Ultimate Cubs Lineup: Len Kasper
What if you were tasked with winning one — and only one — baseball game and you were responsible for putting together the lineup to get you that W?
Here’s the thing: You can only form the lineup from guys who have suited up for the Cubs.
That means you can select Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (who pitched for the Cubs from 1904-1912 and again in 1916) or Anthony Rizzo (who led the Cubs to end the 108-year World Series drought).
You can choose Hall of Famers, All-Stars, role players, whoever. You can prioritize power, contact, defense, intangibles or whatever you think is necessary to win this one imaginary game. You can even hit the pitcher 8th or anywhere you see fit in the lineup.
Since the Cubs are a National League team, we are forming the roster with no designated hitter. To add another wrinkle of strategy, you can select one reliever to come in after the starting pitcher and one player off the bench who could come into the game at any point.
So which 11 current or former Cubs would you choose to go to battle with in a must-win game?
Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper provides his take:
1. Rogers Hornsby – 2B
2. Kris Bryant – 3B
3. Billy Williams – LF
4. Hack Wilson – CF
5. Sammy Sosa – RF
6. Cap Anson – 1B
7. Ernie Banks – SS
8. Gabby Hartnett – C
9. Greg Maddux – P
Reliever: Aroldis Chapman
Bench player: Kenny Lofton
I tried to not overthink this and pick THE BEST PLAYERS for each position. There are a couple exceptions possibly, but when in doubt, I did not consider handedness but simply, “Who is the best player at this spot.”
Also, I want to give Cubs historian Ed Hartig credit for some of the biographical information below. I sent my picks to Ed just to get his thoughts and aside from favoring Mordecai Brown over Maddux, he thought my list was strong.
HORNSBY — One of the greatest RH hitters of all-time, he hit .380 for the 1929 Cubs and had a career .434 on-base percentage. Enough said. Ryne Sandberg and Javier Báez were other choices I considered for 2B as well. Baez in fact, might have been a runner-up at more than one spot here — 2B/SS/UT.
BRYANT — The only current Cub in the lineup, he checks in with a career OPS+ of 136 and has already received just about every accolade possible in the game in merely 5 big league seasons. Ron Santo just missed the cut at 3B for me. Bill Madlock was in the “also receiving votes” category.
WILLIAMS — Hey, a left-handed bat in the lineup! Left-handed or right-handed or both-handed, Billy would have made my lineup no matter what. He gets the coveted 3rd spot in the order between Bryant and Hack Wilson. Recency bias also had “2019 second half Kyle Schwarber” and “2019 second half Nicholas Castellanos” giving me slight pause before settling on one of the franchise’s all-time greats.
WILSON — Another Hall of Famer who might have made the lineup based solely on his 1930 season — 56 home runs, an all-time single-season record 191 RBIs, 105 walks and a .723 (!!!) slugging percentage. Yeah, that will play.
SOSA — 609 career homers, including 545 as a Cub make him a fine No. 5 guy in my batting order.
ANSON — Cap played his entire career prior to 1900, so this is in some ways a tiny leap of faith, but no reason to short-change the old, old old-timers here. In a whopping 27-year career, he hit a cool .334 with over 3,400 career hits. Easy choice. He was not a great glove man, which opens me up to a little second-guessing — Anthony Rizzo, Derrek Lee and Mark Grace were far superior glove men while also bringing lots of offensive value — but 3,400 hits don’t lie. If you score 10 runs, defense shouldn’t matter THAT much.
BANKS — Any lineup that has Ernie Banks batting 7th is pretty decent, no? I went with young Ernie here, the shortstop who sizzled in the back half of the 1950s. No Chicago NL lineup is complete without (LITERALLY) Mr. Cub.
HARTNETT — Gabby hit one of the most famous blasts in team history in the twilight hours, but his career went well beyond the “Homer in the Gloamin’.” I kinda dig my No. 8 hitter sporting a career .297/.370/.489 slashline (over 20 years!). He also played on a bunch of pennant winners on the North Side — 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 — so the big moment wasn’t foreign to him. Willson Contreras is a totally defensive pick here, but again, I erred on the side of the lengthy back of the baseball card to make this call.
MADDUX — In many ways, this was the toughest call of all, considering how many choices I had. The aforementioned Mordecai Brown, Pete Alexander, Fergie Jenkins, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and 2003 Mark Prior (among others) all deserved some conversation here. In the end, I went with my gut a bit and picked Maddux, who had an 8-year stretch from 1992 (his final season with the Cubs) to 1998 during which he went 127-53 with a 2.15 ERA, 56 complete games and 19 shutouts. He won 4 Cy Youngs and 7 Gold Gloves in this period as well. He also was pretty good at laying down a bunt at the plate.
CHAPMAN — This one is all about dominance and the idea of winning ONE GAME. Bruce Sutter and Lee Smith are the first Cubs you think of here, but Chapman’s fastball and his career credentials make him a pretty safe choice.
LOFTON — Kenny was criminally dropped off the HOF ballot after a one-and-done in 2013 due to the less-than-5 percent rule (he got a putrid 3.2 percent of the votes). I am not claiming he’s a shoo-in, but he and Bernie Williams deserved at least some real discussion on their merits. I like him as my bench player because he was a left-handed bat who took walks and stole bases and he was a multiple Gold Glove outfielder. He’s the kind of player who could win a tight game in myriad ways.
My group includes 7 Hall of Famers (out of 11 players total), plus 3 who also managed — Hornsby, Anson and Hartnett.
I will put this lineup against any and all comers…any day of the week.
Be sure to check out all of our Ultimate Cubs Lineups!