallas Green's wheeling and dealing, including a key trade with Philadelphia in 1984 for Bob Dernier and Gary Matthews, brought winning baseball and larger crowds.
Ibach remembered Green had agreed to send Leon Durham to the Phillies for Dernier and Matthews the year before, but Cubs execs balked because the deal would have put the team over budget.
If it had been made, Durham "would never have been around for game five out in San Diego for the ball to go through his legs in 1984," Ibach said.
Up two games to one in the 1984 NLCS, the Cubs planned to use a day off "to be by themselves and talk baseball."
But Joan Frey, manager Jim Frey's wife, and Sylvia Green, Dallas' wife, decided to organize a trip to the San Diego Zoo.
"Our mind wasn't on baseball, and we lost game four and we lost game five."
Ibach recalled that, with the Cubs holding a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning of Game 5, the National League told him and clubhouse manager Yosh Kawano to get things ready for a celebration.
"I said that's bad luck going down there," said Ibach. "I went down. By the time I came back an inning later, all hell had broken loose and we were losing."
The Padres locker room was "literally 300 feet away from ours," and after the game, "you could hear them cheering and champagne exploding. Our place looked like the Kennedy funeral."
Returning to Chicago that night, Cubs players retrieving their cars from the Wrigley parking lot were met by hundreds of fans cheering and holding bedsheet banners saying, "We love you Cubs" and "We'll never forget you."
Ibach said Larry Bowa turned to him and said, "You know what? We've let a whole city down here."
Then, "We all started crying."
But three days later, Green, during a meeting, slammed his fist on a lunchroom table and said, "The funeral's over. Starting today, we move forward for 1985."
The Cubs in 1985 zoomed out to a 35-19 record before injuries eroded the pitching staff, plunging the club below .500. Still, Cubs president Don Grenesko, citing concession sales figures, could revel in what he called "one of the best weeks in Cubs history."
Ibach said, "Dallas kicked me under the table on my shin. I had a bruise there for a week, he kicked me so hard. He says, 'It's over. These guys don't care about winning. All they care about is making money.'"
In 1985, Ibach launched, at Green's behest, perhaps his crowning PR achievement with the creation of the Vine Line.
The Cubs had been sending Die Hard Cub Fan Club members a quarterly newsletter that was proving a money loser. Ibach settled on the idea of offering two free issues of the Vine Line if members would buy $12.95 yearly subscriptions. As Vine Line subscriptions swelled, the newsletter died on the vine.
"It was the old bait and switch," Ibach said, but the only member who seemed to figure out the scheme was a 75-year-old lady who called and threatened to sue.
Ibach and Green found a solution, placating her with a lifetime Vine Line subscription, four box seats for her and her friends behind home plate for a game, her name on the scoreboard and the opportunity to throw out the first pitch.
"She says, 'It sounds pretty good, but do I get some hot dogs and Cokes?'"
Ibach left the Cubs after the 1989 season to go to Kemper Sports in Northbrook. But his baseball legacy is carried on by his son Kevin, a 1996 Hersey High School graduate who has worked in major league baseball for 22 seasons and is the Tampa Bay Rays' director of pro scouting.
His son's first baseball job was at Cubs spring training in the 1980s. Ibach set up a table at Fitch Park in Arizona for Kevin to hand out free roster cards to spectators.
Once, when Kevin walked away from his post for 15 or 20 minutes to grab a soft drink, he left a paper cup at the table.
When he returned, he told his dad, "There were dollar bills inside my cup." Ibach recalled, "He would come home at night sometimes with five or six dollars in coins and dollar bills."