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Building The Worst Lineup In Chicago Cubs History

The worst years, by position, in Cubs annals.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel\Getty Images

There were a lot of criteria I could have looked at for this eight-man lineup. I could have simply chosen the lowest bWAR figures for any hitter in Cubs history, and picked the eight worst. But that would probably eliminate some positions, and I wanted a real lineup, one per position.

So here’s how these players were chosen: they had to qualify for the batting title in the season in question (before 1950, that was 100 games, from 1950-56 it was 2.6 at-bats per team game, or about 400 at-bats, and since 1957 3.1 plate appearances per game, which was 477 in the 154-game schedule, now 502 plate appearances), and have an OPS+ lower than 80. I searched all of Cubs history from 1901-2016.

The “winner” was the player with the lowest bWAR given these criteria, except for outfielders, explained below.

C: Clyde McCullough, 1941, 125 G, 463 PA, .227/.289/.323, 75 OPS+, 0.3 bWAR

You are reading that correctly. No catcher in Cubs history who’s qualified for the batting title has ever had a negative bWAR. McCullough was a decent receiver, though he couldn’t hit much, even in the low-offense 1940s. One of his claims to fame is that he played in the World Series for the Cubs (in 1945) without playing for them during the regular season. That, of course, was due to his World War II service.

1B: Charlie Grimm, 1933, 107 G, 413 PA, .247/.290/.320, 74 OPS+, 0.3 bWAR

Grimm was player-manager by this time, nearing the end of what was actually a pretty good playing career. It should be noted that he is the only first baseman in Cubs history to meet the criteria given.

2B: Eddie Miksis, 1953, 142 G, 625 PA, .251/.293/.343, 64 OPS+, -1.2 bWAR

Ah, here we are. Negative WAR territory, meaning (theoretically) that just about anyone from the minor leagues could have replaced Miksis and been better. Miksis was a decent fielder (though his reputation was marred by being part of the infamous “Miksis-to-Smalley-to-Addison-Street” double-play combination; most of that bad defense was provided by Roy Smalley), but he just couldn’t hit at all. Mickey Morandini’s 1999 season (67 OPS+) came in a close second, at -1.1 bWAR.

SS: Ronny Cedeno, 2006, 151 G, 572 PA, .245/.271/.339, 54 OPS+, -1.7 bWAR

You probably remember this season, and wish you didn’t. Cedeno actually posted a negative lifetime bWAR (-1.4) over 2,792 PA, a really awful number for that long a career. Dishonorable mention to Ivan de Jesus Sr., who, after four pretty good years as a Cub, put together a horrific 44 OPS+ year in strike-shortened 1981 (.194/.276/.233). He did, though, provide some excellent value to the Cubs in the subsequent offseason when he was traded for some guy named Sandberg.

3B: Don Hoak, 1956, 121 G, 479 PA, .215/.283/.311, 61 OPS+, 0.9 bWAR

Here’s one possible reason Hoak had this bad a season, quoting former big-league pitcher and author Jim Brosnan, a Hoak teammate:

“Don Hoak played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, a very good team, before he was traded to the Cubs, a very bad one,'' [Brosnan] remembered, from his home in suburban Chicago. ''It was hard for Hoak to relate. As far as he was concerned, he went right from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh without ever stopping in Chicago.

''He refused to accept that he was a Cub. He had nothing but obscene words for the Cubs and their organization; he even hated (former club owner P.K.) Wrigley.”

Hoak actually had a two-year stop in Cincinnati before heading to Pittsburgh, where he played for the Pirates in the 1960 World Series. He’d just come off a World Series appearance in Brooklyn when the Dodgers traded him, Russ Meyer and Walt Moryn to the Cubs for Don Elston and Randy Jackson. The Cubs accommodated Hoak’s hate by shipping him, Warren Hacker and Pete Whisenant to Cincinnati after the 1956 season for to the Cincinnati Redlegs for Ray Jablonski and Elmer Singleton.

The Cubs eventually got Elston back, and he had some good years in relief, and Moryn was a decent player. But overall, they probably shouldn’t have bothered acquiring Hoak in the first place.

For outfielders, I couldn’t find any who met the qualification, so I made it 400 plate appearances and got...

LF: Lee Walls, 1957, 117 G, 402 PA, .240/.292/.344, 72 OPS+, -0.8 bWAR

Walls was acquired from the Pirates May 1, 1957 and those are his numbers just with the Cubs. Overall he was even worse, as he hit .182/.250/.227 in 22 at-bats for the Bucs. The next year, though, he hit .304/.370/.493 with 24 home runs for the Cubs, which got him an All-Star nod. If they were smart they’d have traded him right then, because he declined the following year. He was eventually traded to the Reds for “the other” Frank Thomas.

CF: Bob Talbot, 1954, 114 G, 428 PA, .241/.274/.305, 51 OPS+, -1.8 bWAR

Talbot’s big-league career ended after this bad season, though he hung around in the minors until 1960. Though there’s no definitive proof of this, it’s possible Talbot was the first Cub to wear a batting helmet, as 1954 was the first year the Cubs wore them and Talbot was the leadoff man on Opening Day.

Corey Patterson’s 2005 season was second-worst at -1.1 bWAR

RF: Cliff Heathcote, 1923, 117 G, 423 PA, .249/.298/.308, 60 OPS+, -0.5 bWAR

Heathcote’s better claim to fame was being traded to the Cubs from the Cardinals between games of a doubleheader May 30, 1922 for Max Flack. The two players switched clubhouses and played for the opposite side in the second game. Heathcote’s 1925 season came in third on this list.

Jason Heyward’s 2016 season was fourth (70 OPS+, 1.5 bWAR) among right fielders using the criteria given. We all hope for better things from J-Hey in 2017.