MLB 9s: Chicago Cubs—Are Ernie Banks and Hack Wilson the Best Ever?
Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks.
The Chicago Cubs have had some of the all-time greats run out onto Wrigley Field.
While they haven't been to the World Series since 1945, there is more than enough talent in the Cubs' history to fill out a dream team twice over. From Rogers Hornsby to Derrek Lee, the Cubs have had incredible depth and production throughout their lineup.
One question remains. Which Chicago Cub had the greatest ever offensive season at his position?
Major League Baseball has been asking fans this question in an effort to choose each team's best ever collection of stars. They are calling it MLB 9s.
Here I separated the contenders from the pretenders in an effort to pick my dream Cubs lineup. Have your say by commenting below, or by voting on the MLB site here .
My other MLB 9s you might want to check out are:
Catcher: Rick Wilkins (1993)
In his first full season as the Cubs' primary backstop, Wilkins hit 30 home runs and drove in 73 runs. In 136 starts, Wilkins batted .303, drew 50 walks, and crossed the plate 78 times.
His .561 slugging percentage was good enough for fifth in the National League, while his 30 home runs earned him a spot in the Top 10. Incidentally, his slugging percentage ranks second all-time among Cubs catchers with at least 80 games played. Gabby Hartnett holds the record with .630, set in 1930.
Highlight Game: July 5, 1993, at Colorado. Wilkins went 3-for-5 with two home runs and four RBI in a 10-1 victory against the Rockies.
Competition: The previously-mentioned Gabby Hartnett almost won my vote here. Looking back over the numbers, maybe he should have. I'm man enough to admit that. But I stand by my decision.
Gabby Hartnett is one of the greatest catchers of all time—a six-time All Star and NL MVP. Despite only playing in two-thirds of the Cubs' games in the 1935 season, Hartnett hit 13 home runs and drove in 91 runs. The 34-year-old's days as a true power hitter were gone though, and I would even argue that his 1930 season was the best of his career despite him never receiving even a glancing MVP look.
I read somewhere that he is considered the best NL catcher from the first half of the 20th century, but that is not enough for a purely single-season-based look at offensive production.
Playing in what is known as the 'live ball era', Hartnett benefited from a stacked Cubs' lineup. The team won 100 games—something Chicago hasn't done in the 74 years since—with Hartnett batting behind Billy Herman, who led the league in hits and doubles, and in front of the team's best power hitter, Chuck Klein.
First Base: Derrek Lee (2005)
D-Lee was good enough in 2005 to win the NL MVP, playing just as well as Albert Pujols, but he got snubbed in the voting.
Luckily for the Cubs' first baseman, I'm going to show him some love here. Lee was just nasty in '05, leading the league with 50 doubles and 199 hits. His .335 batting average was also a league-high, while his slugging percentage (.662) and total bases (393) were also good enough for the top ranking in those categories.
Only Andruw Jones hit more home runs, out-dueling Lee 51-46.
Highlight Game: April 27, 2005, vs Cincinnati. Lee went 4-for-4 with a pair of home runs and six RBI in leading the Cubs to a come-from-behind victory.
Trailing 6-2 in the sixth inning, Lee hit a two-run home run off of Aaron Harang. The following inning, Lee took Joe Valentine deep for a three-run blast to tie the game at 7-7.
Competition: Lee is an easy choice at first base. Fred McGriff hit 30 home runs and drove in 103 men in 2002, and Billy Buckner batted .306 with 105 RBI two decades earlier. Looking more than a century back, Frank Chance batted .327 and stole 67 bases in the 1903 season.
Second Base: Rogers Hornsby (1929)
Four years after winning his first MVP award with the St Louis Browns, Hornsby took home his second title in his first season with the Cubs.
Hornsby hit 39 homers and 47 doubles, knocking home 149 runs and scoring a league-leading 156. Hornsby batted .380—only good enough for third—but he slugged .679 and recorded 409 total bases.
Highlight Game: April 17, 1929, vs Pittsburgh. In just the second game of the 1929 season, Hornsby capped off a resounding victory against the Pirates with a grand slam home run in the bottom of the eighth inning off Fred Fussell. After the team lost its season-opener the previous day, Hornsby led his Cubbies to a comprehensive 13-2 win.
Competition: Ryne Sandberg provides the only real competition to Hornsby. In 1990 the long-time Cub hit a career-high 40 home runs (also an NL-high) and scored 116 times.
Sandberg batted .306 and drove home 100 that year. Not shown on the MLB 9s voting page, Sandberg maybe had his best season in 1984 when he won his first and only MVP award, fueled by 19 triples and a fantastic Gold Glove season.
Third Base: Heinie Zimmerman (1912)
Old school versus new school. Power in 2004 versus speed and batting average in 1912.
It is hard to split hairs with two hitters who are poles apart in terms of style and era, but I am going with Zimmerman. He batted .372 with 14 home runs, 99 RBI, 95 runs and 23 stolen bases.
His 207 hits and 41 doubles led the NL but, maybe more importantly, so did his 14 home runs. In fact, he topped the Major League in dingers that year. Although he finished sixth in the MVP vote, I would argue that he had a better campaign than at least four of the men above him, probably five.
Highlight Game: June 10, 1912, at New York Giants. Zimmerman snapped a 7-7 tie with a one-out, two-run home run in the top of the tenth inning off of Doc Crandall.
Competition: Aramis Ramirez deserves an honorable mention for the .318-36-103-99 line he posted in 2004, as does Ron Santo for his 1964 season. Santo was equally as impressive as Ramirez, just four decades earlier, putting up a .313 batting average, 30 homers, and 114 RBI.
Shortstop: Ernie Banks (1958)
A no-brainer on the left side of the Cubs’ infield.
Banks launched 47 home runs, tallied 119 hits, and racked up 129 RBI, coasting past Willie Mays and Hank Aaron to the first of his back-to-back MVP awards.
Banks led the National League with a .614 slugging percentage and 379 total bases while recording a career-high .313 batting average in 1958.
Banks was a true power hitter in every sense of the word. He still fills each of the top seven positions for homers hit by a Cubs’ shortstop, and no other shortstop has ever hit more than 21 in a season.
Highlight Game: August 21, 1958, vs Pittsburgh. Banks went 3-for-3 with two home runs and a double to lead the Cubs to a 5-3 victory over the Pirates. Banks drove in five and also walked once in one of six multi-homer games of his ’58 season.
Competition: There is no real competition, but for the sake of argument I’ll pick Joe Tinker. In 1912, Tinkler swiped 25 bags, scored 80 runs, and batted in 75. While I’m here, I may as well also mention Shawon Dunston for his 1995 season in which he hit 14 homers and drove home 69 batters.
Outfield: Hack Wilson (1930)
In his penultimate year with the Cubs, Wilson hit 56 home runs and drove in 191. Yes it was 1930, but wow. He scored 146 runs, batted .356, walked on 105 occasions and, best of all, didn’t win an MVP because financial constraints forced the award to be cancelled.
He slugged a league-leading .723 and was ranked second in the National League for total bases (423) and extra base hits (97). The one downside to his game was his high number of strikeouts—84 in this year.
Even so, the Baseball Writers’ Association made Wilson their unofficial MVP and the Cubs reportedly gave him a $1,000 bonus.
Highlight Game: July 26, 1930, at Philadelphia. Wilson had his first and only three-homer game in 1930. He hit a pair of two-run shots off Phil Collins in the first and second innings and then a solo blast off Claude Willoughby with the Cubs ahead 15-2 in the eighth.
Also of note: On June 23, 1930, also versus Philadelphia, centerfielder Wilson hit for the only cycle of his career, starting with a first-inning three-run home run off of…Claude Willoughby.
Billy Williams (1970)
This future Hall of Famer was also robbed of an MVP award, losing out to Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench in the 1970 season.
Williams is the greatest Cubs left-handed batter to ever grace the field, and his 1970 campaign still holds a number of franchise records.
Williams led the league in runs (137) and hits (205), and his 42 home runs, 129 RBI, 80 extra-base hits, and 373 total bases are all-time records by any Cubs’ southpaw.
Highlight Game: July 3, 1970, vs Pittsburgh. Trailing 7-3, Williams hit a one-out grand slam to cap off a six-run inning. It was Williams’ only grand slam in 15 bases-loaded attempts that year.
Sammy Sosa (1998)
A career year by anyone’s standards, Sosa—juiced or not—had fans in the outfield seats at Wrigley Field hanging on his every at bat in the hope of catching a historic home run ball.
And there were lots of them. Sosa hit 66 home runs and drove in 158 runs—both franchise records. He crossed home plate 134 times and he also swiped 18 bags, earning him a spot in my all-time single-season outfield.
"Say It Ain’t So-sa" went to his second All Star Game and won his first Silver Slugger award since 1995, despite fanning 171 times.
The NL MVP and MLB Player of the Year, Sosa hit 20 home runs in June 1998. He also went deep in five consecutive games and recorded 11 multi-homer games.
Highlight Game: June 15, 1998, vs Milwaukee. Not often does a player hit three home runs in one game, but Slammin’ Sammy did it in a game against the Brew Crew.
Sosa went 3-for-4, hitting solo blasts off Cal Eldred in the first, third, and seventh innings.
Competition: Andre Dawson really deserves a place on this list somewhere. In 1987, Dawson hit 49 home runs and recorded 137 RBI. He also scored 90 runs, stole 11 bases and batted .287 on his way to picking up the MVP trophy.
Pitcher: Fergie Jenkins (1971)
Jenkins hit six home runs, scored 13 times, and drove in 20 batters in the ’71 season.
He went 28-for-115 at the plate (.243) with seven doubles and a triple.
Not relevant to his batting, but he also won 24 games, threw 30 complete games in 39 starts, and won his only Cy Young award of his career.
Highlight Game: September 1, 1971, vs Montreal. Jenkins had his only multi-homer game of his career, going yard twice in a 5-2 victory at home to the Expos.
Competition: Claude Hendrix hit three home runs in 1918, while Carlos Zambrano hit four with a .337 batting average and 14 RBI in 2008.
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