Last Friday, I came across this tweet:
Put together the most fun all-time Cubs lineup. Not necessarily the team that would win the most games, but most entertaining.— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) January 28, 2022
If Javy isn’t included in your lineup you are automatically disqualified.
Now that’s an... entertaining idea!
The problem with some of the lineups I saw on Twitter as replies or as quote tweets to this one is that they barely mentioned anyone who had played for the Cubs before 1980, except for Ernie Banks.
People! The Cubs franchise existed for nearly a century before 1980! There were tons of entertaining players who played on the North Side of Chicago before then, and of course since, and so I thought I’d take this challenge a bit further.
I’m not going to just make a starting lineup of entertaining Cubs, I’m going to make an entire 26-man active roster. I do agree with the tweet’s stance that Javier Báez has to be included, because who’s been more entertaining over the last decade or so than Javy, not just for the Cubs, but for baseball in general?
I’m approaching this with the idea that the player has to be “entertaining,” not just a great player, someone who perhaps made us laugh, or did fun things on the field that made him memorable. Some of these men, in fact, are legitimately NOT great players, but they remain in the minds of Cubs fans for, well, entertaining us. And you’ll see that some Cubs Hall of Famers like Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ryne Sandberg are not on this roster. Why? Because great as they were, I found others subjectively more “entertaining.”
You might have some of your own selections, and feel free to add them in the comments, but here are mine.
Hartnett was known for being fun-loving, even as a manager. I mean, just look at this pose!
C: Jody Davis
This grand slam against the Mets September 14, 1984 will always give me goosebumps:
1B: Charlie Grimm
He was known as “Jolly Cholly.” What more do you need for entertainment?
2B: Johnny Evers
The mutual antipathy between Evers and his keystone partner, [Joe] Tinker, was legendary. There was little love lost between them during the Cubs’ heyday, and they didn’t speak to each other off the field for decades. Some commentators dated their animosity to a highly publicized on-field brawl in 1905, but years later Evers told a different story. “One day early in 1907, he threw me a hard ball; it wasn’t any farther than from here to there,” Evers claimed, pointing to a lamp about 10 feet from where he sat. “It was a real hard ball, like a catcher throwing to second.” The throw bent back one of the fingers on Evers’ right hand. “I yelled to him, you so-and-so. He laughed. That’s the last word we had for – well, I just don’t know how long.” Whatever the reason for their bitterness, Evers and Tinker were an impeccable defensive tandem on the diamond. “Tinker and myself hated each other,” Evers admitted, “but we loved the Cubs. We wouldn’t fight for each other, but we’d come close to killing people for our team. That was one of the answers to the Cubs’ success.”
SS: Javier Báez
As noted above. Here are seven minutes worth of El Mago plays:
3B: Ron Santo
Santo was beloved by the time he passed away in 2010, mostly from his time as a broadcaster. He wasn’t always the most popular of players, but he could sure field his position (five Gold Gloves):
And then he entertained us all on WGN radio for 20 years.
No entertaining Cubs team could be complete without Sammy, who at times was infuriating with strikeouts, but there’s no doubt all the home runs pulled fans in, especially after the 1994-95 strike and during the 1998 home run race with Mark McGwire.
For Cardenal, see the photo at the top of this post. Are you not entertained? Beyond that, there are these oddities:
He became legendary for concocting strange excuses for an inability to play. In addition to his preference for skin-tight pants, there were bizarre eye injuries and nighttime distractions created by thoughtless crickets. In 1972, Cardenal claimed that he couldn’t see properly. The reason? He had woken up with his eyelid and his eyelashes stuck to his eyeball. “I woke up and my eye was swollen shut,” Cardenal explained to a reporter. “My eyelashes were stuck together. I couldn’t see, so I couldn’t play.”
King Kelly played for the the Chicago National League Ball Club from 1880-86, as such, there’s no video of him and no one alive ever saw him play. He’s in the Hall of Fame.
Mike “King” Kelly was professional baseball’s first matinee idol: the first ballplayer to “author” an autobiography, the first to have a hit song written about him, and the first to have a successful acting career outside the game. A handsome man with a full mustache and a head of red hair, Kelly through his fame helped change professional baseball from a pleasant diversion into America’s most popular sport. At his peak Kelly earned the highest salary in the game. He spent every cent he made, and died almost penniless less than a year after he played his last professional game.
In Slide, Kelly, Slide, a biography of Kelly, author Marty Appel quotes early baseball historian Maclean Kennedy about Kelly’s baseball prowess. Kennedy saw Kelly play, and wrote, “There was never a better or more brilliant player. Colorful beyond description, he was the light and the life of the game. … He was one of the quickest thinkers that ever took a signal. He originated more trick plays than all players put together. … As a drawing card, he was the greatest of his time. Fandom around the circuit always welcomed the Chicago team, with the great Anson and his lieutenant, King Kelly.”
Doesn’t sound like you can get more entertaining than that. The entire SABR bio linked above is worth reading.
Infield: Augie Ojeda
Listed at 5-9 (uh, probably not), Ojeda was a fan favorite for four seasons (2000-03) with the Cubs, though he played in only 148 games for the North Siders.
Infield: Mark DeRosa
Another fan favorite, DeRo played multiple infield and outfield positions for two Cubs NL Central champs in 2007 and 2008.
Outfield: Jay Johnstone
Johnstone was a free spirit, as shown in this famous baseball card photo from 1984:
There’s also a fun personal story I have about Johnstone that I told in the obituary I wrote about him when he passed away in 2020.
Outfield: Lou Novikoff
Novikoff was nicknamed “The Mad Russian,” though he was born and raised in California. His SABR bio has many entertaining stories; here’s one of them:
Immensely popular with Cubs fans, whom he called his “pals,” Novikoff had his own cheering section in the left-field stands at Wrigley Field. One of his biggest fans was Cubs owner Philip Wrigley. To discourage Novikoff from overthinking at the plate, Wrigley offered him $10 for each time he struck out swinging; he got nothing if he took a third strike. This “experiment” cost Wrigley $30. It is unknown whether it helped Novikoff’s hitting.
There’s more at the link. Novikoff played only four years with the Cubs, but had a long career in the Pacific Coast League and in 2015 was inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame.
Outfield: Tony Campana
Campana probably got more MLB time on less talent than just about anyone. He couldn’t really hit much, and the only reason he was even decent in center field was his speed — he didn’t take great routes to baseballs.
But man, was he fast. In 184 Cubs games in 2011 and 2012, he stole 54 bases in 59 attempts, an outstanding 91.5 percent success rate.
And on August 5, 2011 at Wrigley Field, he hit his one and only MLB home run:
I guarantee you we were entertained at the ballpark that day, and the Cubs even won the game 4-3.
Starting pitchers: Carlos Zambrano, Pat Malone, Hippo Vaughn, Jake Arrieta, Fergie Jenkins
Big Z in 2009, entertaining the crowd after what was probably a missed call:
Malone pitched for the Cubs from 1928-34, so pitched in two World Series for the team. In 1929 he was one of the best pitchers in the NL and had there been a Cy Young Award then, he likely would have won it. But then there’s this:
With his thunderous laugh, Malone was described as an “overgrown boy” and prankster who played practical jokes on everyone around him. Sportswriter Frank Graham called him “one of the most popular players ever to wear a Cubs uniform … [who] never let his fans down.” He was an acknowledged vocal clubhouse leader and supportive teammate. But Malone was also temperamental, upset easily by umpires or fans’ razzing, and needed gentle coaxing from a supportive manager. McCarthy tolerated Malone’s excesses, drinking, and occasional attention-grabbing headlines, such as his arrest for disorderly conduct at a South Side bar in 1930. General manager William Veeck even paid the expenses for Malone’s wife to accompany the team on road trips to chaperone Malone. But with McCarthy gone, Malone was seen as a “problem child” during the remainder of his Cubs tenure.
Entertaining? Sure. And there’s yet another reason the Cubs should never have fired Joe McCarthy as manager.
Vaughn, a Cub from 1913-21, was the best pitcher on the 1918 NL champion Cubs and was involved in the famed “double no-hitter” in 1917.
Arrieta makes this list for his two no-hitters and fantastic finish to the 2015 season. And this:
And Fergie... well, he’s Fergie and has to be part of this. For his great pitching, and also... for his bat-throwing onto the field in 1973. And for being a great team ambassador for many, many years.
Relief pitchers: Rod Beck, Mitch Williams, Jim Brosnan, Travis Wood, Kyle Farnsworth, Pedro Strop, Turk Wendell
Many of these pitchers should need no introduction. Beck and Williams had great years that ended in a Cubs postseason appearance, but perhaps the most entertaining thing Williams did on the field was a three-run homer he hit against the Mets in 1989:
Williams hadn’t batted before 1989 since 1984 when he was in Advanced-A ball... and he hits an opposite-field home run? “Holy cow!”, as Harry Caray would have said, and in fact did say in that clip. I wasn’t at this game; I worked evenings in those days and didn’t get to many night games. Mike Bojanowski, who was there, told me: “That was about as close as I’ve ever come to literally laughing hard enough to fall off the bench.”
There’s (somewhat poor quality) video of that homer!
In addition to being entertaining on the mound, when the Cubs signed Beck back in 2003 he famously lived in his RV behind the scoreboard at Principal Park in Des Moines when the team sent him to Iowa. He had an opt-out date and did in fact opt out. Too bad, as the ‘03 Cubs could have used him — he posted a 1.78 ERA, 1.019 WHIP and 20 saves in 20 opportunities for the Padres that year.
Kyle Farnsworth’s antics you know well, including this:
Plus, Farnsworth once kicked a fan. No, not a paying customer — one of those things that helps keep you cool:
Farnsworth was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained and bruised right knee Saturday, one day after he gave up six runs in the ninth inning to the Houston Astros. Farnsworth, who’d been struggling, threw his glove in the stands as he left the field following the six-run ninth that helped the Astros to a 15-7 victory.
Then, as he went back to the Cubs clubhouse, he kicked an electric fan that sits in the runway from the dugout, manager Dusty Baker said. Farnsworth was on crutches Saturday and declined comment.
Turk Wendell used to jump over the foul line when he entered and left the field, kind of quirky, and was the first Cubs player to wear No. 13 in 30 years, since Bill Faul wore it in 1966. Faul could have made this list too, as he was into self-hypnosis.
Pedro Strop makes this list because he’s such a sharp dresser — and clothing designer:
“I’m a fashion guy, I like fashion,” Strop told The Athletic on Wednesday. “There was a moment when I was thinking, like, what I wanna do, let’s say 10 to 15 years later. And then I got to a point where, OK, I want to try to see if I can have my own clothing line, and that’s how everything came together. It’s just starting right now and it’s going well, I expect it to be better in the next couple months.”
“Believe” by Strop, his eponymous clothing line, sells T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats that feature Strop’s personal emoji, the word “Believe” or just a cursive “B.” There are also some designs that reference the Dominican Republic, where Strop is from. Items range from $28 for a T-shirt to $65 for a sweatshirt. The line’s website says Strop hopes to inspire people with the “Believe” message that others can achieve their goals through passion and hard work.
If you are not familiar with Jim Brosnan, he pitched for the Cubs from 1954-58 and at the same time tried his hand at writing:
Around this time he began his writing career. He had become friendly with a writer for Sports Illustrated, who suggested that Brosnan should write about baseball. Brosnan had been keeping a diary off and on for years, but did not feel he’d done anything interesting yet. After his trade to the Cardinals, he sent Sports Illustrated an excerpt from his diary, and it ran in the July 21, 1958, issue. Brosnan’s intellect and writing ability were a revelation at a time when readers had been served vanilla depictions of their baseball heroes performing glorious deeds on the fields of battle. Brosnan drew himself and his teammates as complicated humans struggling to make their way.
After his sudden change of employers, he wrote of the charade of the player-management relationship. “[General manager John] Holland’s words,” Brosnan wrote, “‘I don’t know whether this is good news or bad news’… and ‘We appreciate all you’ve done for the organization,’ while probably well intentioned, were spoken like a poor actor at first rehearsal. The self-hypnosis about the Grand Nature of the Good American Game tends to delude the managers of baseball.” More practically, he had to tell his wife he was no longer playing for the team near their home. “My wife cried via long distance from Chicago… for ten minutes. I did, too … a little. Why me?”
The Cubs got Al Dark from the Cardinals in exchange for Brosnan. Dark was near the end of his career — he’d be a manager three years later — and Brosnan went on to become a key part of the Reds bullpen in their 1961 NL pennant season. Brosnan wrote two books, The Long Season and Pennant Race, both of which became best-sellers, sort of a prototype for Jim Bouton and his baseball books.
We’ll end this with some entertainment from Travis Wood:
One last note: I don’t think we could pick anyone to manage this team except Joe Maddon, perhaps the most entertaining manager in Cubs history. Also, this isn’t a bad team; it includes some Hall of Famers and other good players. Would it be a pennant winner? Maybe not, but it would do well and certainly... entertain us.
Thanks for indulging me in this effort. I hope I’ve put together a fun Cubs roster for you. Because, as we all know...