Every once in a while, I see some player on another team and remember “Oh yeah, that guy used to be with the Cubs.” So I started to wondered how many players there were that I’ve totally forgot ever wore the blue.
There aren’t many since 2007, which is when I started to write about the Cubs minor league system here and I had to start semi-obsessively following the Cubs transaction wire. Plus, those names are fresher in my memory. But when I looked at the ten years or so before 2007, then some more names popped up. Some of them were Cubs minor leaguers who had a game or two in the majors before fading into obscurity. Those players didn’t interest me as much as the players who had long (or long-ish) major league careers whose stint with the Cubs had faded from my memory.
So here’s a list of players from 1995 to 2006 who played for the Cubs who you may have forgotten about. See how many of them you remember playing at Wrigley.
1996: Doug Jones
Jones had a long career as a closer in the major leagues and was famous for being a successful pitcher despite a fastball that was slower than a Molina running the bases with another Molina on his back. Jones had 303 career saves from 1992 to 2000, mostly with the Indians, Brewers and Astros. But two of those saves came with the Cubs in 1996. The Cubs signed him as a free agent before the 1996 season and released him in June of that season. He pitched in 13 games and had a 5.01 ERA, which was why the Cubs released him.
1999: Ray King
King’s career as a reliever stretched from 1999 to 2008, mostly with the Brewers and Cardinals, But he actually made his major league debut with the Cubs in May of 1999. The Cubs had gotten him in a swap of minor leaguers before the ‘99 season. He pitched 10⅔ innings for the Cubs in ten relief appearances and had an ERA of 5.91. The Cubs traded him to Milwaukee in April of 2000. He was much, much better for the Brewers and later the Cardinals.
2000: Willie Greene
I have to admit that there’s a personal reason that Greene and King are on this list. I moved to the West Coast in 1999 and that was a few years before MLB.tv went on the air. For the first time in a while, I couldn’t watch every Cubs game I wanted to on WGN for a few seasons.
Anyway, Greene had been the starting third baseman for the Reds in the late ‘90’s, which is where I remember him. He had a three solid seasons from ‘96 to ‘98, but was pretty bad (and probably injured) when he went to the Blue Jays as a free agent in 1999. He signed with the Cubs for the 2000 season and was just as bad, hitting .201/.289/.365 in 105 games. He never played again.
2003: Josh Paul
There aren’t many players on the playoff teams that I don’t remember, but Paul has escaped my memory. I do remember him as a backup catcher for the White Sox and Angels in a career that stretched from 1999 to 2007. I especially remember the horrible call against him on a dropped third strike that wasn’t in the 2005 ALCS that pretty much directly led to the White Sox making (and eventually winning) the World Series that year.
But between his stints with the White Sox and Angels, the Cubs signed Paul as backup catcher insurance mid-season in their 2003 playoff drive. He played most of the year with Iowa, but he did get into three games with the Cubs after the rosters expanded in September. He went 0 for 7 with three strikeouts and no walks.
2004-2005: Ben Grieve
For much of the 1990s, Ben Grieve was the future of baseball. The second pick in the 1994 draft by the A’s, Grieve had become the number-one prospect in all of baseball before the 1998 season according to Baseball America. (And they were pretty much the only people doing rankings back then.)
Grieve had made his major league debut earlier in 1997 and was pretty good as a 22-year-old in 1998, winning Rookie of the Year. He was never as good again, but he was still strong for Oakland in 1999 and 2000, hitting 27 and 28 home runs in those two seasons. But Billy Beane was the same wheeler-dealer back then that he is now and dealt Grieve to the Rays as part of a three-team deal that netted Oakland Johnny Damon, Cory Lidle and Mark Ellis.
Grieve continued to be just “good” for Tampa Bay and not the superstar we all thought he’d be in 1998. He was injured for most of 2003 and was never really the same afterwards. He signed as a free agent with the Brewers for 2004 and the Brewers traded him in a waiver deal to the Cubs on August 31, because the Cubs still thought they were going to the playoffs that year in August. He played in 15 games for the Cubs in September in 2004, almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter, and went 4 for 19 with two doubles and a home run.
Grieve spent most of 2005 with Iowa, but he played 23 games with the Cubs that year, mostly as a pinch-hitter again. He was 5 for 20 with five walks. He retired at the end of the year.
2005: Enrique Wilson
Wilson came up with the Indians in 1997 and I remember he had a typical nine-year career as a utility infielder with Cleveland, Pittsburgh and the Yankees. He just missed out on the Yankees’ World Championship run, joining them in 2001. He did get to play in two World Series with the Yankees in 2001 and 2003.
Wilson signed with the Orioles for the 2005 season and they released him after 20 games in the minors. I’m assuming he signed one of those deals where a team has to add a player to their major league roster by a certain date or release him. The Cubs signed him the next day. I don’t really know why, but it was probably because Nomar Garciaparra broke every bone in his body adjusting his batting gloves before every pitch. Wilson played 15 games with the Cubs and he hit .135/.240/.227 before the Cubs cried “uncle” and released him.
Wilson signed with the Red Sox the next year but he never played in the majors again after the Cubs released him. He did play in winter ball in the Dominican Republic through the 2010 season.