The Cubs are the oldest professional baseball team still in existence today. They played their first game in 1870 as the Chicago White Stockings – one year before the team eventually known as the Boston Braves got their start. The Cubs had a two-year hiatus in their early years, due to the Chicago Fire, but have continually existed longer than any team in the game. Their owner, William Hulbert, spearheaded the development of the National League in 1876. Their name transitioned to the Chicago Colts by 1890, they were sometimes referred to as the Chicago Orphans starting in 1898 (after the departure of long-time manager and captain “Cap” Anson), but they finally settled on the Chicago Cubs at the end of 1902. Their previous nickname of White Stockings was picked up by a crosstown team in the upstart American League in 1901.
This is one of the most enigmatic teams in baseball history. They have enjoyed some of the greatest success of any team in history – winning 6 of the first 10 National League pennants (the closest thing to a world championship back then); winning four NL pennants, and two World Series titles from 1906-1910 (the first team to accomplish either feat in baseball); and they won 116 games in 1906, setting what is still tied for the record for most wins in a season, and is the best win percentage in all of baseball history (.763). They were consistent NL pennant winners in the ’30’s, had winning teams in the ’80’s, and went to the playoffs four times from 1998-2008. But, they haven’t won a World Series title since 1908, haven’t been to the World Series since 1945, and have had long periods of mediocre-to-bad teams (some of their best players never even played in the postseason). Through all their ups and downs, though, the Cubs have had some all-time greats play for them. Here are the top 5:
5. Mordecai Brown (1904-1912, 1916) – “Three-Finger” Brown was the ace of the pitching staff that took the Cubs to four World Series appearances in a 5-year span, and two championships. This HOFer’s average full season in Chicago was a 23-10 record with a 1.72 ERA, and 0.98 WHIP. He ranks 2nd on Chicago’s all-time ERA list (1.80), 2nd in Wins (188), 5th in win pct. (.686), 1st in WHIP (0.998), and 1st in shutouts (48). The main reason I have him ranked this low, in spite of these impressive numbers, is that he played during what is considered the “deadball” era. It’s tough to compare guys’ ERA’s and such from this era with guys who faced more powerful hitters.
4. Fergie Jenkins (’66-’73, ’82-’83) – Jenkins’ best years came in Chicago, where he won the Cy Young award in 1971, and also had three more top-3 finishes. He won 20 games or more six consecutive years from ’67-’72. He ranks 5th in Cubs history in Wins (167), 7th in WHIP (1.12 – among pitchers that pitched at least 1000 innings), 4th in K/9 (6.86), 1st in K’s (2038), 4th in shutouts (29), and 2nd in K/BB (3.40). But, in spite of all these accolades, this HOFer is one who never reached the postseason.
3. Ryne Sandberg (’82-’94, ’96-’97) – “Ryno” is arguably the greatest second baseman of all time. He possessed a rare combination of defensive prowess, speed on the base paths, and the ability to hit for power at the plate. In his 15 seasons in Chicago, he won the MVP in ’84, had two more top-5 finishes, won 9 consecutive Gold Gloves, and had 10 consecutive All-Star game appearances. When he hit 40 home runs in 1990, he became the first player in baseball history to have a 40 HR season, and a 50 SB season (’85) at any time in their career (a feat matched only by Barry Bonds in ’90 [52 SB] & ’93 [46 HR]). That same season, he also set the MLB record for most consecutive errorless games at 2B (123) – a streak that still stood as the NL record until last year, when Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney went 141 games without an error. Sandberg ranks 3rd on the Cubs’ all-time list in runs scored (1316), 4th in hits (2385), 4th in doubles (403), 5th in HR (282 – holding the All-Time record at second base when he retired), 7th in RBI (1061), 4th in Stolen Bases (344), and 6th in runs created (1342).
2. Cap Anson (1876-1897) – Adrian Constantine Anson was a staple for more than 20 years in Chicago. He was a part of the team at the beginning of the National League. He functioned as a player/manager for most of that time, leading the White Stockings to 5 pennants from 1880-1886. He was a career .344 hitter, who led the league in RBI 7 times, and OPS twice. Had there been an MVP to win, he most definitely would have won in 1881, when he led the league in hitting (.399), RBI (82), and OPS (.952), leading Chicago to an impressive 67-17 record. He’s 3rd on the Cubs’ all-time list in batting (.331), 6th in OBP (.396), 1st in runs scored (1722), 1st in hits (3012), 1st in doubles (529), 2nd in triples (124), 1st in RBI (1880), 10th in stolen bases (247), 4th in adjusted OPS+ (141), and 1st in runs created (1611).
1. Ernie Banks (’53-’71) – “Mr. Cub” is not only the most identifiable Cub in history, he is easily the best player to come through their organization. He’s the only Cub to ever win multiple MVP’s (’58 & ’59 – and a case could be made that he deserved a 3rd straight one in ’60), he’s the only Cub to (legitimately) crack the 500-HR barrier, he’s one of just two Cubs to drive in 1500 runs, and one of just three Cubs to have over 2500 hits. An 11-time All-Star, Banks was also a first-ballot Hall of Famer – the only Cub to achieve this feat as well. Banks still holds the NL record for most HR’s by a shortstop, and from 1955-1960, he hit more home runs than anyone else in baseball (and that includes Mantle, Mays & Aaron!). And, while the early years of his career weren’t marked by stellar fielding, he worked so hard to improve his game that in 1959, he set the record for fewest errors in a season by a shortstop (12 – a record that has since been broken). On the Cubs’ all-time lists, Banks also ranks 5th in runs scored (1305), 1st in total bases (4706), 3rd in doubles (407), and 3rd in runs created (1512). Mr. Cub is known by this name for good reason.