In 1982, the Chicago Cubs shipped Larry Bowa to the Phillies for Ivan DeJesus and a young Ryne Sandberg. Two years later, Ryne put up his MVP season and helped the Cubs to the NL East championship. Year after year Sandberg consistently exhibited stellar offense and excellent defense from second base, pulling in nine gold gloves, seven silver sluggers, and  ten all-star recognitions. By the mid nineties, he was a Wrigley mainstay and a lock for Hall of Fame enshrinement upon hanging up his cleats.

Sandberg retired in 1997, carrying a legacy as the one of the best second basemen of all time, with multiple records at his position and a reputation as man who played for the true love of the game. For all of those that support the Cubs, Ryno’s retirement was bittersweet. Cubs fans were united by the common belief that they had witnessed a remarkable career come to a close and thanked Ryne for his time. Shortly after, however, our gaze fell on an unfamiliar and unsettling sight: the gaping hole left at second base, with enormous cleats to fill. In the thirteen years to follow, the Cubs would fill the void with a number of players, but obviously none have reached the heights of Sandberg’s career. Here’s the breakdown of Cubs second basemen, starting in 1998

Mickey Morandini

Year     G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
1998   154 93 172 20  4  8  53 13 .296 .380 .385 .765  100
1999   144 60 110 18  5  4  37  6 .241 .319 .329 .648   67

Eric Young

Year     G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2000   153 98 180 40  2  6  47 54 .297 .367 .399 .766   97
2001   149 98 168 43  4  6  42 31 .279 .333 .393 .726   92

Mark Belhorn

Year     G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2002   146 86 115 24  4 27  56  7 .258 .374 .512 .886  133

Mark Grudzielanek

Year     G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2003   121 73 151 38  1  3  38  6 .314 .366 .416 .782  103
2004    81 32  79 12  1  6  23  1 .307 .347 .432 .779   98

Todd Walker

Year     G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2004   129 60 102 19  4 15  50  0 .274 .352 .468 .820  108
2005   110 50 121 25  3 12  40  1 .305 .355 .474 .829  112
2006    94 38  88 16  1  6  40  0 .277 .352 .390 .742   88

Mark DeRosa

Year     G   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2007   149  64 147 28  3 10  72  1 .293 .371 .420 .792  101
2008   149 103 144 30  3 21  87  6 .285 .376 .481 .857  117

Mike Fontenot

Year     G  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2009   135 38 89 22  2  9  43  4 .236 .301 .377 .677   73

Ryan Theriot

Year    G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2010   96 45 110 10  2  1  21 16 .284 .320 .327 .647   70

This crew didn’t play all of their games at second base, but more or less could be considered the starting second basemen for their respective years as Cubs. Others would pass quickly through the revolving door as well; utility players like Jerry Hairston Jr. and Bobby Hill put in 40-80 games when needed. Since the Sandberg Era, the Cubs mostly reaped the skills of guys who could hit for decent average, could score runs, and apparently liked to shoot the gaps (they averaged over 25 doubles per year). And the only player to stick around more than two years was Todd Walker, who was arguably consistent at best. The same could be said about the defensive capabilities of these eight players as well- nothing special, but they got the job done.

Once the bayou boys were shipped off to the West Coast in 2010, second base was left in the hands of Jeff Baker and newly acquired Blake DeWitt. Enter Darwin Barney and we have our 2011 trio. Baker is currently smashing lefties, and DeWitt might be the closest to an everyday player. Barney looks like he could collect some hits and runs, and is evolving on defense (ha). Will any of them ascend to parallel Sandberg’s career? Probably not. But could they surpass, whether individually or as a trifecta, the performances of the Cubs second basemen since Ryno’s departure? Let’s hope so.

Discussion Questions

  • Which previous Cubs second basemen do you think Barney, DeWitt, and Baker will mirror in performance in 2011?
  • Who will play second in 2012?
  • Who has been the best second basemen since Ryno’s reign?
  • How in blue blazes did Mark Bellhorn hit 27 home runs in 2002?
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