There were plenty of Dunston images around, including baseball cards which I've used to illustrate other profiles. But this one seemed to me to capture Dunston's essence better than any other. This is a 1997 photo -- the baserunner, incidentally, is future Cub Gary Gaetti.
Profile by BCB reader Molechaser
Much like Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston had a career with the Cubs that neatly spanned the gap between the 1984 team remembered for the stellar play of Ryne Sandberg and the 1998 team dominated by the Sammy Sosa cult of personality. Of course, Sosa was already an everyday Cubs outfielder by the end of Ryno's career, but the long stretch between 1984 and 1998, with the sole high point of 1989, isn't memorable for much, and the memories of most casual Cubs fans (and even quite a few more rabid ones) tend to skip straight from one era to the other, without giving much thought to the years in between.
While the Cubs didn't have significant success during those years, they did generally keep Cubs fans coming to the ballpark. This was in no small part thanks to the efforts of Shawon Dunston. With his devoted following of fans, including one faithful guy who held up the "Shawon-O-Meter" (showing his rising and falling batting average) for several seasons in the bleachers, Dunston was one of the most visible pieces of a team whose losing ways could not keep them from captivating fans all over the country.
When he was drafted straight out of Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, New York in 1982 as the first overall pick (four picks ahead of Dwight Gooden), Shawon Donnell Dunston showed tremendous promise. He was drafted largely because he hit .790 his senior year, an absurd average that likely simply blew the scouts' minds. An incredible athlete with an absolute cannon for an arm, he was said to throw harder than any other baseball player, including all the pitchers. There were times, in fact, when it was suggested by some pundits that Dunston should try pitching due to his strong arm.
He was rushed through the minors and made his major-league debut on opening day 1985. At this point, he was not a competent fielder nor could he handle major league pitching, and he batted only .194 before being sent back down in mid-May. It was probably too much pressure for him to play as a starter, at age 22, for a defending division champion that was expected to repeat, though of course the Cubs failed to do so. Shawon was called back up in August, and he played better from that point on. Some people still cite Dunston as an example of how not to treat a talented and promising player making his way up through the minor leagues--the Cubs would later famously make the same mistake with Corey Patterson and will, hopefully, try to avoid making it with Felix Pie.
Dunston was far from a Hall of Fame-quality player, but he was extremely capable. He was an All-Star in both 1988 and 1990, and his performance in 1989 was instrumental in sending the Cubs to the NL Eastern Division title. As a batter, Dunston was slightly above-average (.269 career BA compared to a .268 adjusted league average). He was also a bit better than average at slugging (.416 career SLG compared to .411 league average).He was a fair bit worse than average in on-base percentage, though--he walked a respectable once every 29 at-bats, but he struck out once every 6 at-bats, and he racked up 1,000 strikeouts in his career. Despite his struggles getting on base, Cubs manager Jim Lefebvre placed Dunston in the lead-off spot in 1992--before he went down with a season-ending back injury, Dunston managed to hit .315, but he drew only 3 walks in 73 at-bats. While his batting was just average, Shawon Dunston was a good fielder. As a shortstop, his fielding percentage was above the league average for shortstops, and his range factor was significantly higher than the league average.
Shawon Dunston left Chicago after the 1995 season, departing as a free agent to the Giants, but he became a journeyman bench player, and he returned to the Cubs in 1997 before leaving again and playing for another four teams, mostly as an outfielder.
As a good-but-not-great player, Dunston was almost a personification of the late-1980's/early-1990's Cubs. He reflects what many fans still see as a mistake on the Cubs' management's part, the tendency to keep good players who were fan favorites rather than chasing better replacements. Still, as one of the last examples of good homegrown talent in a position player, Dunston may be a better example of some good habits the 21st-century Cubs have allowed to fall by the wayside.