Sunday, June 2, 2013

“Throwback Thursday’s” 10 favorite Chicago Cubs since 1988.

June 2, 2013

With baseball in full swing, and having just done a Top 10 most exciting Chicago Bears since 1979 list, it was only right I did one for my beloved “north siders” in MLB. I was always a casual viewer of baseball as a young lad, growing up on the south side of Chicago. Some find it funny that I’m a Cubs fan and I tell people all the time that I’m a “Chicago” fan. I watched the White Sox but I was magnetized to the Cubs. I really started to pay attention fully, in 1988 (the year after Andre Dawson bashed 49 homeruns against National League pitching and won NL MVP). The magic of Cubs home games was undeniable back then and still is to this day. Anyone that’s ever been to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play will tell you it’s an experience like no other. They’ve had me since 1988 and here are my 10 favorite players since that time …
The guy coming in at # 10 made his Cubs pitching debut at the age of 20 back in 2001. Fans knew from the start that this kid could be a 20 game winner, if he could stay in the strike zone and locate his blazing fastball in different spots. He’d appear in 6 games, in 2001 (1 start), but his pitches were all over the place as he walked 8 batters in 7.2 innings. The Cubs knew they had something special in this hard throwing right hander from Venezuela and his fiery competitiveness would be both a gift and a curse as his temper would sometimes flare out of control. He’d go on to be staple in the Cubs starting rotation from 2003-2008 and led the league in wins with 16 in 2006. He was just as much fun to watch at the plate as he was on the mound. The switch hitting pitcher has 24 career homeruns to his credit and shows off his swing in the baseball card below. His temper wasn’t the only thing he had trouble “controlling” as he led the league in walks in 2006 and 2007. He would be rewarded handsomely by the Cubs, financially, but never lived up to the contract and ended up being traded to the Florida Marlins after the 2011 season. He is the talented yet volatile Carlos Zambrano.
The slick fielding first baseman coming in at # 9 made his Cubs debut back in 2004, after being acquired from the Marlins. This California native saw his defensive prowess earn him 2 Gold Gloves with the Cubbies in 2005 and 2007. His bat earned him the NL batting title in 2005 (hitting .335) and saw him finish 3rd in NL MVP voting that year. He made 2 All-Star Teams as a Cub (2005 and 2007) and was a threat in the middle of their batting order in his time in Chicago. He was a leader in the clubhouse and a respected teammate. Cub fans saluted him when he departed via trade to Atlanta in 2010 as he was a solid citizen in the community as well as an outstanding player. He Is the gentle giant Derrek Lee.
The # 8 Cub on this list was a critical addition to the ball club when they won the NL East in 1984. This hard throwing right hander arrived from Cleveland in an early season trade that same season and went a combined 20-6 as a starter. He went an impressive 16-1 for the Cubs that year and would win the NL Cy Young Award. The red head from Missouri, known simply as the “Red Baron”, went 82-65 in his 8 year run with the Cubs and led the NL in wins with 18 in 1987. The way he cuffed the ball behind his back before delivering to home plate was as signature as his full, bright red beard. He last pitched for the Cubbies in 1991 and is still a fan favorite. He is Rick Sutcliffe.
The Cub that climbs in at # 7 was a roller coaster of excitement, whether it was on the base paths or in the field. This Brooklyn native was the #1 overall player taken in the 1982 amateur draft and would make his Cub debut at shortstop during the 1985 season (playing in 74 games). He belted 17 homeruns (in 150 games) the following season and would go on to start at short for the Cubs for 9 more years. His throws to first base were legendary for their velocity and the way they made the first baseman’s glove “Pop”. He was always a threat to stretch a single to a double if the outfielder “lolly gagged”. His tremendous speed allowed him to steal 175 bases as a Cub and made him incredibly fun to watch. He is “Mr. Excitement” himself Shawon Dunston.
The # 6 Cub to check in generated as much excitement as one could as the #4 overall player taken in the 1995 amateur draft. This 6’5″ “fire-baller” from Texas drew comparisons to another famous hard throwing right hander from Texas (Roger Clemens) and he would not disappoint fans. He burst onto the scene in 1998 winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award and led the league in average strikeouts per 9 innings pitched (with 12.6) a feat he’d accomplish again in 2003 (11.3). He had Wrigley Field rocking when he struck out 20 Astros in one game, his rookie season. He led the NL in strikeouts (with 266) in 2003 and was an anchor in the starting rotation until shoulder injuries got the better of him. He would make a successful conversion to closer, once determined his shoulder could no longer handle the heavy innings of being a starter. He saved 34 games as the Cub closer in 2008 before moving on to pitch with the Indians and Yankees. He would re-sign with the Cubs in 2011 and struck out 57 batters in 51 innings pitched, as a reliever. He would in 2012 after pitching in just 10 games. He undoubtedly, at his bets, was magic and his fastball was as unhittable as his curve was mystifying. He is none other than Kerry Wood.
The Cub cracking the top five, at the # 5 spot, always showed promise and potential, even as an undrafted amateur free agent signed by the Texas Rangers back in 1985. This native of the Dominican Republic flashed a cannon in the outfield and homerun power, earlier in his career. He, like most young sluggers, had a problem laying off pitches and use to swing so hard and miss that his batting helmet would jump up and back down over his eyes. He’d end up on the North side by way of a trade with the cross town White Sox and made his Cub debut in 1992 (playing in 67 games). He’d come back the following season and crush 33 homeruns, drive in 93 runs and steal 36 bases (in 159 games). This started an epic run of 12 consecutive seasons (1993-2004) with 25 or more homeruns. His rocket arm in right field made him fun to watch in the field as well as at the plate, just as it did a legend before him. He won the NL MVP in 1998 and his homerun numbers were so outrageous that speculation arose about the use of performance enhancing drugs. In a 5 year period from 1998-2002 he smacked 49 homeruns or more (topping 50 once and 60 three times in that stretch). His signature “hop” after belting a homer had to make opposing pitchers furious. His run with the Cubs was historic as he banged out 545 homeruns in 13 seasons with the ball club. He packed Wrigley Field many a summer day and night and is none other than “Slammin” Sammy Sosa
The next Cub makes # 4 and he had an “Amazing” run with the North siders. This sweet swinging lefty was a career .308 hitter, in 13 years with the team. His defense at first base earned him 4 Gold Gloves and his overall play earned him 3 All-Star game appearances. His stroke was pure and he had a penchant for big hits. I was surprised he never eclipsed the 20 homerun mark in any season with the team. He might not have gone long a lot but he had a nose for the “2 bagger” cracking 456 career doubles with the Cubs (leading the NL with 51 in 1995). He was a fan favorite and even signed my glove for me after my 1st game at Wrigley Field back in 1989. I wonder what happened to that glove ? He was the ultimate professional and fielded his position with style and “Grace”. He is old blue eyes himself Mark Grace.
This leaves us with just three more names on the list. The thing about # 3 is when he signed as a free agent before the 1987 season many thought his better days were behind him. He responded to those that thought that by bashing the most homeruns (49) and driving in the most runs (137) of his career. Who knows what his career might have looked like, had he played his first 11 years on the soft, lush natural grass of Wrigley Field (81 games out the year) instead of the unforgiving, artificial surface in Montreal ? Though his knees weren’t what they use to be and he was no longer the stolen base threat of the past, this guy gave Cub fans much to cheer for. His compact, violent swing was as intimidating as his “hawk” like stare at opposing pitchers attempting to get him out. The crack of his bat sounded like thunder and he hit 21 or more homeruns for 6 consecutive seasons with the Cubs. Base runners were wise not to run on this man with a rifle for an arm in right field. He was a leader in the clubhouse and class personified. He walked quietly but carried a BIG stick. He is the “Hawk” Andre Dawson.
How my # 2 on the list was ever allowed to leave town in the first place is beyond me. This former 2nd round pick of the 1984 amateur draft made his pitching debut in 1986, as a 20 year old. As a full time starter in 1987 he went an unimpressive 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA and many wondered if he had the stuff to cut it on the major League level. He followed that disappointing season up with an 18-8 record, 3.18 ERA and make his first of 9 career All-Star appearances. This started a 5 year streak that saw the wiry built right hander win 15 or more games including 20 wins in 1992 (to land his first Cy Young Award). Foolishly, he was allowed to leave the North side via free agency to sign with the Braves at the age of only 27. This was as big of a mistake the Cubs since the Lou Brock trade to the Cardinals. The Cy Young won in 1992 by this “mad dog” was followed up by 3 more won consecutively from 1993-1995. His pin point control was masterful and his endurance was the stuff of legend (leading the NL in innings pitched 5 consecutive years from 1991-1995. he found his way back to the Cubs, in 2004, and won 16 games at the age of 38. He went 133-112 in 10 seasons as a Cub posting a 3.61 ERA during that span. He is loved to this day by Cub fans and is none other than the “Professor” himself Greg Maddux.
Now we get down to business. My # 1 Cub since 1988 won’t surprise many (well it shouldn’t anyway). I’ll give you a hint. It’s not Dwight Smith (who was one of my favorite Cubs back then but not Top 10 material) to the surprise of a few. I can hear the virtual “gasps” and “sighs” across the web. This guy here could easily be “Mr. Cub” of my generation and for the purpose of this list I guess he is. He was originally property of the Phillies by way of the 1978 amateur draft but arrived on the North side by way of a trade in 1982. He would help the Cubs win the NL East pennant in 1984 with a season that saw him rewarded as the NL MVP (batting .314 with 19 homeruns and a league leading 19 triples). He was the sweetest fielding second baseman of his generation was must see baseball when the Cubs were on TV. He averaged 30 homeruns a year from 1989-1992 and led the NL in homeruns in 1990 with 40. He belted 282 homeruns in 15 years for the Cubs and is regarded as one of the greats to field his position. he is the “Ryno” Ryne Sandberg.

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