Profile by BCB reader Dan
Back in September when Al passed out the assignments for this project, I was given three players - and I'd only heard of two of them. Granted, all three were before my time, although I am on the cusp of 40. Thus far, I've learned about one of the greatest left-handers the Cubs have ever had (Dick Ellsworth), and another project includes the best Cub pitcher that I'd never heard of, but I was and am familiar with Randy Hundley's place in Cubs' lore. I knew about his son's success with the Mets, and was pleased when the Cubs signed Todd Hundley as a free agent after the 2000 season. We all know how that turned out!
This project pertains to the father, Randy: one of the most revered catchers in the long and often painful history of the franchise. Why would you consider someone with a career .236 batting average as one of the greatest Cubs ever? Is Rick Wrona going to show up on this list? How about Hector
Valenzuela Villanueva? Unlikely. I suspect we'll see Gabby Hartnett somewhere along the line -- and somewhere close to the top, too.
So why is Randy Hundley here amongst these other great Cubs? Two words: durability and defense.
Cecil Randolph Hundley was born in Martinsville, Virginia on June 1, 1942. Originally signed by the San Francisco Giants in 1960, Randy reached the majors for the first time in 1964 (struck out in his only at-bat) and again in 1965 (15 AB). Randy caught his first major league game for the Giants in 1965 and then, in what was one of the greatest deals in Cub history, Randy was traded to the Cubs along with pitcher Bill Hands for Lindy McDaniel and Don Landrum on December 2, 1965. Hands went on to become a 20-game winner a few years later, while Hundley quickly established himself as one of the best defensive catchers in the majors.
The Cubs put Randy to work right away behind the plate. He was the opening day catcher for the 1966 season (ironically, against the Giants), and went 1 for 3 at the plate in a 9-1 Cubs loss. Randy ended up catching 149 games in his first full major league season, and upped those totals the following three years. Hundley set a ML record (which still stands) in 1968 with 160 appearances behind the plate and caught more than 90% of all Cub games from 1966-1969. That's the durability.
Defensively, Hundley was one of the best ever; a career .990 fielding percentage and a NL Gold Glove in 1967 when he committed only 4 errors - also a NL record for catchers. Hundley was, in fact, the last NL catcher to win a Gold Glove other than this guy for the next 10 years. Hundley's prowess behind the plate also earned him an All-Star selection in 1969.
To assist his defensive skills, Hundley helped to popularize a new hinged mitt that allowed for a one-handed catching style and protected his throwing hand. Well liked by his pitchers, he was an excellent in-game field general and was praised by Ferguson Jenkins with the following: "Having (Randy) Hundley catch for you was like sitting down to a steak dinner with a steak knife. Without Hundley, all you had was a fork."
Hundley's reign as an iron-man catcher ended in the top of the 6th inning on April 21, 1970 in a play at the plate when he collided with Cardinals first baseman Carl Taylor. Taylor was out on the play, but Randy's left knee tore, and he was out for nearly three months. 1971 wasn't any better. Hundley severely sprained his right knee during spring training and only played nine games during the season before having surgery. Randy came back strong in 1972 and 1973, catching a total of 235 games over two seasons with a .994 fielding percentage, but his batting average - never stellar - had slipped to .226, and he was traded to the Minnesota Twins on December 6, 1973 for catcher George Mitterwald.
Randy muddled through a couple of seasons with the Twins and San Diego Padres before returning for one last hurrah with the Cubs in 1976. Relegated to a backup role behind young Steve Swisher and the aforementioned Mitterwald, Hundley caught only 11 games during the 1976 and 1977 seasons, and then was released by the Cubs on October 12, 1977.
Since he retired, Randy has created and still runs baseball fantasy camps, which have become extremely popular; Randy's, featuring many of his Cub teammates, were the first of their kind. He's also been a substitute broadcaster on WGN radio, filling in for Ron Santo on some of his health-related absences.