We have our pitching staff and our infield in place, now it’s time for the outfield. I am starting in center. Center field is considered the hardest outfield position, but don’t tell anyone who’s ever played right in Wrigley Field with the sun. Still, the center fielder is the captain of the outfield, charged with covering the most ground and having the hardest throw to the plate due to the mound. Oh you need to be able to hit too. Let’s see who made the cut, and who made the final cut. As usual, these are not in any particular order until the winner is declared.
Andy Pafko. “Handy Andy” batted .294 in nine seasons with the Cubs and was named a National League All-Star four years in a row. He twice drove in 100 or more runs, including a career-high 110 for the pennant-winning 1945 team. Pafko hit a career-best 36 home runs in 1950, a year in which he also batted .304 and drove in 92 runs.
Rick Monday. In five seasons on the North Side, Monday hit 20 or more homers three times, including a career-high 32 in 1976. Overall as a Cub, Monday hit .270 with an on-base percentage of .366 and an OPS of .826. His .996 fielding percentage in 1972 ranked best among all National League center fielders. But maybe Monday’s best-known play wasn’t even part of the game. In 1976 in Dodger Stadium, two protesters got onto the field and were about to set an American flag ablaze. In swooped Captain America and saved the flag. “What happened in my playing career will take care of itself,” said Monday. “The flag represents the rights and freedoms we all enjoy in this country.”
Bob Dernier. In his first season with the Cubs, Dernier won a Gold Glove and filled the role of leadoff man for the 1984 division-winners. In the playoff series against the Padres, Dernier hit a home run, stole two bases and had an on-base percentage of .409. Dernier stole 25 or more bases three years in a row as a Cub, including a career-high 45 in 1984. In the aforementioned 1984 season, Dernier and Ryne Sandberg were dubbed the “Daily Double” by Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray.
Corey Patterson. In 2004, his best all-around season as a Cub, Patterson achieved career highs in home runs (24), runs batted in (72), doubles (33) and stolen bases (32). He reached double digits in home runs and stolen bases four years in a row from 2002-2005 and led all National League outfielders in fielding percentage in 2004. Patterson was always regarded as potential that never panned out.
And the winner is….
Hack Wilson. Wilson led the National League in home runs four times in his six seasons as a Cub. He also drove in 100 or more runs five times. In 1930, he drove in 191 runs, a single-season record that still stands, and also slugged a career-best 56 home runs. In his only World Series appearance as a Cub in 1929, the Hall-of-Famer had eight hits in five games and batted .471 with an OPS of 1.160.
Center field is the anchor of the outfield. It’s kind of difficult to find defensive stats from Wilson’s era, but it was just too hard for me to turn down that kind of offensive production. Did I miss anybody? Trust me, I really had to resist temptation to not name Jose Cardinel, who was my first favorite Cub. Next week, left field. I bet you can guess who will be atop that list, but that doesn’t mean we won’t look at all the contenders.