OK, if you don’t know how this one ends, you need to turn in your Cubs fan card. That doesn’t mean we can’t take a trip down memory lane and look at some of the other great shortstops in Cubs history. Even though nobody can even come close to the winner, there are still some good contenders to discuss. Again, as always, no particular order here.
Starlin Castro. I will never forget Starlin Castro’s first game with the Cubs. I had gone to see Iron Man 2 with a friend after work, and got home just in time to catch the Cubs playing in Cincinnati. Castro debuted with 6 RBI, including a 3 run homer. Overall, Castro was a 3-time All Star with the Cubs, and led the National League in hits with 207 in 2077, when he batted .307.
I also remember the point when a lot of fans turned on him. It was a Sunday night game on ESPN, and he made a mental error in the field. ESPN resident D-Bag broadcaster Bobby Valentine just mercilessly raked him over the coals. Not just at the time, but for the rest of the game. Castro then suddenly gained the reputation of not being mentally tough. Every time he made a mistake of any kind after that he got roasted. I always thought it was unfair.
Shawon Dunston. The Cubs’ and MLB’s first overall pick in 1982. A two-time All-Star, Dunston played 12 seasons with the Cubs and reached double digits in home runs five times. He also stole 20 or more bases four times, including a career-high 30 in 1988. His best all-around season may have been 1995, when he batted .296 with 14 homers, 30 doubles and 69 runs batted in. Dunston’s 1,228 games played at shortstop rank third in franchise history. He also had the potential to lead the galaxy in throwing errors if not for Mark Grace.
Don Kessinger. One of my favorite players growing up watching the Cubs. A mainstay of the Cubs infield for more than a decade, Kessinger was a six-time NL All-Star and winner of back-to-back Gold Gloves in 1969 and 1970. He led the league in assists three times and twice reached double digits in triples, including 14 in 1970.
Joe Tinker. The shortstop on one of the game’s most famous double-play combinations, Tinker played 12 seasons with the Cubs and two more seasons in Chicago with the city’s Federal League team, the wales. He stole 30 or more bases five times and reached double digits in triples four times. Tinker played in four World Series for the Cubs, including the world champion teams of 1907 and 1908, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.
And the winner is….
Ernie Banks. Duh. Banks is not only the greatest player in Cubs history, he’s one of the greatest to ever play the game of baseball. An 11-time All-Star, “Mr. Cub” won back-to-back MVP awards in 1958 and 1959 and a Gold Glove at shortstop in 1960. Banks hit 40 or more home runs five times, including four straight seasons from 1957 to 1960. The Hall-of-Famer drove in 100 or more runs eight times, including 1969, when he was 38 years old. His 512 home runs are second-most in team history behind only Sammy Sosa.
Ernie was also the Cubs first African-American player when he debuted in 1953. He is famous for always staying positive. “I’s a beautiful day for a ballgame, let’s play 2”, was just one of his many famous quotes. Ernie passed away in January 2015, just a year before the Cubs would finally break their World Series curse, and as a Cubs fan, it just doesn’t seem fair that he was taken before he got to see that happen.
See? This wasn’t a 1 candidate race after all. I THINK I hit all the candidates this time, but I’m sure someone out there will come up with someone I overlooked. Which is fine. I love feedback. I doubt I’m going to get an argument on the final decision, though.
Tune in next week for when we will fill out our infield with the naming of a third baseman.