It’s tough to stay positive about the Cubs at the moment. Thanks to a weak NL Central, they’re barely staying in the hunt, even though they can not seem to win a 3 game series against anyone. It’s times like this that us life long Cubs fans must close our eyes and let the humid Chicago breeze take us back to older days.
If you were born in the 80’s, you instantly had reason to be a Cubs fan. The Ryno, the Hawk, the pennant races- there was plenty to be excited about. But the Cubs history goes well beyond that. Yes, even further back than Ernie Banks & Billy Williams. As a matter of fact, right toward the end of the dead ball era, two players (among many, many others) came along who delivered particularly exciting seasons in Cubs’ uniforms.
Hack Wilson played 850 games, roughly two thirds of his career, with the Chicago Cubs. Of course, everyone should at least know his name, thanks to his memorable season in 1930, when he belted 56 home runs (an NL record until the Steroid Era) and tallied 191 RBI’s, which remains the Major League single season record. If the MVP were awarded in 1930, Wilson would have been an obvious shoo-in to receive the honor by a huge margin.
Hack was only 5’6”, but had a stocky 190 lb. build and roved center field from 1926 until 1931 with the Cubs. A career .307 hitter, Wilson led the NL in home runs four out of his six Cubs seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.
Gabby Hartnett, a lifetime .297 hitter, caught over 100 games for 12 years. A six time All Star from 1933-37, Hartnett was named the NL MVP in 1935 with 13 home runs, 91 RBI’s, and a stellar .344 BA in 116 games. He played 19 of his 20 professional seasons with the Cubs, amassing over 1900 hits, almost 400 doubles, and 236 career homeruns.
What solidified Hartnett as an elite player was his strong defense. With a career .987 fielding percentage, including an unbelievable .996 mark as catcher in 1934 and 1937, Hartnett also frequently led the league in runners caught stealing, throwing out 54% of attempting base thieves on average.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous “Homer in the Gloamin”- a shot hit by Hartnett into the left field bleachers against the division leading Pirates on September 28, 1938. Hartnett connected while down 0-2 in the bottom of the ninth, as darkening conditions threatened to render the game meaningless*. According to Gabby, the player/manager at the time: “A lot of people have told me they didn’t know the ball was in the bleachers. Well, I did- maybe I was the only one in the park who did. I knew the minute I hit it…I don’t think I walked a step to the plate- I was carried in.” They Cubs would go on to overtake the Pirates and win the pennant, their fourth in ten years.
Hartnett was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.
Jimmy Ryan’s 2500 career hits and lifetime .306 is comparable to HOF inductees such as Jim O’Rourke (Ryan’s career 118 HR’s doubles O’Rourke’s total of 56) and surpasses George Kell in HR’s and hits by a considerable amount, while tying him in lifetime average. So why are they enshrined, while Ryan’s left out? The right fielder was equally effective on defense, playing numerous positions and even pitching in 24 games.
Ryan played 16 of his 18 pro seasons with the Cubs, from 1885-1900. He had one particularly exciting year in 1888, when he led the NL in Hits, 2B’s, HR’s, SLG., and TB’s (182/33/16/.515/283, respectively). Ryan hit for average and power, stole bases and drew walks. The leadoff hitter for the 1880’s dynasty fell one home run shy of being the first Cub to have over 2000 hits, 100 HR’s, and a .300+ BA, a feat that would not fully be accomplished until 1999, by a fella named Mark Grace. It’s a little late now, but if his campaign were revisited, would he have your vote?
Stan Hack is the slightly lesser known Cubs snub at 3B. Like Jimmy Ryan, Hack also amassed 16 impressive seasons with the Cubs, from 1932-1947. He was a fixture at third base as well as a very productive leadoff hitter, scoring over 100 runs seven times. Also like Ryan, Smilin’ Stan compiled over 2000 hits and maintained a .300+ career batting average, while posing a consistent threat on the base paths with 165 career stolen bases.
On defense, Stan Hack was a shining star for the Cubs at one of the toughest positions in the game. In 1942, he played 54 consecutive games without committing an error while posted at the hot corner, a record at the time. If gold gloves were awarded during the 30’s and 40’s, Hack’s fielding stats indicate that he would have been honored at least four times, which would have matched his All Star appearances.
To further the case, Stan Hack batted .348 over four World Series. He may never have had a truly breakout season, but his consistency gives him a strong case to join the legion of legends. And yet he has only ever received 8 votes toward the Hall of Fame (8 more than Jimmy Ryan). Hack was undoubtedly an above average ballplayer, but was he one of the best?
All stats and excerpts courtesy of baseball-reference.com and Doug Myers’ encyclopedic Essential Cubs, published in 1999. A fantastic read and reference for any Cubs fan.
*According to Doug Myers in Essential Cubs, games that were suspended due to darkness or rain during that time period were played all over again as part of a double header the next day, making the original game meaningless.