1998 was a strange year for the Northsiders. Fourth-year manager Jim Riggleman was leading a unique collection of talent that included rookie sensation Kerry Wood, aging centerfielder Lance Johnson, quirky closer Rod Beck, rubber-armed setup man Terry Mulholland, and emerging superstar Sammy Sosa. In mid-August, the Cubs added an unlikely slugger who would help propel the team to a wild finish.
At age 39, 3B Gary Gaetti was near the end of the line. He spent most of 1998 with the St. Louis Cardinals, battling through a mediocre season. In 306 at bats, “G-Man” had only produced 11 home runs. On August 14th, the Cardinals cut ties with Gaetti, giving him his unconditional release.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were right in the middle of the wild card hunt. Despite the team’s success, Riggleman was looking for help at the hot corner. Jose Hernandez had shown flashes of power, but to call him “streaky” would be an understatement. On August 19th, the Cubs rolled the dice and signed their new third baseman.
Gaetti was an immediate difference-maker. In 37 games he put up huge numbers: .320/.397/.594. On September 28th, his two-run bomb led the Cubs to a wild-card-clinching victory in a one-game playoff against the San Francisco Giants. It was the perfect end to a crazy regular season.
Unfortunately, the magic faded in round one of the playoffs as the mighty Atlanta Braves swept G-Man and the Cubs. His 1-11 performance mirrored the output of his teammates, as the Northsiders scored only four runs in the series.
Despite the disappointing postseason, 1998 was a fun, unexpected ride for Cubs fans. Gaetti’s contributions were critical down the stretch. His signing was the textbook definition of a “low-risk, high-reward” move.