Admit it — Albert Pujols looks weird in blue, and wearing No. 55. He spent 20 seasons with teams whose primary color is red, the Cardinals and Angels, and when his career ends — likely sometime later this summer — his time with the Dodgers will be an afterthought, although “LOS ANGELES N.L.” will be dutifully inscribed on his Hall of Fame plaque.
This sort of thing happens for a lot of future Hall of Famers. Among others, Steve Carlton and Ken Griffey Jr. spent a bit of time as White Sox, though if you blinked you probably missed that.
Here are 5 future Hall of Famers who spent a little bit of their careers with the Chicago Cubs, though they were far better known and remembered as members of other teams.
Robin Roberts, 1966
Roberts was best known as a member of the Phillies from 1948-61, helping lead them to a NL pennant in 1950 and making seven straight All-Star teams from 1950-56.
After he appeared to be done in Philadelphia, he put together three pretty good seasons for the Orioles, then a year and a half in Houston before the Astros let him go. The 1966 Cubs, the first of Leo Durocher’s teams, were trying anyone and everyone to try to salvage what eventually became a 103-loss season, so they signed Roberts July 13, 1966 after Houston released him.
Roberts was 39. At first, the results weren’t terrible; he put together five starts with a 3.89 ERA in 37 innings, including two complete games. But then he made four starts where he couldn’t get past the fourth inning, and after an ineffective relief appearance September 3, he didn’t pitch for them again.
What’s really interesting about Roberts is that his acquisition put FIVE future Hall of Famers on a team that lost 103 games. Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins were the others, and three times Roberts and Jenkins pitched in the same game. In fact, in this August 29 game vs. the Braves, won in 14 innings by the Cubs, NINE future Hall of Famers participated. In addition to the five Cubs, four future Hall of Famers played for Atlanta: Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Torre and Phil Niekro. By this time Jenkins had taken Roberts’ spot in the rotation, a spot he would keep for the next seven seasons.
Here’s Roberts as a Cub:
Richie Ashburn, 1960-61
Ashburn was another one of the “Whiz Kids” Phillies who went to the World Series in 1950. He had four All-Star seasons for the Phils and led the NL in BA twice and OBP three times there. But after a down year in 1959 at age 32, the Phillies swapped him to the Cubs for John Buzhardt, Al Dark and Jim Woods.
Ashburn had a great year for the Cubs in 1960, leading MLB with a .415 OBP and drawing 116 walks. That’s the most walks any Cub has had in a season since 1912 (!), tied by Sammy Sosa in 2001, and helped him to a 4.3 bWAR season that year, tied for 11th in the NL for a team that lost 94 games.
He had a down year in 1961 so the Cubs let him go in the expansion draft to the Mets, where he had another All-Star year, then retired and became a radio broadcaster for the Phillies until he died from a heart attack in September 1997.
In the end, the Cubs probably shouldn’t have made that deal. While Dark was at the end of his career and Woods never became anything, Buzhardt eventually wound up on the White Sox, where he put together several pretty good years.
Here’s Asburn as a Cub, getting a hit against the Giants in San Francisco June 1, 1960:
Monte Irvin, 1956
Irvin had starred in the Negro Leagues for several years, finally making his MLB debut for the Giants at age 30 in 1949. He led the NL in RBI in 1951, a 6.3 bWAR season that helped the Giants to their NL pennant, and he also played for them in the World Series in 1954.
The Cubs acquired him before the 1956 season in the Rule 5 draft. How was this so, for a player with seven years of MLB experience? The Giants had outrighted Irvin to their Triple-A affiliate, then in Minneapolis, after the 1955 season, and by the Rule 5 rules of the time, he was eligible to be selected, so the Cubs chose him.
He put together a good year in Chicago at age 37, hitting .271/.346/.460 with 15 home runs in 111 games, not that it mattered for a 94-loss Cubs team. After his playing career he scouted briefly for the Mets and then spent 16 years working as a special assistant in the Commissioner’s office.
Here’s Irvin as a Cub (right) with Hank Sauer and Ernie Banks at spring training in 1956:
Jimmie Foxx, 1942, 1944
Foxx had dominated the American League with the Athletics and Red Sox for more than 17 seasons when the Cubs acquired him on waivers in June 1942. By then the Cubs were more than three years from their last pennant and had posted losing seasons in 1940 and 1941 and were likely looking for a gate attraction, though it had been a couple of years since Foxx had produced at All-Star level.
The Tribune quoted then-Cubs GM Jim Gallagher on the acquisition:
“We need a wallop,” Gallagher explained, “and Foxx looks a good bet to supply it. Sure, we know he’s 34 and past his peak, but he’s still dangerous. We’ve got the best of the minor league sluggers with us and they’re not producing, altho [sic] we still have hopes. None of the teams is selling players who are in their prime. So, we jumped at the chance to get Jimmy, whom I’ve always admired for his spirit.”
He hit just .205/.282/.288 in 70 games for the Cubs with three home runs, then announced his retirement. The Cubs got him out of retirement for 15 more games in 1944, in which he went 1-for-20 as a player/coach, then he played one last year in Philadelphia — this time with the Phillies — in 1945, hitting much better at age 37: .268/.336/.420 with seven home runs in 89 games.
After his retirement he drifted around various jobs, largely because he had developed a drinking problem. He got back into baseball in 1952 as a manager of the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The manager character played by Tom Hanks in the film “A League of Her Own” is said to be loosely based on Foxx’s year in that league.
Foxx died far too young in 1967, aged 59, of a heart attack. He’s really a forgotten baseball superstar. For decades his 534 home runs ranked second only to Babe Ruth and even today, 75 years after his retirement, he’s still in the top 20 (19th).
Tony La Russa, 1973
This is kind of a cheat, as TLR is in the Hall as a manager, not a player.
But he did play one game as a Chicago Cub. You can read about that game in this article I wrote about it here last year, in which he scored the winning run in a walkoff game on Opening Day.