Some of the names on the Cubs Hall of Fame list immediately cause confusion. It’s hard to distinguish between the MLB Hall of Famers in the Cubs Hall that would be there regardless, and the ones that are there only because they’re in the MLB Hall of Fame. Ernie Banks is an obvious Cubs Hall of Famer whether he’s in Cooperstown or not. King Kelly? Rogers Hornsby? Andre Dawson? It gets less clear with some other names. I’ll go through the names that I don’t think belong in the Cubs Hall and try to explain how they got there and why they shouldn’t be.
Modern: Bill Buckner (126), Andre Dawson (71), Rick Sutcliffe (56)
I have been monkeying around with creating a list of the all-time greatest Cubs for about five years, and the thorn in my side since the beginning has been Andre Dawson. I love the Hawk, I think he’s a worthy member of Cooperstown, and I’m so glad he came to Chicago. In the beginning I considered making changes to my ranking process, just to get him higher, but there really wasn’t anything to be done. My process is based largely on Wins Above Replacement, and WAR does not look kindly on the Hawk’s time in Chicago. I regularly see him listed among the top twenty, even top ten greatest Cubs ever. I cannot see any objective, rational argument for this. He played only six seasons for the Cubs, and they weren’t even his six best seasons. With the Expos, he was a dynamic mix of power, speed, and defense. By the time he got to Chicago, only the power was left. Nevertheless, Dawson was always going to be in the Cubs Hall so I should probably get over it. The man is beloved, and all the arguments about OBP and zone rating are not going to change that. Sutcliffe is a similar case: popular player from the 80s, relatively short career (8 seasons, but two were heavily impacted by injury). Like Dawson with his MVP, he’s got a shiny Cy Young award that boosts his case. I don’t think he belongs, but there are more egregious examples later.
Speaking of which, Bill Buckner. What the heck. He was a good player, fine gentleman, great mustache. How in the world did he get included? Was it through the 80s Hall? The 90s Walk of Fame? The embarrassing photos he owns of Dallas Green? Just a very weird inclusion and I have no explanation for it. I understand the decision to retain all the players from previous iterations of the Cubs Hall, but this is one case where they should have just sort of forgotten to put his name on there. But he really did have a great mustache.
Bruce Sutter (38) and Lee Smith (42) are borderline but I don’t mind them.
Post-War: Don Kessinger (92), Glenn Beckert (84), Ken Holtzman (77), Hank Sauer (78), Randy Hundley (79)
I touched on this briefly in Part 1, but there was an obvious bias towards a particular era, maybe even one particular team, at some point during the development of the list. Here is the starting lineup of the 1969 Chicago Cubs:
Six of the hitters and two of the pitchers are in the Cubs Hall of Fame. Brothers and sisters, it should not be this way. I don’t know how these selections were made, but there was clearly a lack of objectivity. Banks, Santo, Williams, and Jenkins are your stars here, that’s enough. Maybe people were just very eager to honor the team that
blew a 17.5 game division lead almost made the playoffs.
Hank Sauer is another odd choice. A short career with an MVP, but no postseason success to point to. An extraneous selection for sure. The guy he replaced in right field, Bill Nicholson, is much more worthy.
Pre-War: Rogers Hornsby (81), Riggs Stephenson (61), Andy Pafko (49)
When there is anything close to an argument for putting Rogers Hornsby on your list, you jump at it. That must be the rationale. Hornsby played 4 seasons with the Cubs, and he was manager during 3 of those. He went to the World Series twice as a player, once as a manager. In 1929 he won MVP and had arguably the best season any Cub has ever had. I get it. But it was FOUR SEASONS. One was historic, one was very good, but the other two were big fat zeroes when he dealt with injuries. Plus, he’s already claimed by the St. Louis Cardinals. We don’t want that mojo.
Riggs Stephenson is the one case where the honor given to the great Cubs teams of the 20s and 30s went too far. Riggs is the all-time Cubs leader in batting average with .336, but his career was short and often hampered by injury. Worthy of remembrance, but not quite up to Hall of Fame standards.
Andy Pafko actually straddles the line between pre- and post-war (1943-1951). A very fine player, a bridge from the Hartnett/Hack era to the Banks era, but a bit of a stretch to make the Hall.
Tobacco cards: Bill Lange (76), Orval Overall (53), King Kelly (50), Heinie Zimmerman (43), Ed Reulbach (47)
Bill Lange is an interesting story. He was a star for the Cubs, on pace for something close to a Hall of Fame career, but he fell in love with a girl. That girl’s father didn’t like the idea of his daughter marrying some low-class baseball player (they weren’t exactly millionaires back then), so he retired from the game and became a successful businessman. If he had remained a Cub, it’s possible he would have still been there when they won their first World Series in 1907. Anyway, not real sure why he’s here and Bill Hutchinson isn’t. King Kelly is another colorful 19th century figure, one of the early stars of baseball. He split his career between Chicago and Boston and is probably on the list because of his Cooperstown credentials.
Reulbach, Zimmerman, and Overall are riding the coattails of Tinker, Evers, and Chance. Valuable contributors to those two World Series winning teams, but their careers don’t quite live up to the standards of the Cubs Hall. Even so, I absolutely love Orval Overall. I love his name and I love that old picture of him they used for his T205 Gold Border card. Overall was the greatest postseason pitcher the Cubs ever had, until a couple guys named Lester and Arrieta came along 108 years later.
One more player I’ll mention: John Clarkson (35). This is the second player on the list that doesn’t meet the Cubs’ stated minimum of 5 seasons. Unlike Hornsby, all of Clarkson’s 4 seasons with the Cubs were excellent. Over those 4 seasons, he pitched 1,730 innings. For comparison, in Carlos Zambrano’s 11-year career, he threw 1,826 innings.
Much like the MLB Hall of Fame, the Cubs Hall does a pretty good job recognizing the best of the best, but does include some confusing decisions. I suppose that makes it fun to talk about. If it fell to me to create a 42-man Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame, this would be my list, with Kyle Hendricks knocking on the door to make it 43:
|1||Ernie Banks||15||Charlie Root||29||Bob Rush|
|2||Cap Anson||16||Johnny Evers||30||Claude Passeau|
|3||Ron Santo||17||Anthony Rizzo||31||Ned Williamson|
|4||Ryne Sandberg||18||Billy Herman||32||Wildfire Schulte|
|5||Gabby Hartnett||19||Hippo Vaughn||33||Lon Warneke|
|6||Billy Williams||20||Phil Cavarretta||34||Johnny Kling|
|7||Fergie Jenkins||21||Greg Maddux||35||John Clarkson|
|8||Stan Hack||22||Wild Bill Hutchinson||36||Kerry Wood|
|9||Sammy Sosa||23||Carlos Zambrano||37||Bill Dahlen|
|10||Frank Chance||24||Pete Alexander||38||Bruce Sutter|
|11||Mordecai Brown||25||Jimmy Ryan||39||Bill Lee|
|12||Rick Reuschel||26||Clark Griffith||40||Kiki Cuyler|
|13||Mark Grace||27||Bill Nicholson||41||Hack Wilson|
|14||Joe Tinker||28||Kris Bryant||42||Lee Smith|
3 thoughts on “Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame Part 2: Who Doesn’t Belong?”
I believe Andy Pafko belongs in the Cubs Hall of Fame. He was voted the second best Centerfielder in the history of the Cubs by the fans. Not only was he a great player, and a fan favorite, but he was also a great representative of MLB. He also was great to the fans. I met him when I was 8 years old as he lived in my neighborhood in Chicago. I kept in contact with him until he passed away in 2013. You could not meet a nicer man.
At this point I have no problem with Pafko being in the Cubs Hall. I think there are some more worthy guys who aren’t in yet, but he was a great player and a fan favorite for a generation of fans and you are evidence of that. He’s certainly one of the top 50 Cubs ever. If there are things to critique about the Cubs Hall of Fame, Pafko is nowhere near the top of that list. And I love hearing about fans having real life interactions with these guys.
When I was a younger fan and less interested in baseball history, I had no idea Pafko had ever been a Cub. In my head, Pafko was a Brooklyn Dodger. Because of his 1952 Topps card and Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” in 1951. Don DeLillo wrote a novella about that game called “Pafko at the Wall.” So when I discovered Pafko spent most of his career — and the best part of his career — with the Cubs, it was quite a surprise.