Nobody knows how long it will last, but right now the Chicago Cubs (70-90 in '86) are one of the best road shows in the National League. What makes this significant is that a good record away from home usually translates into season-long contention. And while it is still early to bracket manager Gene Michael's club with the St. Louis Cardinals and the world champion New York Mets, the Cubs are beginning to make some believers around the league. There are all kinds of obvious reasons for Chicago's improvement, pitching being at or near the top of the list as usual. Rick Sutcliffe, for example, has again become the stopper he was in 1984 when the Cubs won the NL East title. And Lee Smith, the first relief pitcher to save 30 or more games three years in a row, hasn't lost any of his sharpness.
Still the name that seems to jump out first when Chicago's pennant chances are discussed is that of Andre Dawson, who put up such impressive offensive numbers in his 10 years with Montreal.
You have to wonder, in fact, why the Expos ever allowed this all-star free-agent to get away over a little thing like money. Even though Montreal did offer him a new two-year contract, it called for a $100,000 cut in pay.
For years virtually every story about Dawson cited his maximum number of bad knees. Perhaps this would have been a legitimate issue if Andre had been a bumbler on defense, but what we're talking about here is a three-time Gold Glove outfielder with throwing arm to match.
While it's true that Dawson prefers natural grass to artificial turf (and he had to perform on the latter in Montreal for 81 games a year), it has never seemed to make any difference in the quality of his fielding. Yet after Chicago signed him, he didn't hesitate to say that he felt Wrigley Field's softer grass surface would prolong his career two or three extra years.
Pitching to Dawson, whose fierce game face seems to be chiseled out of stone, is like speeding up the inevitable. He has a swing so smooth you could pour it on pancakes, power like that of Harmon Killebrew, and the ability to hit to all fields.
Dawson had a game in Chicago earlier this season that belongs on microfilm. In five trips to the plate against San Francisco, a club that lives off its pitching, he had two singles, a double, a triple, and a home run.
When other major league teams ignored Dawson's past accomplishments this spring and acted as though he was merely a name on the free-agent list, Andre's agent, Dick Moss, made a unique financial proposal to the Cubs.
Moss walked into Chicago's spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz., and offered general manager Dallas Green a blank contract with his client's signature on it - the salary to be filled in by the Cubs. Green responded with a $500,000 base salary, $150,000 if Dawson avoided the disabled list, and another $50,000 if he made the National League All-Star squad.
No, Dawson won't hit .400, and he isn't likely to produce 40 home runs. But it seems a good guess that he will drive in more than 100 runs and provide his usual blanket coverage in the outfield. That's probably all it would take for Green to invent another cash bonus, perhaps tied to a new contract that will keep Andre in Chicago for another three years. The complete pitcher
Because of the lively ball, the presence of so many outstanding relievers, and a general philosophy that few pitchers finish what they start, complete games are a relative rarity, even at the college level.
One place this hasn't held true, however, is California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, where Charlie Webb completed 16 of the 17 games he started this season, including 15 in succession.
Webb, 12-6 with a fine 2.64 earned-run average, pitched into the ninth inning in the one game he did not complete. A 5 ft. 10 in. left-hander who depends more on finesse than power, Charlie has a curveball he can wrap around a lamp post, plus excellent control.
Most scouts who have watched Webb think he has a chance to someday join two other Cal Poly alumni, catcher Darrell Miller of the California Angels and pitcher Steve Ziem of the Atlanta Braves, in the big leagues. Elsewhere in the majors
This from Detroit manager Sparky Anderson after rookie outfielder Billy Bean had four hits against Kansas City in his major league debut: ``The thing I liked best was the way Bean backed up third base for us on a throw from right field. I haven't seen a left fielder on this team do that in five years!''
Barry Rona, executive director of the Player Relations Committee, says major league salaries will probably increase by at least $15,000 per man by the end of the season. Last year, the average salary for the 693 players on Aug. 31 rosters was approximately $410,000. Said Rona: ``With the extra money that will be paid on incentive bonuses, the average major league salary probably will be around $425,000 by the end of 1987.'' Meantime, meal money when players are on the road this year has been increased to $47 a day.
From umpire Bruce Froemming on National League hitters who question his eyesight: ``I have no trouble seeing the sun, and it's 93 million miles away!''