The Cub Can Of Worms: Harry Chiti

BCB reader TheHawkRules last week made this post titled "The Worst In A Cubs Uniform" in which he discussed some of the most feeble players ever to don the blue pinstripes.

Well, this gave me an idea. Two years ago I did the Top 100 Cubs list -- TheHawkRules wondered if there could be a "bottom 25". I'm not going to attempt to rank the most rotten Cubs, because that wouldn't be fair to them, nor to our memories of them. Each of us has players we saw in our own experience who became hated, for different reasons at different times in Cub history.

What I'm going to do here this offseason is, occasionally, to take players who were either named in that post, or add a few of my own, and do a brief profile. Perhaps by gently reminding all of us of the horrors that preceded the present day, we can remember how good we have it now, and how we can, despite the devastating playoff failure, look forward to better things to come in the future. (Plus, we still have plenty of time for 2009 roster discussion -- it's not even free agent season yet!)

We're going to begin with Harry Chiti, who caught for the Cubs from 1950-1956 (with a two-year stint in the Army during the middle of that period, after he was drafted). First, have a look at this photo of Chiti, taken at New York's Polo Grounds in 1956:

What am I doing here?? via upload.wikimedia.org

The look on his face epitomizes, I think, the Cub teams of the 1950's. Confused. Drifting. Unsure. Chiti was only 23 in 1956, but the Cubs were about to give up on him. They signed him out of a Detroit high school in 1950, before he'd even turned 18, to what was termed a "substantial bonus". Starting in 1947, any player who signed for more than $4,000 (a great deal of money 61 years ago!) had to spend two full years on the major league roster or he'd be lost to waivers, sometimes playing little, if at all. And thus, Chiti was a Cub through 1952, playing in only three games in 1950 and nine in 1951. In '52, for the only Cub team that didn't have a losing record between 1946 and 1963, he hit .274/.305/.451 with five homers in 113 AB -- not too shabby.

Then he spent two years in the Army, and when he returned, he had a halfway decent year as (mostly) the starting catcher in '55 -- .231/.282/.352 with 11 HR. Those aren't great numbers from a 2008 perspective, but keep in mind the '50s were a lower-offense era, and that Chiti was 22 years old. You had to figure he'd get better. Many observers said he'd be "the next Gabby Hartnett" -- that, of course, was dreaming. Chiti's only resemblance to Hartnett was his physical build, 6-3, 225.

The Cubs, of course, took that as the opportunity to acquire a veteran -- Hobie Landrith, four years older -- to split duty. Landrith hit even worse -- .221/.307/.311 -- and Chiti just about matched him, hitting .212/.281/.340. This performance got him traded to the Yankees for Charlie Silvera, a 32-year-old backup who, despite having played for seven Yankee pennant winners, had exactly two World Series at-bats.

Thus were the Cubs of the '50s. Chiti never did play for the Yankees -- he got dumped to Kansas City in one of the myriad of sweetheart deals the Yankees made in those days, and eventually he wound up with the horrid 1962 expansion Mets. The story has been told for decades that Chiti was "traded for himself" -- the Mets got him from the Indians and then sent him back. It's not quite true -- both deals were for cash; the Mets bought him from Cleveland on April 26, 1962, and then sold him back to the Tribe on June 15 of that year after he had gone 8-for-41 (and had to compete again with Landrith for playing time). He never played in the majors again.

Harry's son Dom Chiti was a 2nd-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 1976 and was a longtime minor league coach and scout. He spent two years as the Texas Rangers' bullpen coach before being fired last August 2 -- as if a bullpen coach was the source of all the Rangers' woes last year.

As the offseason goes by, I'll post a number of these, as I noted, taking suggestions from the FanPost and adding some of my own. Hope you take them in the spirit in which I offer them.

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