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Today’s obscure Cub: Ron Dunn

The beginning of a series about guys you have probably never heard of.

What makes a player worth reporting on? During a season, he is relevant if he chips in during an important win. Perhaps he makes a key play in a clutch win against a division rival. Sometimes, we have no games to contemplate, and no expectations of any incoming. Off-beat writers have to divine a topic that is deep enough to provide articles for months. Obscure Cubs seem to have littered the roster through the years. Ron Dunn seems a fabulous starting point.

Dunn was a 1968 Orioles fifth-round pick in the June Draft. Set to go on a three-year World Series run, the Orioles front office was clicking rather well. That selection process netted a number of valid major-league talents, some of whom had Chicago service time.

Top pick Junior Kennedy would reach the Cubs, as would Bill Bonham, who went unsigned. Jesse Jefferson and Bill Stein would play for the white Sox. Virginia State's Al Bumbry went in Round 11, and was a bit comparable to Corey Patterson in value, if not how he got there.

Selected from Fresno's Hoover High School, Dan Boitano is the other MLB player than Dunn drafted directly from the school. The NFL's Henry Ellard attended Hoover, which is still in existence. Dunn's pro career began in the Northern League in Aberdeen, where he put up rather ordinary numbers. 1969 saw him in the Florida State League, mostly, with a brief call-up to the California League.

Dunn appeared a bit like the traditional middle infielder of the times. Defense-first, though that will never show on a stat sheet. As he aged, he grew into some power, which still happens. He never hit 20 at any stop in any season, though.

In 1969, 1970 and 1971, Dunn spent the season in the California League with Stockton. The term "blocked" comes to mind with Dunn. The Orioles wouldn't need much middle-infield help those three years, with Brooks Robinson, Dave Johnson, and Mark Belanger the starters. When Johnson moved on, Bobby Grich took his spot. The Orioles were very deep in the infielder in the time period. Dunn's two full seasons in Stockton saw an OPS in the .630 range both times. Given a promotion in 1972, Asheville was better than Dunn, so the Orioles did what teams would do. They sold his rights to the Cubs

Suddenly, Dunn was no longer blocked. In Midland, he hit .281 in a fractional season with eleven homers, and had a better path to MLB. He didn't do quite as well in Midland his second time around, but he was positioned for a big league spot as the club was going through a re-shuffle. Dunn played some for the big club a bit in both 1974 and 1975, before being with Triple-A Wichita only in 1976, his third season with the Aeros.

In Dunn's MLB debut, his draft-class partner Bill Bonham started and lost 2-0 to the Mets in an early September game. Dunn had half the hits, and Bill Madlock would pinch hit. In a 13-4 loss to Montreal a bit over a week later, Dunn would have four hits and two driven in.

In his first 1975 game, Dunn would have a pinch-hit RBI double to begin a comeback in the third game of the season. Oddly, it was against former Orioles All-Star Dave McNally. The Cubs trailed 3-1 when Dunn entered, and would win 5-3. Sadly, it wasn't Dunn's only flashback to his Baltimore seasons. The starting infield had become Madlock, Don Kessinger, and Manny Trillo. Starts were few.

The Cubs’ 1968 draft had two MLB talents. The main one was Oscar Gamble, who I've written about before. He was miscast as an emergency center fielder the next season, and traded with Dick Selma for Johnny Callison for 1970. Matt Alexander (second round) was traded to Oakland for Triple-A reliever Buddy Copeland, who was 4-10 with an ERA over five with Dunn and the 68-68 Aeros. Alexander was a key bench piece for the 1979 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates.

I imagine I'll look at more obscure Cubs as time permits. As the journey continues, note how many players upside were acquired by the Cubs, and consider why. The Cubs were rather hopeless for plenty of reasons. Toward the top of the reasons were a poor pipeline. After all, Dunn had a shot at a cup of coffee once acquired by the Cubs