The Cub Can Of Worms: Todd Hundley

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Todd Hundley. Born during the 1969 season in Virginia but raised in the Chicago area, graduate of Fremd High School in Palatine, son of one of the revered Cubs of 1969... and a guy who had hit 24 or more homers in four of the five seasons from 1996-2000 for the Mets and Dodgers (his 41 homers in 1996 is still the Mets' team record, tied by Carlos Beltran in 2006).

And the Cubs, losers of 97 games in 2000, had only 36-year-old Joe Girardi on the roster to catch (Jeff Reed, the other catcher in 2000, had retired at the end of the season).

I'd love to be ANYWHERE but here

via www.thediamondangle.com

So GM Andy MacPhail signed Hundley to a four-year, $24 million contract. For a catcher at Hundley's age at the time (turned 32 in May 2001), it might have been one too many years, but it didn't seem that much at the time, and the move was widely hailed by fans and media alike.

It started turning sour before Hundley played even one game in his hometown. Manager Don Baylor decided to start Girardi, now Hundley's backup, on Opening Day, claiming it was a better matchup against Montreal's Javier Vazquez, the scheduled visiting starter. (Sounds strange, I know: Girardi hit righthanded and Hundley was a switch-hitter, but that was Baylor for you. FWIW, Hundley was 1-for-8 vs. Vazquez in his career; Girardi was 3-for-10.) Hundley whined and complained, and then when he did play, he didn't hit. His highest average in 2001 was .213 -- and that was on April 26, when he was 10-for-47. He wound up hitting .187 with 12 homers in 79 games -- a decent power output, although he still had a Neifi-esque .374 slugging percentage. He was also miffed that Damon Buford, who had been a teammate of his with the 1995 Mets, wouldn't give up his #9 (Randy's number) so that Todd could wear it. Todd took #99 instead, but quickly switched to #9 when Buford was released on May 16, 2001. At one point he flipped off some fans at Wrigley Field and that, along with the poor performance, turned fans against him and he was routinely booed the rest of his time in Chicago.

The next year was just about as bad, and Todd did hit a little better: .211/.301/.421, but at one point gave an interview in which he said it was "too cold" to hit early in the season, thus giving rise to what some of us called the "Too List": too cold, then too wet, then too hot, then too early (Todd wasn't fond of all the day games)... after Baylor was fired, Hundley sat on the bench quite a bit, playing in only 47 games in the second half of the season. He hit his 200th career homer off ex-Cub Steve Trachsel on September 18, 2002, his final homer as a Cub. The Cubs lost the game anyway, 2-1.

Finally, Jim Hendry, who had replaced MacPhail as GM halfway through the 2002 season, found a way for Todd to contribute. He sent him and the two years remaining on his contract (and backup OF Chad Hermansen) to the Dodgers, who wanted to dump the contracts of Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros.

You know the rest of the story. Karros and Grudzielanek became key parts of the 2003 Cub NL Central champions, and Todd... well, he played in 21 games for the Dodgers, catching in only 10 of them, and sat out the 2004 season, the final year of the contract, with an injury.

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