It's been awhile since I last visited the Bleachers (those "other things" in life have a way of interfering), but I'm glad I've made my way back after a few months—for today I've found the All-Time MLB Roster Challenge.
I propose that the All-Time roster of the Chicago Cubs—that lowly franchise that hasn't won it all in almost a century—could defeat any other squad in the league.
There's some social theory to be discovered here about the nature of groups and individuals, and why a team with so many great parts hasn't won anything worth winning since the 1940s...but I'll skip the depressing side notes and go straight to the lineup.
I'm including stats from each player's best season in Chicago to give you an idea of what he did well—but almost all the players on the roster were Cubs for at least five years, and none were one-hit wonders.
As long as Dusty Baker and Tom Trebelhorn stay away from the dugout, this team could rival all challengers, save possibly the Yankees or the Cardinals.
1. Frank Chance - 1B
Chance beats out four or five other serious contenders for the first base slot (Phil Cavaretta, Mark Grace, Derrek Lee, Cap Anson) for two key reasons: a) The team needs a leadoff hitter, and Chance is as good a fit as anybody; and b) Chance was the undisputed leader of the 1907-08 World Champions.
1906 Season: 103 R, .319 BA, .419 OBP, 57 SB
2. Ryne Sandberg - 2B
Harry Caray saw Jackie Robinson, Red Schoendienst, and some pompous twerp from Cincinnati in their primes. Harry said Ryne Sandberg was the best second basemen he ever saw. Though Harry was likely intoxicated at the time, that says quite a bit.
In his career, Sandberg showed he could field, hit for average, hit for power, and run with the game's best players, proving himself the best second basemen of his generation and a no-brainer Hall of Famer. Up yours, Joe Morgan.
1990 Season: 116 R, .306 BA, 40 HR, 100 RBI, 25 SB, Gold Glove
3. Ernie Banks - SS
The fourth greatest shortstop (well, primarily) of all-time.
1958 Season: 119 R, 193 H, .313 BA, 47 HR, 129 RBI, MVP on a garbage team
4. Billy Williams - LF
We need a lefty in this spot, and who better than one of the best sluggers of the 1960s and early 70s?
1970 Season: 137 R, 205 H, .322 BA, 42 HR, 129 RBI, 2nd in MVP voting
5. Sammy Sosa - RF
Just for the record, I hate putting him on this team, and not entirely due to the steroid issue. However, until baseball passes a resolution regarding HGH and performance enhancers, I can't leave him off.
1998 Season: 134 R, 198 H, .308 BA, 66 HR, 158 RBI, MVP
6. Ron Santo - 3B
The solid-fielding (five Gold Gloves), power-hitting, blue-collar soul of the Cubs in the 60s. Bill James calls him the best player not in the Hall of Fame. One of the top-10 third basemen of all time, Santo's love of his team and the game still leads him to broadcast Cubs' games, even as he suffers from severe complications related to diabetes.
1967 Season: 107 R, .300 BA, 31 HR, 98 RBI, Gold Glove
7. Hack Wilson - CF
Though a self-destructive drunk, the man had 191 RBI in a single season and over 700 in a five-year stretch.
1930 Season: 146 R, .356 BA, 56 HR, 191 RBI
8. Gabby Hartnett - C
Even if he weren't a lifetime .297 hitter with very decent power, Gabby Hartnett played almost 1800 games at catcher, and played them well defensively. Considering most catchers flame out after 800-1000, that's impressive in and of itself. However, Hartnett was also one of the best hitting catchers of his era and a respected leader.
1935 Season: .344 BA, 13 HR, 91 RBI, MVP
1. Greg Maddux - RHP
His prime began—and should have stayed—in Chicago, for the pedants out there.
1992 Season: 20-11, 268.0 IP, 199 Ks, 2.18 ERA, Cy Young
2. Fergie Jenkins - RHP
He won 20 games seven times and threw 4500 innings...yet somehow only made three All-Star games. Was it because he was Canadian? I think so.
1971 Season: 24-13, 325.0 IP, 263 Ks, 2.77 ERA, Cy Young
3. "Pete" Alexander - RHP
Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander was yet another drunken 1920s baseball player (was there a sober guy in the league besides Lou Gehrig?). But like John Daly, he was at his best that way and won 373 games, though his best individual years were with Philadelphia.
1920 Season: 27-14, 363.3 IP, 173 Ks, 1.91 ERA
4. Hippo Vaughn - LHP
I need a lefty, and the Cubs have never had good lefties. Vaughn was the best pitcher the club had in the 1910s, and was 178-131 over his career. And his nickname was "Hippo," as he weighed a massive 200 pounds.
1917 Season: 23-13, 295.7 IP, 195 Ks, 2.01 ERA
5. Three-Finger Brown - RHP
If anything, the Cubs have a great supply of pitching nicknames. Brown actually had three fingers on his pitching hand...and unlike most Cubs, he could use two-thirds of them for World Series rings.
1906 Season: 29-9, 312.0 IP, 123 Ks, 1.04 ERA
1. Carlos Zambrano - Right-Handed Reliever
I'm bending things slightly with the bullpen. Sue me, I want Carlos. This team needs both Latin fire and a guy who can spot start and eat innings. Plus, they need someone to yell at Sosa in his native language.
2004 Season: 16-8, 209 IP, 188 Ks, 2.75 ERA
2. Randy Myers - Left Handed Reliever
Though he only spent three seasons with Chicago, he had 112 saves and was as explosive as the munitions he kept in his locker. He was an outstanding lefty reliever for his whole career, but especially shined with the Cubs.
1993 Season: 53 Saves, 3.11 ERA
3. Bruce Sutter - Setup Man
Sutter was more suited to pitch multiple innings than Lee Smith, so I placed him here (although if he had gone into the Hall as a Cub...). It's a good dilemma to have, choosing between two or three lights-out closers.
1980 Season: 56 Saves, 2.22 ERA, 110 Ks
4. Lee Smith - Closer
Game over, 1981 to 1987. Well, sort-of. Many would say Sutter should be the closer. I think it's a true toss-up, and I give Smith the nod because he played on a division winner. You can't go wrong.
1985 Season: 33 Saves, 3.04 ERA, 112 Ks
That's 17 players. Ten are in the Hall of Fame, two more should be, and three more likely will be with time. If I get to take the roster to 25, I add the following eight players:
1. Ken Holtzman - LHP - Solid lefty from the 60s.
2. Dennis Eckersley - RHP - I'm using him because he's still third on the Cubs all-time K/BB list, even though he was a hybrid player during his short time in Chicago.
3. John Clarkson - RHP - One of baseball's best pitchers in the late 19th Century.
4. Hector Villanueva - C - Because I want to.
5. Cap Anson - 1B - Best hitter pre-1900.
6. Billy Herman - 2B - Another HOF 2B.
7. Kiki Cuyler - OF - Another stud from the stacked teams of the 20s and 30s.
8. Andre Dawson - OF - The Hawk won the MVP as a Cub.
That adds five more Hall of Famers, one who should be, and a whole bunch of fun.
When I look over the roster, I ask myself two important questions:
1. How many all-time teams could field nothing but Hall of Fame-caliber players four days out of five, especially given the dearth of HOF talent at 3B, SS, and 2B?
2. Why haven't the Cubs won the pennant in 62 years?
My answer to No. 2: The inviolable rules of mathematics have been violated, and the individual players' apparent sum is greater than their actual sum.
A + B + C > (A + B + C)