First, credit where it’s due — I took this idea from our SB Nation colleagues over at Royals Review.
The premise is simple. MLB is going to have a 60-game season in 2020 (probably). There are plenty of hitters in baseball history who weren’t good enough to have a full 162-game great season, but who hit well over a 60-game stretch. You might even remember some of these guys.
Just to make it clear: These are 60-game team stretches, during which the players in question might not have played in all 60 games.
Bob Speake, 1955
The Cubs signed Speake in 1948 out of high school. As was the case for many ballplayers in that era, he missed two full seasons (1952 and 1953) to the Korean War. He never hit all that well in the Cubs system, but with the team frantically looking for anyone who could hit even a little, he made the Opening Day roster in 1955, aged 24.
He did nothing but pinch hit until early May, then got some chances to start, and began hitting home runs in bunches, 10 of them in 20 games in May.
In the Cubs’ first 60 games of 1955, Speake hit .257/.350/.588 (.939 OPS) with six doubles, three triples and 11 home runs.
He hit just one more homer the rest of the season, spent the entire 1956 season in the minors and did hit 16 home runs with the team in 1957, after which he was traded to the Giants for Bobby Thomson, in yet another Cubs deal trying to recapture a fading star’s youth.
Al Heist, 1961
On April 15, Heist hit a walkoff grand slam — but after that, his numbers sunk. Over his next 40 games he had an OPS of .402 (four oh two, not a misprint).
He followed that with a very good two-month stretch. Over the Cubs’ next 60 games, June 22-August 26, Heist hit .315/.397/.488 (64-for-203) with 13 doubles, two triples and six home runs.
Truth be told, both of those things were freaks that can be better understood by noting that Heist had spent 11 years in the minor leagues before finally making the majors in 1960 with the Cubs, aged 32. After that 60-game stretch in ‘61 he resumed mediocre play and was selected by Houston in the expansion draft.
Adolfo Phillips, 1967
I’ve noted here previously Phillips’ great doubleheader against the Mets June 11, when he went 6-for-11 and hit four home runs. But that was only a part of a great 60-game stretch for Phillips (May 12-July 13) in which he hit .314/.405/.598 (53-for-169) with 11 doubles and 11 stolen bases.
The stolen bases are what got people chanting, “Olé! Olé!” at the Panamanian-born Phillips, who became a fan favorite. Keep in mind that over the 20 previous years, only 21 Cubs had stolen 11 or more bases... in an entire season. Phillips did it in two months.
Injuries and Leo Durocher ruined Phillips, who was eventually traded to the Expos.
But for a while in 1967, he played at All-Star level.
Steve Ontiveros, 1977
In today’s MLB, Ontiveros would likely have been a successful leadoff man. He had a career OBP of .365 and rarely struck out.
But the Cubs tried to make him into a power hitter and in that, he failed pretty miserably.
And in early 1977, when the Cubs were making a run toward first place, Ontiveros had himself a great run. From May 6-July 8 he hit .332/.417/.476 (62-for-187) with 27 walks in 55 games.
A .417 OBP. If only Herman Franks had put him in the leadoff spot. His .390 OBP for the season ranked eighth in the National League. But he had no speed — he stole five bases in 11 attempts in his career — and so in that “speedy leadoff man” era no one thought to make use of the one thing he did well, get on base.
Jerry Martin, 1979
Martin had been a decent part-time player with the Phillies when the Cubs acquired him as part of an eight-player deal in February 1979.
He really wasn’t a very good outfielder (-4.0 career defensive bWAR), but was forced to play center field because the Cubs had Dave Kingman in left.
Martin struggled with the bat early, too, but took off on a very good two-month run starting May 15. From then through July 21: 59 games, .320/.384/.551 (72-for-225) with 17 doubles, a triple and 11 home runs. He faded after that, as did the team, but did wind up hitting 42 home runs in 291 games for the Cubs in 1979 and 1980 before he was traded to the Giants for no one of significance.
Scott Servais, 1995
The Cubs acquired Servais and Luis Gonzalez from the Astros for Rick Wilkins in June 1995 and Servais immediately started paying dividends.
In the Cubs’ first 60 games after he was acquired, Servais hit .318/.406/.673 (35-for-110) with nine doubles and 10 home runs. You’ll note the lower number of at-bats than for some of the previous players in this list — Servais played in just 34 of those 60 games. But that’s a pretty good run, especially for a catcher.
Servais had his best years as a Cub, hitting 36 home runs in 416 games from 1995-98 and posting 3.5 bWAR. He left the Cubs after 1998 as a free agent.
Mickey Morandini, 1998
Here’s another player of modest offensive skill who had a good two-month run in his first year as a Cub, after he was acquired from the Phillies in trade for Doug Glanville.
From April 30-July 5, the Mick hit .344/.435/.476 (73-for-212) in 56 games, with 13 doubles, three triples and three home runs.
As you know if you watched him in his two years as a Cub, he wasn’t nearly that good a hitter. Overall in two seasons as a Cub: .272/.354/.360. He was a pretty good defensive player, though.
Rondell White, 2001
White could have had a great career if he could have stayed healthy. In 15 big-league seasons he played 150+ games once, and over 100 games just five other times.
The Cubs caught lightning in a bottle from White, briefly, in the only full year he played on the North Side. From May 23-July 13 White hit .385/.434/.721 (40-for-104) with eight doubles and nine home runs.
That’s a 60-game stretch for the Cubs, but White played in only 30 of them due to injuries, and at the end of it he got hurt again and was out until September.
Mark Bellhorn, 2002
I’ve always been mystified why this guy didn’t have a better career. He could play multiple positions, had good on-base skills and power... kind of an earlier version of Ben Zobrist.
The Cubs got him from the Athletics for a minor leaguer before the 2002 season and after a good start, he really got rolling at the end of June. From June 30-September 2: .282/.392/.581 (64-for-227, 59 games) with 14 doubles, three triples and 16 home runs.
It looked like the Cubs would have a useful player for a long time, but in mid-2003 he was mired in an awful slump and they traded him to the Rockies for Jose Hernandez. He wound up as part of the “idiots” who won the World Series for the Red Sox in 2004.
Jacque Jones, 2007
The Cubs signed Jones as a free agent before the 2006 season and he put together a pretty good season (.285/.334/.499 with 27 home runs), not that it really mattered for a 96-loss team.
Jones got off to a terrible start in 2007 and was benched, but due to injuries he was pressed back into the starting lineup and over the final 57 games of the season he hit .344/.374/.490 (66-for-192) with 17 doubles, a triple and three home runs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Cubs might not have won the N.L. Central in 2007 without that performance.
So there are 10 guys who weren’t great Cubs players who nevertheless put together 60-game stretches where they played at All-Star or MVP level. Which 2020 Cubs could do that?