Chicago Cubs: The Chicago Cubs' All-Time Team
When composing this lineup, there were some selections that caused some second-guessing and hesitation before the final decisions were made—not just whom to include, but where to place them in the field for those who played multiple positions.
There was some internal debate on where to play Ernie Banks on the Chicago Cubs’ All-Time Team. He played parts of nine seasons at shortstop and 11 at first base, with some time at third base and in the outfield sprinkled in.
The team is ordered as the positions are numbered on the field, except for the outfield positions, with a single starting pitcher to round out the squad.
You may agree or disagree with some, all or none of the selected players, but please enjoy the slideshow and engage in civil debate.
Now, without further ado…
Catcher: Gabby Hartnett
Gabby Hartnett may not be well-known to today’s generation or those of my generation, but he was one of the greatest Cubs in franchise history regardless of position. He is also considered one the greatest catchers of his era.
He was a six-time All-Star and the 1935 MVP.
Gabby Hartnett had an interesting history as a Cubs catcher. After having one of the best cannons behind home plate, he missed the majority of the 1929 season with what has been called a “dead arm.” He returned in 1930 to play in 141 games, batting .339 with a 1.034 OPS.
He was also behind the plate October 1, 1932, when Babe Ruth called his shot in Game 3 of the World Series.
But Gabby was not merely a spectator in the creation of baseball lore. He was a participant.
On September 28, 1938, the Cubs went into a game against the NL-leading Pittsburgh Pirates just half a game out of the lead.
As darkness began to fall upon the light-free Wrigley Field, the game was tied at five in the eighth inning. The umpires agreed the ninth inning would be the last of that day and, if still tied, the entire game would be replayed the following day.
Gabby Hartnett went up to bat against Mace Brown with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Using the darkness, Brown earned two quick strikes against the Cubs’ player-manager.
Unable to clearly see the ball, Hartnett took a desperation swing at the third pitch, sending the ball high into the night, disappearing until it reappeared in the left-center field bleachers.
This won the Cubs the game and put them in sole possession of first place, which they would not relinquish. With one swing of the bat, Gabby Hartnett had cemented himself in baseball lore by hitting what has been termed “The Homer in the Gloamin'.”
First Base: Mark Grace
Selected to play first base is a player who can never be accused of using performance-enhancing drugs—evidenced by his lack of power and barely defeating then SportsCenter anchor, Dan Patrick, in a foot race at Wrigley Field in 1998—Mark Grace.
Mark Grace was overshadowed in the 1990s by…well…other first basemen who literally cast bigger shadows. Consequently, Grace often did not receive proper recognition as one of the game’s best.
During his Cubs career, Mark Grace was the epitome of a solid, consistent first baseman. With the Cubs he had 2,201 hits, a batting average of .308, an OPS of .832, 456 doubles, four Gold Gloves, three All-Star appearances and, for someone not so fleet of foot, 67 stolen bases—all the while not taking PEDs.
Mark Grace also had the most hits in MLB from 1990-1999, 1,754. Every other player who led a decade in hits has been voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, except for Pete Rose. Richie Ashburn (1950s) was voted in by the Veterans Committee in 1995, and Cap Anson (1880s) and Ed Delahanty (1890s) were voted in by the Committee on Old Timers in 1939 and 1945, respectively; all others were voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Second Base: Ryne Sandberg
This selection was a big no-brainer.
Ryne Sandberg played himself to the caliber of not only one of the best Chicago Cubs of all time, but one of best second basemen of all time. He was the cornerstone of the franchise during his career with the Cubs.
He won nine straight Gold Glove awards from 1983 to 1991 and made 10 straight All-Star appearances from 1984 to 1993. He was a seven-time Silver Slugger winner and MVP in 1984.
He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005 and gave one of the best induction speeches in recent memory.
Ryno had the sort of career with the Cubbies that could have earned him a spot on the Cubs' version of Mount Rushmore.
Third Base: Ron Santo
Undeniably the most beloved member of the Cubs family, Ron Santo grew up a Chicago Cubs fan in Seattle; dreaming of playing at the Friendly Confines. The documentary “This Old Cub” says he took a lower contract offer from the Cubs to fulfill a childhood dream—when’s that last time you heard an athlete do that?
Ron Santo was one of the best third basemen of all time. He spent 14 of his 15 MLB seasons with the Cubs, amassing 342 home runs, 2,254 hits, 1,331 RBI, a career average of .277, a career OPS of .826 and a Cubs’ fan appreciation percentage of 100.
Perhaps the most underappreciated player on the list, on December 5, 2011, Ron Santo finally received what every Cubs fan, player, organization member and contemporary knew he deserved: election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
At the ceremony of his number retiring, he said having that done was more special to him than being voted into the Hall of Fame. But what else can a player say if he knows he had done enough to be voted into the Hall of Fame, yet it didn't happen in his lifetime?
Santo’s long-suffering exclusion is one of the biggest travesties in baseball history; to think the best third baseman of his era can go year after year not receiving the call causes you to ponder why he was really kept out for so long.
And it’s an even bigger shame that it ultimately took his unexpected passing to be the catalyst that finally rewarded him for what he earned over a 15-year career.
He didn’t simply deserve to go into the Hall of Fame because he was good player; no player does. Ron Santo earned his way in through his superb and enthusiastic play.
Bill James once said of Ron Santo:
“To me it is clear and unequivocal that Santo is a Hall of Famer. ... Putting guys like George Kell, Freddy Lindstrom, and Tony Lazzeri in the Hall of Fame while you leave out Ron Santo is like putting Dalmatians, Palominos, and Siamese in the zoo while you let the lions roam the streets.”
Shortstop: Ernie Banks
What All-Time Team—Cubs or otherwise—could be considered legitimate if it lacked Mr. Cub?
Undoubtedly the greatest Cub, Ernie Banks and his jovial, “let’s play two” attitude endeared him to the hearts of Cubs and baseball fans everywhere. But it wasn’t just his enthusiasm for the game that made him an all-time great and Cubs favorite.
Ernie Banks’ ability to play the game exceeded his zest for the game.
He played the game with the enthusiasm of a young boy in a backyard lot. To Ernie, baseball wasn’t just his trade or profession, it was his passion. And that passion allowed him to play the game with great skill and tenacity.
Ernie Banks began his long and storied professional baseball career with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1950. In 1953, he broke the Cubs’ color barrier, becoming the organization’s first black player.
He went on to spend 18 more seasons with the Cubs, slugging his way to 512 home runs and 1,636 RBI and into the hearts of the Cubs faithful, rightfully earning the moniker "Mr. Cub."
Outfield: Hack Wilson
The assumption that with a name like Hack, a ballplayer would have to be a swell hitter is not erroneous in this case.
In a five-season span (1926-1930), Hack Wilson's average line was .331/.419/.612, 35 HR and 142 RBI. And in the 1929 World Series, Hack hit .471.
In 1930, Hack Wilson’s best season, he hit .356/.723/1.177 with 56 HR, all the while setting the MLB record for RBI in a season with 191—a record that still stands and seems unlikely to be surpassed.
Although no official MVP was awarded in 1930, Hack Wilson’s performance throughout the 1930 season earned him unofficial naming as the National League’s Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers Association; allowing the Cubs to lay claim to back-to-back NL MVPs (Rogers Hornsby, 1929).
Outfield: Phil Cavarretta
Phil Cavarretta was one of the best Chicago Cubs’ players of all time and was beloved by the fans.
Phil played in three World Series in his 20 seasons with the Cubs: 1935, 1938 and 1945. His first Series appearance occurred when he was only 18 after signing with the club while he was still attending high school on his native North Side the previous year.
He was a three-time All-Star and won the 1945 MVP after batting .355 with an OPS of .949, setting the franchise record for highest batting average by a left-handed batter. In that season, he led the Cubs to the 1945 NL pennant before losing to Detroit in the World Series in seven games.
He was “Mr. Cub” before Ernie Banks took over that moniker:
“Cavarretta's 20 seasons with the Cubs (1934-53) are the most by any player in team history, except 19th-century star Cap Anson. He still ranks in the top 10 in Cubs history in runs scored, hits, runs batted in, extra base hits and triples.”
Outfield: Billy Williams
This may be surprising, but Billy Williams played in parts of two seasons—1959 and 1960—before being named National League Rookie of the Year in 1961.
Arguably the greatest Cubs outfielder ever, Billy Williams was a Rookie of the Year and six-time All-Star and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.
He played 16 of his 18 MLB seasons with the Cubs, with whom he had an average line of .296/.364/.503, to go with career marks of 392 HR and 2,510 hits.
The 1970-1972 seasons showcased Billy at his best. He had averages of .319/.390/.566 with a 152 OPS+, 106 runs, 192 hits, 36 HRs and 115 RBI, to go along with 340 total bases.
Starting Pitcher: Greg Maddux
Deciding who would be named the Cubs’ All-Time Starting Pitcher was the most difficult of all positions.
The previous selections to the team were made in a vacuum—how well that player performed in that era. However, when deciding which pitcher would represent all other Cubs pitchers, the same courtesy was not afforded.
This is the only position where consideration was given to not only how that pitcher performed in their era, but how successful he would have been in other eras.
For that reason, the Chicago Cubs’ All-Time Starting Pitcher is Greg Maddux.
“Mad Dog” pitched in what can be considered the most difficult era for pitchers, yet still achieved great success.
He won 355 games, with an ERA of 3.16, and had 3,371 strikeouts to only 999 walks. He won four straight Cy Young Awards from 1992 to 1995 and finished in the top five in voting five other times; he won 13 straight Gold Gloves—18 overall; and he was named to the NL All-Star Team eight times.
Succeeding as much in the steroid era as Greg Maddux did, looking like an accountant when the hitters were PED-fueled hulks, takes a great deal of talent and skill.
Maddux had both a changeup and a fastball that danced across the plate, with the accuracy of a sniper’s bullet. He complemented those pitches with a slider that could increase the strike zone's size and a seldom-used and plain curveball.
He was a stark contrast to one of the era’s all-time great, hard-throwing hurlers Roger Clemens.
Maddux was able to use his soft throwing style to counter the brutish swings of his bulky adversaries. With Maddux, just like a realtor, movement and location were his keys to success—two aspects of the pitching game he mastered as Beethoven did the piano.
Greg Maddux was, as Jacob Peterson put it, economical in his pitching. In an era of undoubtedly pro-hitter baseball, Greg Maddux pitched with as great efficiency as he did success.
In 1995 he had 19 wins and only 23 walks; in 1997 he again had 19 wins but this time only 20 bases on balls.
Peterson analyzed the average number of pitches it takes a pitcher to record 27 outs. The average as of the 2012 season is 145; Peterson wrote that the average was higher during the steroid era but was not specific.
He calculated that Greg Maddux needed only 120.6 pitches to record 27 outs, noting no other pitcher with 2,000 IP since 1988 has averaged fewer than 130.
The following players were given ample consideration to be named to this team before a final roster was decided upon:
Fergie Jenkins, SP
Grover Alexander, SP
Mordecai Brown, SP
Rogers Hornsby, IF\OF
Shawon Dunston, SS
Kiki Cuyler, OF
Stan Hack, 3B
Andre Dawson, OF
Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Sammy Sosa, OF
Cap Anson, 1B
Hank Sauer, OF