Don Kessinger holds a special place for many fans of the Cubs in the '60s and '70s. The light-hitting shortstop was a member of the famous (infamous?) 1969 Cubs. That team sparked both fan devotion and cemented heartbreak for a full generation of Cub fans.
Kessinger played the first dozen seasons of his 16-year career with the Cubs. He debuted as a 21-year-old in 1964 with the proverbial cup of coffee: just a dozen at-bats in four games. He played in 106 games the following year, then was the Cubs' regular and, very durable (145+ games each season) shortstop for the next decade. For nine of those seasons, he played with Glenn Beckert as his keystone partner.
NOTE FROM AL: Erik gave me this space in this profile for my thoughts, since Kessinger was a regular when I was growing up with the Cubs in the 1960s and early 1970s. As noted below, his All-Star appearances gave an indication that he was seen at the time as one of the best shortstops in the game. What I think you have to remember, before you read the statistical lines that Erik will detail below, is that in that era, middle infielders -- shortstops and second basemen -- were not expected to be good hitters. Some -- for example, Dal Maxvill of the Cardinals and Mark Belanger of the Orioles -- were horrendous hitters, but played because they were defensive wizards, comparable, perhaps, to Darwin Barney. Though Kessinger made a fair number of errors every year, he made up for those miscues by ranking in the top five among N.L. shortstops in range factor eight times, leading the league in assists three times, and ranking in the top seven in the N.L. in defensive WAR four times between 1967 and 1972. Kessinger was a really good fielder. And that's what managers in that era expected from their shortstops. Now, back to Erik and the numbers.
Kessinger was a six-time All-Star and two-time winner of a Gold Glove. He finished his career with a slash line of .252/.314/.312 with 14 home runs and 527 RBI.
Sabermetrically, Kessinger was underwhelming. His Fangraphs page shows Kessinger had just two seasons of WAR higher than 1.5, with a career best 3.6 during that 1969 season (and another nice 3.1 in 1972). His value was driven almost entirely by his defense. Kessinger's OPS was over .660 just three times as a Cub, with a high of .698 (you can probably guess what year). His wRC+ reached a high of 89 (yep, that year) and frequently hovered in the 60s and 70s, which would be nice if it was a temperature. Don's primary offensive weakness was a nearly complete lack of power. His ISO was frequently below .060 and never climbed to .100.
Random stat that stood out and means little: Kessinger was intentionally walked 18 times in 1973. He never earned more than seven other intentional passes in any other season.
There are a couple things worth considering on Kessinger's behalf. Don played during a generally low offensive era. He also was a team player, frequently ranking in the top 10 in sacrifices.
So, how do fans of a certain age (which I mean with deference) view Kessinger? It's your turn to chime in as Don was winding up the last couple years of his career with the White Sox on the South Side when I was born.