The Cubs are off to a what you could call a good start. Like, really, really good. Everyone is hitting and the pitching has been excellent all around. This got me thinking: What would a 25-man roster of the all-time great Cubs look like? The franchise boasts numerous players with the Cubs logo on their hats in Cooperstown and many more who don’t. Legions more aren’t enshrined at all.
In constructing this particular 25-man roster, I went with eight position players, a five-man starting rotation, eight bullpen arms, and four bench bats (three IF, one OF). You’ll notice as you work your through this players like Dennis Eckersley are missing. I didn’t consider his career with the Cubs to be long enough. Most of these guys are career Cubs or are close to it. Anyways, let’s get to it.
1B – Cap Anson
He’s so old that he never actually played for the Cubs (they were the Colts then). Anson was one of the first truly great players. His lowest season OPS+ in his career was 93, and that came in his age-45 season. His 27th (not a typo) year in the league was his worst season and he still hit .285. Best Cubs first baseman of all time.
2B – Ryne Sandberg
Ryno was the heart and soul of the mid-80’s to early 90’s Cubs. He also baseballed well. His best year was the famed 1984 season, during which he put up 8 WAR while hitting 19 homers and having an OPS at the casually great mark of .887. As he got older and his defense started to decline, he started hitting for more power, evidence by 40 dongs in 1990. With his Hall of Fame induction in 2005, he solidified his career as being one of the greatest second basemen ever.
3B – Ron Santo
With a career OPS of .838 and a career wRC+ of 128, Santo was really stinking good. With 71.9 career WAR, there are 16.1 wins between Santo and number 2 on the list among Cubs third baseman. The man in second? More on him later.
SS – Ernie Banks
There’s not much that needs to be said about Mr. Cub. He is the greatest Cub of all time. Statistically and, well, in pretty much every other way.
RF – Sammy Sosa
Sammy is the newer generation’s Ernie. The man captivated Cubs fandom and still has a lasting impact because of his lack of presence. He has the single greatest power performance for a month in the history of baseball when he hit 20 homers in June of 1998. He also is 8th on the all-time homer list with 609 (nice).
CF – Hack Wilson
Here’s the weakest position on this team and the guy is still in Cooperstown. He’s not the #1 CF by fWAR but based on almost every other stat he’s first or second.
LF – Billy Williams
Billy was a six-time All-Star with and took home the Rookie of the Year award in 1961. Removing his early outliers, he had a career OPS of .855. That’s just insane. He hit 42 homers in 1970 and finished second in MVP voting that year.
C – Gabby Hartnett
Hartnett is one of the most underrated players in Cubs history. He hit for average and power, and, most importantly, he was a stunningly good defender. He also has one of the most famous homers in Cubs history, the Homer in the Gloamin‘.
SP – Fergie Jenkins
This is pretty obvious. It’s mostly unanimous that he is the greatest pitcher in franchise history. His 1971 season is one of the all-time great campaigns that no one talks about, highlighted by a casually magnificent K% of 20.4 percent with league average being 14.3 percent that year. And to show you how the times have changed, he threw 325 innings in 1971.
SP – Greg Maddux
Everything I could ever say about Greg Maddux was said in this article. He had some of the greatest command ever, and he had movement on his 2-seam fastball that would make a giraffe squeal. The most Maddux-y thing ever is the Jeff Bagwell bit in the linked article linked. He had more than 3000 strikeouts and was a 300 game winner in his 23-year career.
SP – Rick Reuschel
Here’s the thing about Reuschel: He was consistent. I mean really, really consistent. When he had outliers, they were mostly on the good end and he pitched for a long, long time. He finished in the top 3 in Cy Young voting twice and was a three-time All-Star.
SP – Mordecai Brown
Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown was the last Cubs ace to lead them to a World Series victory since Jake Arrieta. Wait, what? According to ERA+, his 1906 season is considered the 8th-best in the history of baseball. He was elected to the Hall in 1949 by the Veteran’s Committee.
SP – Charlie Root
He was a great pitcher et cetera, et cetera, but what Root was most famous for was not one his brightest moments. He was the one who gave up Babe Ruth’s called shot in the 1932 World Series. Little known fact: Lou Gehrig sent the next pitch out also. In all honesty, Root is the king of counting stats among Cubs pitchers. He holds the franchise record for games (605), innings pitched (3137.1), and wins (201).
Disclaimer: Some of these guys were added as the result of pure stat scouting, but that’s sort of the rub when it comes to the notoriously fickle nature of bullpens. As such, some players might appear below on the strength of some serious sparkle-and-fade action. My hope, however, is that this can lead us into some nice discussion in the comments below.
RP – Les Lancaster
He started his career off as a starter in 1987 and then was switched to the pen. 1989, during which he threw 72.2 innings and only walked 15, was his best season.
RP – Hector Rondon
Yes that’s right. Hector “Rembrandt” Rondon made the list. Indict me with recency bias if you must, but I present as my strongest argument for his conclusion this immutable fact: 99 with slider-like movement. It’s truly one of the most devastating pitches I’ve ever seen.
RP – Bob Howry
This guy’s career with the Cubs was surprisingly great. It seemed as though he was never more than a middle relief man, but his stats disagree.
RP – Willie Hernandez
His best seasons were with the Tigers but he was still good for the Cubs over the course of seven years in the Windy City.
RP – Sean Marshall
Sean Marshall was just always…there. But he was effective to the tune of a 2.70 FIP for his career in the ‘pen.
RP – Carlos Marmol
Yeah sure it’s fun to harp on Marmol for his epic collapses and all the other stuff. But just take a moment and think about how great he was in 2007 and 2008. How great that slider was. Okay, now that you’re done thinking you can go back to making fun of him.
SU – Lee Smith
I had the pleasure of meeting this man in 2013. He is one YUUUUUUUUUGE dude. His hands are definitely not tiny like a baby’s and are probably bigger than your face. That explains how he could manipulate a 5-inch ball of string so well. He’s not a Hall of Famer but he’s on the borderline and is easily a top-20 reliever in baseball history (FanGraphs WAR has him as the 5th best, but it’s reliever WAR, so it doesn’t tell you very much).
CL – Bruce Sutter
The man for the ninth inning on this team is the man who won the NL Cy Young award in 1979, one of only, like, 10 closers to ever win the award. Mariano Rivera was NOT one of them. Oh, Sutter’s in the Hall of Fame with 76.9% (nice) of the vote.
3B – Stan Hack
The model of great third basemen in the 30’s and 40’s, Hack e NEVER struck out (does that mean he didn’t actually hack?), he walked a lot, and he got on base to the tune of a .394 career OBP. He is a good version of Tommy La Stella. He was also that “2nd guy” I referenced earlier.
1B – Mark Grace
You need a back up to Anson at first, and there’s none better than a guy who was, once again, very consistent. He sat right around 120 in wRC+ which is, well…good.
SS – Joe Tinker
The man who started the most famous 6-4-3 trio in baseball history. And he swung the bat in the Dead Ball era. My favorite Joe Tinker story (also the only one I know) is Merkle’s Boner, and not just because it’s funny to say. Of course the Cubs would have to win the pennant in controversy.
RF – Andre Dawson
If not for Sosa, Dawson starts in right on this team. His ’87 MVP campaign in his first season in Chicago was the best of his career and instantly installed him among the pantheon of Cubs greats. He hit for power and decent average and he was a Gold Glover before balky knees slowed him down.
So there is your all-time 25-man Cubs roster. What do you agree with/disagree with? Would you put Dawson in over Sosa? Would you change the rotation or the ‘pen at all? Let’s have a fun discussion below.
(Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference)
*Little stat lesson here: The justification for using OPS+ as opposed to wRC+ or WAR is that linear weights for seasons much earlier than 1950 are not normally considered reliable because of the data collected back then. OPS+ is almost completely calculated by counting stats which would be much more accurate.