The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time - #57 Bill Madlock

Profile by BCB reader Kegler

Of the five profiles I've written for Al, the only player I can say I have personal memories of having seen play - albeit fuzzy memories - is Bill Madlock. Unfortunately, those memories don't include him in a Cub cap.

I remember watching Madlock play in '79, and then throughout the early `80s, for Pittsburgh; thus, I remember seeing Bill in the ill-conceived black and yellow striped painter's cap the Pirates donned back in the day. As a child, I could never understand why the Pirate's caps were so strange and unique. Come to think of it, as an adult I don't understand it either, though I must admit a sort of perverse pleasure and approval of their willingness to think creatively, go against the grain, etc. But still, in the early `80s with the Pirates, Madlock's name was always mentioned with a bit of a grimace in my household, which is why I remember him so well.

I don't remember the three years Madlock spent as a Cub, taking over at 3B for our man Santo and taking over ably. Quite ably. It must have seemed that the Cubs were developing a thing for great third basemen, perhaps similar to the Bears' knack for always having a pretty darn good middle linebacker. Madlock hit .313/.374/.442 in his first year as a Cub, which was great considering it was the highest season-long average for a Cubs third basemen since 1945, even through the Santo years. I'd have taken that as carrying on the tradition established by Santo; however, looking back on where Madlock came from and, with the clarity of hindsight, where he was headed, I don't know if I can say it was worth it in the end. Actually, no. It definitely was not.

Bill Madlock was drafted by St. Louis in 1969, chose not to sign, then was drafted again by the Senators the next year. In 1973, he made his major league debut with the Texas Rangers. The following off season, with the departure of Mr. Santo, Cubs' brass knew we needed to fill a hole at 3B, a potentially big one, too. And the scouting reports on Madlock must have been mad indeed. He was 23, had only 77 major league at bats (hitting .351 with a .412 OBP), and he had shown no sign of power or speed or anything else that would mark him as a player you'd do just about anything to get. Yet, that's just what the Cubs must have thought. Either that, or someone in the organization just HAD to have Vic Harris, the other player sent to Chicago for only one of the greatest pitchers that ever played the game (and a player who is a lock for this here Top 100 Cubs list): Fergie.

Well, maybe the Cubs didn't want Jenkins' high salary, or his six straight seasons with 20+ wins, or his ability to pitch 15,000 innings a year, or.... One way or another, the Cubs gave up a Hall of Famer (don't worry, he came back to us to end his career as a burnt husk of the pitcher he once was, in accordance with Cubs' traditions) for Vic Harris (by the way, just because I know you're a curious reader: lifetime BA of .217 with a .287 OBP, which is actually HIGHER than his numbers with the Cubs, for which he played for two incomplete and horrific seasons) and our man Madlock.

Now don't get me wrong here. Bill Madlock was a solid hitter. His Cubs numbers bear that out: 1481 AB, 498 H, 31 HR, 202 RBI, .336/.396/.474. He won the NL batting title two years in a row, hitting .354 in '75 and .339 in '76. He was even the first player in major league history to win a pair of batting crowns with two different teams (Cubs and Pirates). That's no slouch, for sure. But then he was gone. Poof. And in '77, Steve Ontiveros was guarding the third base bag. (As a side note: Ontiveros hit .299/.390/.423 in '77, not bad, but he was out of baseball by 1980. Well, not really. He went and played six more years in Japan. As his baseball-reference.com sponsorship bar brags, Steve holds a ".312 lifetime [average] in Japan." He probably also holds a good spat of real estate in suburban Tokyo. Thanks for not much.

But seriously, my bitterness about a Cub occurrence over a quarter century ago, when I was a wee lad and had the faintest clue about, well, anything, is all in good fun. (Another note: I've been trying to explain to my wife for years how my bitterness and cynicism, especially toward the Cubs, is "fun" for me, but she's not buying it.) Ok, not really. But it wasn't Steve's fault. Once again, Cubs' brass lost another good one over money. Sorta. Old Phil Wrigley stated his case succinctly in 1977, when the Cubs decided to trade Madlock to San Fransisco, saying, "When these players are impossible to deal with, I'd rather let somebody else have them." And that was that.

At that time, Madlock was unhappy with the Cubs' contract offer and being, according to the team, "uncooperative." But the money issue was only a part of it this time. The larger and more pressing problem was Madlock's fiery and moody personality, which eventually earned him the nickname we all know: Mad Dog.

Madlock said and did a bunch of undesirable things during his Cub tenure. To note a few: in August of 1975, Madlock's profane tirade over a close call at first base got him both ejected and fined; on May 1, 1976, he was again ejected and fined for igniting a brawl between the Cubs and Giants (his future team, ironically) by charging the mound after being hit by a brushback pitch; and in August of the same year, he ripped on his teammates for not "protecting him" from opposing pitchers' brushback pitches, challenging Cubs' pitchers to get payback. Madlock said and did much more to raise the ire of teammates, opponents, and umpiring crews throughout his career, culminating once again on May 1 (What was it about May 1? Did Madlock despise spring and its promise of renewal? Did he have allergies that left him cranky?), this time in 1980, when Madlock was playing for those rascally, black and yellow banded Pirates. It was then that he shoved his glove into the face of Gerry Crawford, the game's home plate umpire. Again he was ejected and fined, but this time he was also suspended indefinitely (which, in the baseball world of 1980, was equal to 15 days). At that time, it was one of the largest punishments in baseball history.

But he wasn't the first hothead ever to play the game, nor will he be the last. And his short time in Chicago was pretty sweet for us fans. He might not've been the best defensive third basemen in the league, but winning the batting title two of three years while you're in town? Yes, please. Madlock was even the 1975 All-Star game co-MVP (with Jon Matlack, strangely enough). He also went six-for-six in a game against the hated Mets that summer. Don't worry, the Mets still won, natch.

Perhaps the most arresting piece of evidence for Madlock's hitting prowess and his placement on this list is that he still holds the club record for highest franchise batting average for players with over 400 games (.336). Riggs Stevenson is fractions behind him, but that's fine company to keep.

Bill Madlock had talent, a lot of it, and if things went differently, he could've been remembered as the natural successor to Santo and the second in a long line of stellar Cubs' third basemen. Ok, things would've had to go much differently for all that. Yet, I'll always know the Cubs had their answer to Santo's departure in the mid-`70s.

When I think back to those early memories of watching Madlock's absurdly sweet swing win him batting titles for those wacky inland Pirates, I can hear my Dad's voice behind me. I am seven years old; it's 1980, and on the TV Madlock is hitting the ball all over Wrigley. I'm sitting on the couch, understanding the game more and more each day, and my Dad is standing in the doorway, muttering with angry resolution, "And the Cubs let him go."

Bill Madlock's career stats at baseball-reference.com

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