The Cubs don’t exactly have a storied history. More like they have several stories, some of which are storied, some of which are nightmarish, and many of which are the tedious tales of merely another boring losing year.
In 1945, Cubs’ fans, coming off yet another World Series appearance would likely have named a Mount Rushmore (with no limitations like ours) that included the gonfalon Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance trio and Adrian Constantine Anson, himself. The key drivers on a dynasty that produced history’s (then) winningest team, plus the titanic figure of the 19th Century game. (Race relations back then were a little different, and few were likely to decry the latter’s inclusion for his part in the drawing of the color line.)
Flash forward 70 years, and things looked quite different. No World Series appearances, a 100+ year championship drought. Goats, black cats, pennant race flameouts, and a thousand other humiliations beset the Second City ursine nine in the meantime. The heroes, though many had achieved precious little. Whose Mount Rushmore likenesses would better describe this time of aimless wandering? The greats of that supposedly cursed epoch who donned Cubbie blue? Or the College of Coaches?
Today, that little patch of the Black Hills would, perhaps, proudly display the proud faces of Theo Epstein, Kris Bryant, Joe Maddon, and Anthony Rizzo. Or whichever four Bruins felt right in the joyful hangover that accompanied the capture of the 2017 President’s Trophy.
But we have rules here, and many of the aforementioned fellows fail to meet them! We demand one thing and one thing only: loyalty. If you left the team, you’re not a real Cub. No stone-carved face for you! Loyalty and top performance. So two things, actually. Loyalty and top performance and lollypops. Yes, that’s three things, but nothing happens here with lollypops.
So who are the great bears of men who will cast their proud stares down from Mount Cubsmore?
Lets see, Cap Anson? Well, no, because he played for two teams in the National Association who weren’t the Cubs or their immediate predecessors the Chicago White Stockings. Ron Santo! No, he took a brief turn about the AL with the Southside squad. Oh, I know, Billy Williams! They guy never, ever missed a game for like 3,000 straight seasons. Uh, actually, he ended up with the A’s for a couple years. (Stump your friends with that one!) Ooh, ooh, Tinker to Evers to Chance who went to Cincy, to Boston, and to New York. Gotta be Mark Grace, right? Well, there was that little stint in the desert from ages 37 to 39. OK, OK, here are the actual guys who qualify for Cubsmore: Adolpho Phillips, Mike Harkey, Jerome Walton, and Mark Prior. No wait, wrong spreadsheet. (Hey, at least I didn’t include Ken Hubbs in that joke…oh, I just did.) Well, here we go….
Ernie Banks: Well, he is Mr. Cub after all. He has the record for homers by a Cub who didn’t play in the silly ball era, and because he always wanted to play two, the team made double the money. Banks and this next guy have almost exactly the same career value.
Stan Hack: The little remembered Hack was a wonderful leadoff hitter for the Cubs for a long time in the 1930s and 1940s. If he were a good fielder, he might well be in the Hall of Miller and Eric. It’s still possible that pay-by-play might prove him worthy of the honor, but it seems rather unlikely. Still, this guy is very much a member of the Hall of the Very Close to the Hall. If the team could have cloned Hack after Ron Santo left, they’d have won a lot more games and maybe even a playoff series or two.
Charlie Hollocher: This guy is virtually unknown today for his play, but was a fine shortstop of roughly All-Star caliber. That is, until the unrelenting pain from an undiagnosed intestinal disorder destroyed his sanity. He retired from baseball with 23 WAR’s worth of work behind him. Unfortunately what lay in front of him was much worse. Despondent and depressed by the unremitting agony in his gut, he eventually shot himself in the throat, ending his life at age 44.
Bill Lange: Here’s another hard-luck case, though of a different sort. Lange was very fast and a good centerfielder. He had a fine all-around game and was twenty-eight years old when, as Bill James tells it in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, Lange asked for a woman’s hand in marriage. But her father thought baseball an undignified means by which to support his daughter and the family to come. Thus did the institution of marriage rob the institution of baseball of a pretty good ballplayer. In the event, Lange rang up 23 WAR in 7 seasons, which, to put into perspective, would be worth at least $150 million on today’s free agent market.
Who are my personal favorite Cubbies of all time? The four guys I’d toss up on that mountainside? Carlos Zambrano for sure. Good, good pitcher with twenty-four career homers, and lots of cray-cray. I’m also a retro-fan of Hippo Vaughn. That whole double-no-no game with Fred Toney and all. Or a no-no-no-no if you prefer. Also, Doug Dascenzo, right? 64 OPS+, but a perfect ERA+ with zero runs allowed in 5 innings pitched. And finally, the hardest-luck great pitcher around, Rick Reuschel. He pitched amazingly well for amazingly bad Cubs teams whose horrible infield defense must have demoralized the sinker balling righty, and whose Friendly Confines punished the few mistake pitches he made. Actually, I would carve a special face on the other side of the mountain too: Mike Schmidt who would have hit 2,000 homers if he’d played his home games at Wrigley Field. Schmidt played 138 games in Chicago, batting 611 times. He crushed 50 roundtrippers and had an OPS over 1.000. That’s in a span of time when the National League notched a .729 OPS. In 1980 alone, he hit .447/.500/1.211 with 8 homers and 16 RBIs in 9 games. In fact, he had more total bases (46) than plate appearances (42).
Next time out, Miller will chisel the likenesses of the crosstown Pale Hose.