Today, I begin a new series looking at Cubs history.
This one will be a bit different from the previous series. Instead of looking at “best” or “worst” games, or memorable walkoffs, this series is intended to give a moment in the sun to players you might have forgotten, guys who might have had only brief Cubs careers but had one big game during their tenure.
There will be one for each season from 2000 through 2019, covering the last 20 years of Cubs baseball, over the next 20 days.
Willie Greene should have been somebody. He was a No. 1 draft pick (18th overall) of the Pirates in 1989. Guys chosen after him in that round included Mo Vaughn, Chuck Knoblauch and Todd Jones, all of whom went on to have significant MLB careers.
Greene never played a game in the big leagues for the Pirates. He was sent to the Expos in 1990 along with Moises Alou and Scott Ruskin in a deal that brought Zane Smith to Pittsburgh. (There’s one reason the Pirates got really bad in the 1990s). He never played a game for the Expos in the big leagues, either; a year later he was traded to the Reds in a deal that brought John Wetteland to Montreal.
After four brief call-ups by the Reds from 1992-95, Greene had some decent years from 1996-98. His best year was 1997, when he hit .253/.354/.459 with 26 home runs. The next year he posted 2.4 bWAR split between the Reds and Orioles, to whom he was traded in August 1998 for Jeffrey Hammonds.
He spent 1999 in Toronto, missed a lot of time due to injury, and the Cubs signed him to a one-year deal before 2000 for $395,000, which was almost double the minimum salary for that year ($200,000).
Greene was only 28 and the Cubs hoped he might solve their third-base problem. But he reported late to spring training due to a hamstring injury, and that injury kept him out until late April.
In the fourth game he played for the Cubs, he had one of the best games of his career, going 4-for-4 with a home run and four RBI. The Cubs beat the Astros 11-1.
(And a rare look at “CubsNet,” which was what WGN called the games they produced for airing on WCIU in those years.)
The rest of that year? Not so good. After that big day Greene hit just .188/.279/.344 (54-for-288) with 68 strikeouts, though he did hit nine more homers.
The Cubs let him go to free agency after the 2000 season and he never played in the majors again, done at age 28. But he’ll always have that big game against the Astros to remember.