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Forgotten Cubs Opening Day position players since 1980

There are some pretty obscure Cubs who have gotten the Opening Day nod.

Gary Scott
Getty Images

Earlier this week I posted this article, listing a few Cubs Opening Day starting pitchers who you might not have remembered getting that honor.

Well, the article proved pretty popular, so I thought I’d extend it by noting a few Opening Day position players you might not recall.

Let’s remember some guys!

1981: Ken Reitz

Reitz had been part of the Bruce Sutter trade with the Cardinals, the one that brought Leon Durham to the Cubs. He had a couple of decent seasons for St. Louis in the mid-1970s, but he rarely walked (.290 lifetime OBP) and by the time the Cubs got him, he was pretty much done.

Even so, he started 81 of the Cubs’ 106 games that year, perhaps an epitome of how bad that team was.

On Opening Day, though, he had one of his best days as a Cub: 3-for-3 with two doubles. The Cubs lost the game anyway to the Mets, 2-0.

Reitz was unconditionally released at the end of spring training in 1982.

1982: Ty Waller

Waller was the PTBNL in the Sutter deal. He played in just 17 games for the 1982 Cubs, spending most of the year at Triple-A Iowa.

But there he was, in the Opening Day lineup, batting eighth and playing center field. He went 0-for-3 in the 3-2 Cubs win over the Reds.

He would start just three more games for the Cubs, none after April 10. After the 1982 season the Cubs traded him to the White Sox for righthander Reggie Patterson. Later he worked in the Padres system for 19 years as a coach and instructor and was a major-league coach for the Athletics from 2007-15.

1991: Gary Scott

Here is the textbook example of why you don’t promote a guy to the big leagues just because he hit well in Spring Training.

Scott pounded the ball in Arizona, hitting .366 (30-for-82, nine doubles) and so the Cubs put him on the Opening Day roster even though he had played just 35 games above A ball. He was just 22 years old..

It showed. Totally overmatched by big-league pitching, Scott hit .165/.305/.241 (13-for-79) in 31 games before he spent the rest of the year at Triple-A Iowa, where he didn’t hit much either. They tried him for a few games in 1992 (including Opening Day again!), he hit even worse, and then the Cubs traded him to the Marlins at the end of the season (with Alex Arias) for Greg Hibbard.

Scott never played in the big leagues again. He had talent; if he hadn’t been mismanaged so poorly he might have had a decent big-league career. Here’s an article about Scott and his after-baseball life, written in 2012.

On Opening Day 1991, hitting eighth, Scott went 0-for-3 in a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals.

Fun fact: Scott played college ball at the same school as Matt Szczur, Villanova.

1992: Hector Villanueva

Every Cubs fan loved Hector for his rotund build. If the NL had had the DH in that era, he’d have been a perfect fit.

He had hit pretty well in a part-time role in 1991: .276/.346/.542 (53-for-192) with 13 home runs in 71 games. I’m honestly not quite sure why he got the OD nod in ‘92 — Rick Wilkins and Joe Girardi split most of the games that year at catcher.

Hector went 0-for-3 with a walk on Opening Day. The Cubs beat the Phillies 4-3.

1993: Candy Maldonado

Maldonado had some good power years for the Giants, Indians and Blue Jays before the Cubs signed him to a two-year, $3.3 million contract with a third-year option. (Pretty big money in those days!)

He was under pressure from the beginning, because the Cubs opted to sign him instead of retaining the popular Andre Dawson. They must not have been paying much attention to his defense, because he had negative bWAR defensively in 1992 with Toronto, despite putting up good offensive numbers (.272/.357/.462 with 20 home runs in 137 games).

He was a flop. He hit so poorly with the Cubs (.186/.260/.286, three home runs in 140 at-bats) that they traded him to Cleveland in August for his second stint with the Indians. The Cubs did get Glenallen Hill in that deal, so it wasn’t a total loss.

On Opening Day 1993, Maldonado, batting cleanup, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. The Braves, behind ex-Cub Greg Maddux, beat the Cubs 1-0.

1995: Scott Bullett

The Cubs had acquired Bullett in 1994 in a minor-league trade with the Pirates.

He had a good year at Iowa (.308/.334/.449, 27 stolen bases) and thus made the Opening Day roster in 1995. New manager Jim Riggleman slotted him into the OD lineup in left field, batting eighth.

Bullett went 0-for-2 before being lifted for Ozzie Timmons late in the game, which the Cubs won 7-1 over the Reds. He started off and on for a couple of months, but after June was strictly a bench player. It was more of the same in ‘96, when he played in 109 games but had only 177 plate appearances — teams don’t have room on rosters for guys like this now. He was released at the end of the 1996 season, but played in Taiwan, Japan and Mexico until 2006.

His biggest claim to fame as a Cub might have come in a game that didn’t count. Back in the day when teams sometimes played in-season exhibition games, the Cubs played one against their then-Southern League affiliate in Orlando in May 1996. The Cubs won 8-0 and Bullett hit a home run into the Citrus Bowl. Not IN the Citrus Bowl, but INTO the football stadium, which was adjacent to the then-minor league park in Orlando, Tinker Field.

1999: Benito Santiago

Santiago comes under the category of “That guy was a Cub?” He was signed to a one-year, $1.7 million deal before the ‘99 season, had a poor year (.249/.313/.377, 87-for-350, 0.8 bWAR) and moved on, playing six more years with the Reds, Giants, Royals and Pirates.

On Opening Day, he batted sixth and went 0-for-4 in a 4-2 loss to the Astros.

Santiago was perhaps the epitome of the 1999 Cubs, a team with high expectations after the ‘98 playoff season that wound up losing 95 games.