By Mark Grote–
(CBS) Gary “Sarge” Matthews played left field for the 1984 National League East division champion Cubs, who came within a game of going to the World Series. Matthews also had two coaching stints with the Cubs. These days Matthews works for the Philadelphia Phillies, but he can’t take his eyes off the 2015 Cubs, as I found out when we sat down to talk about the past and the present.
Grote: You were a clutch No. 3 hitter for the popular 1984 Cubs. That summer must have been a blast even though you didn’t quite get to where you wanted to go.
Matthews: Wow. You had to bring that up again, eh?
Grote: It hurts me too, Gary.
(After winning the first two games against the Padres of a best-of-five series, the Cubs lost three in a row in San Diego, allowing the Padres to advance to the World Series.)
Matthews: My gosh. I’m crying for you right now. But seriously, that season in ’84 was bittersweet. We like to think that that particular club was responsible for rejuvenating Cubs fans all over the country. We didn’t have Hall of Famers, but we had guys who could really play and really hit. I asked my friend, Ryne Sandberg, how often do you think about that last game in San Diego? He simply said “every day,” and I certainly hear his sentiments on that.
Grote: I have always just accepted your nickname as being “Sarge”, but never thought to ask how it came to be?
Matthews: Pete Rose gave me the nickname “Sarge,” and he said to me, “When a future Hall of Famer gives you a nickname, it sticks.” He got one part right. My name is still there. Seriously though, Pete Rose was one of my favorite players. There was no bigger competitor.
Grote: Considering your involvement with the Phillies organization, I’m sure it’s difficult to keep a close eye on the Cubs, but what has been your impression from afar?
Matthews: On the contrary, I have been following them in every sense. I think they have a really great mix of players, with Kris Bryant being the one that stands out to me. I also like Joe Maddon, because he is the type of manager that leaves you alone and lets you just go out and play.
Grote: How much of the Cubs success should be attributed to Maddon?
Matthews: I think the success starts with the players. I’ve said it before — you want to be a good hitting coach? Have good hitters. It really starts there, and then it goes to the manager understanding his personnel and to be able to get the most out of them, which Maddon has done for years going back to his Tampa Bay days.
Grote: Can the Cubs make it deep into the playoffs?
Matthews: Yes. If you look at the way the playoffs have actually gone in recent years, St. Louis and San Francisco both made it as a wild card. To me, it boils down to the team that is hot at the time, and the Cubs have been that team. Let’s see if they can keep it up.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter@markgrotesports.