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This may all be difficult to remember, but once upon a time, the baseball players in this city were good. They were not only good, they were great. They were Hall of Famers, MVPs, legendary idols of the game, famed for smashing records, dominating opponents and making umpires deferential to their batting eye. With the 2013 Chicago teams playing something closely resembling baseball tonight, it’s not a bad time at all to look back over the years, and put together our ultimate Chicago Fantasy Baseball Team.
I relied almost exclusively on career stats to determine who would fill out the roster, though I cop to making a couple of picks that look beyond the numbers. These will be obvious and, like all of these choices, we will argue about them. A few quick notes about requirements: players had to have played at least 500 games for the Sox or Cubs, and had to have played at least 75% of their games at that position. So let’s go around the horn, shall we?
Catcher: Gabby Hartnett, Cubs
This one was one of the easiest calls to make. The only other Chicago player who could touch Hartnett’s numbers was Carlton Fisk, though his years with the White Sox weren’t as productive as Hartnett’s tenure on the Cubs. Hartnett has more homers than any backstop in Chicago history with 231, and his OPS of .860 is also tops. Fisk was a close second, and big ups to Sherm Lollar, for coming in third in the depth chart, and for being named Sherm.
First Base: Ernie Banks, Cubs
Of course he’s known better as a shortstop, but Banks actually played the majority of his games at first base, and while we love Paulie, no one is going to replace Banks at first. I know you think there’s already a glaring omission here, but we’ll get to Frank Thomas. Rounding out the depth chart: Frank Chance and Paul Konerko.
Second Base: Ryne Sandberg, Cubs
White Sox fans: Lower the dudgeon. Choosing between Sandberg and White Sox great Eddie Collins was a nearly impossible task. To be completely honest, Collins beats Sandberg in a number of categories, including OPS, batting average and OBP. But Sandberg is second all-time among second basemen for home runs, and while Collins was known for his speed, his 368 stolen bases as a White Sox doesn’t put him too far ahead of Sandberg’s 344 as a Cub. Obviously, Collins is second on the depth chart, and there’s no one close behind (Sorry, Ray Durham!).
Third Base: Ron Santo, Cubs
Far and away the best player on the hot corner, Santo played more games at the position, slugged more home runs, and really doesn’t face any competition for this spot. Robin Ventura had a good career for the Sox, as did Bill Melton, but neither of them touch Santo’s numbers. Shocker: Aramis Ramirez actually had the highest OPS of any qualifying player for this list. But no one’s going to be campaigning for Aramis’s induction.
Shortstop: Luke Appling, White Sox
Who do you think I was going to say, Shawon Dunston? Not even the beloved Luis Aparicio’s numbers approach the Hall of Famer Appling’s line. And the man played from age 23 to 43 for the Sox, making his one of the longest and most decorated of Chicago ballers.
Left Field: Shoeless Joe Jackson, White Sox
Minnie Minoso: I apologize. On raw numbers, this spot should probably go to Minnie, but if I’m putting together one lineup of the best players, I want Shoeless Joe in left. He batted .340, got on base at a .407 clip and slugged .499. Jackson’s career was obviously cut short, whereas Minnie had more than 5,000 at-bats for the Sox, but what Jackson was able to do during his time on the field puts him in the lead. Billy Williams fills out the depth chart.
Center Field: Hack Wilson, Cubs
A legend. A beast. One of the all-time great nicknames. Wilson’s career was relatively short, playing only 12 seasons, six of those with the Cubs. But his power was astronomical in the ’20s and ’30s, matched only by Babe Ruth (and eventually Jimmie Foxx). His 56 homers in 1930 was a National League record, and stayed that way until the 1998 slugfest between McGwire and Sosa. No depth chart here: Wilson stands alone.
Right Field: Sammy Sosa, Cubs
The shine is certainly off Sammy, after reportedly testing positive for steroids, and exploding a corked bat for all to see. But Sosa’s number are so outrageous, it’s impossible not to pick him for this spot. A Cubs-career .928 OPS is astonishing, and given that the next best belongs to Magglio Ordonez with .889, right field will likely always belong to Sammy.
Designated Hitter: Frank Thomas, White Sox
A .995 OPS. Nearly 450 homers. A .427 OBP. It may be a while before we realize this, but The Big Hurt may have been one of the greatest hitters we’ll ever see.
Starting Pitcher: Ed Walsh, White Sox
You could put Mordecai Brown in here, and I wouldn’t complain. Walsh and Brown have stunningly similar numbers. Walsh had an ERA of 1.80, dominating Brown’s 1.81. Both threw an ungodly number of complete games—249 for Walsh and 206 for Brown—and both approached 200 wins. But Walsh edges out Brown in almost every category, including longevity.
The closer role has changed so much over the years, making this a difficult one to pin down. My gut tells me Bobby Thigpen should get the nod, if for no other reason than the 57-save season. But Sutter is a Cy Young winner, and was consistently the best reliever in baseball for years. Also, apologies to Lee Smith and the pink soul-patch of Bobby Jenks.