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Cubs' Top 5 third basemen: Bastian's take

@MLBastian
April 13, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Jordan Bastian's ranking of the top five third basemen in Cubs history. Next week: Shortstops.

Cubs' Top 5 rankings: Catcher | First base | Second base

1. Ron Santo, 1960-73
Key fact: 72.1 bWAR is second to only Cap Anson (84.8) in Cubs history

There is no debating who deserves to be atop this list of the greatest third basemen in the long, storied history of the Cubs.

Santo was one of the elite third basemen of his era and easily one of the best players -- no matter the position -- the Cubs franchise has ever featured. Santo was a nine-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glove Award winner and finished in the top five in National League MVP Award balloting twice.

Santo was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012 by the Veteran's Committee -- two years after he passed away due complications from bladder cancer and a a lifelong battle with diabetes. Santo hid his fight with diabetes for a decade while playing, adding another layer to his incredible on-field achievements.

"This is not a sad day -- not at all," Santo's widow, Vicki, told the crowd in Cooperstown, N.Y., during her Hall of Fame speech on his behalf. "This is a very happy day. It's an incredible day for an incredible man. A man who lived an extraordinary life to its fullest. Indeed, he had a wonderful life."

In his 14 seasons with the Cubs, Santo hit .279/.366/.472 with 337 homers, 353 doubles, 1,290 RBIs, 1,109 runs scored and 2,171 hits. He finished his 15-year career with a one-year stint on the South Side with the White Sox. Santo ranks fourth in club history in homers, fifth in games played (2,126), sixth in total bases (3,667) and in the top 10 in multiple other categories.

Santo, who signed with the Cubs in 1959, was a key cog for the beloved '69 Cubs team that was in first place in late September but suffered a collapse down the stretch. That summer, the third baseman also became famous for his jumping heel clicks after wins at Wrigley Field.

When Santo retired, he did so as the NL's all-time leader in assists, total chances and double plays at third base -- records later surpassed by Mike Schmidt. Only Schmidt and Eddie Mathews logged more innings at third base in the NL in their respective careers.

Santo added to his Cubs legacy in the broadcast booth, teaming with Pat Hughes on WGN radio in 1990 for a 20-year run together. In her Hall of Fame speech, Vicki Santo called her late husband "the world's greatest Cub fan."

"He had no emotional filter," she said. "So, when you listened, you heard and felt the joy or sadness of a real fan. He loved the game and the broadcast booth."

And Santo is unquestionably the greatest third baseman in franchise history.

2. Stan Hack, 1932-47
Key fact: Played 16 years, all with the Cubs

Hack is one of the best third basemen you may have never heard of. He has not gained entry into baseball's Hall of Fame and was often overshadowed on his own Cubs teams over nearly two decades. But Hack was a fixture at the hot corner and one of the franchise's all-time talents.

The California native was at third base on Opening Day in 12 of his 16 seasons with the Cubs. He appeared in four World Series with Chicago, hitting .348 with an .857 OPS in 18 Fall Classic games. He made five All-Star teams and ended his career with a 54.8 bWAR (eighth in Cubs history among position players).

In a 1996 book called "Wrigleyville," Hack's teammate, Phil Cavarretta remarked, "Stan never got the credit he deserved. ... To me, with his stats and knowing Stan Hack, I can't understand why he isn't in the Hall of Fame."

Over 1,938 games with the Cubs, Hack hit .301/.394/.397 and had an incredible knack to put the bat on the ball. He ended his 16 Major League seasons with 1,092 walks (still the franchise record) against just 466 strikeouts. Hack ranks sixth in Cubs history in hits (2,193), seventh in doubles (363) and runs (1,239), and ninth in triples (81).

3. Kris Bryant, 2015-present
Key fact: Only player in Cubs history to win both Rookie of the Year and an MVP Award

Picking Bryant with the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft was a turning point in franchise history. The Cubs had already acquired a cornerstone talent in Anthony Rizzo, and the front office was now in the thick of constructing its championship core of position players.

Bryant tore his way through the Minor Leagues, won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and picked up the NL MVP in '16. Oh, that also happened to be the year he gloved the ground ball that clinched the Cubs' first World Series title since 1908. Those elements power Bryant (a three-time All-Star) to third on this list.

Last season, Bryant established a new record for home runs (138) in a player's first five seasons with the Cubs, surpassing Ernie Banks.

"He’s got a statue out front," Bryant said at the time. "That gives me goosebumps when I am mentioned in the same sentence as that guy. It's truly an honor. I just hope I'm making him proud."

In just five years, Bryant's 23.9 WAR already ranks 30th in Cubs history among position players. He has slashed .284/.385/.516 so far in his career, ranking fourth in OPS (.901) and fifth in OPS+ (136), respectively, among all Cubs with at least 700 games played.

4. Aramis Ramirez, 2003-11
Key fact: .531 slugging percentage is third highest in Cubs history

In the 30 years after Santo's time with the Cubs concluded, the franchise cycled through 18 Opening Day third basemen. Only Steve Ontiveros started as many as four. There were 11 players with one-year Opening Day stints.

That revolving door became an inescapable storyline and source of angst for fans. And then, Ramirez came along.

On July 23, 2003, the Cubs swung a trade with the Pirates, reeling in Ramirez and Kenny Lofton for José Hernández, Bobby Hill and Matt Bruback. Ramirez became a stabilizing force at third base for Chicago for nine of his 18 Major League seasons, making two All-Star teams and picking up one Silver Slugger Award in his time on the North Side.

Ramirez launched at least 25 homers seven times and topped 100 RBIs four times for the Cubs, who made the playoffs three times with him in the fold. Ramirez's 239 homers and .887 OPS each rank sixth in Cubs history. He hit .294/.356/.531 with 256 doubles and 806 RBIs in his 1,124 games with the franchise.

5. Harry Steinfeldt, 1906-10
Key fact: Two World Series rings with the Cubs

There was a third baseman who neighbored the famous Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance combination of the early 20th-century Cubs. That was Steinfeldt, who was acquired in a trade with Cincinnati before being a part of four pennant winners and two World Series champions in Chicago. Steinfeldt was known for his defensive prowess, but did hit .327 with a NL-leading 176 hits and 83 RBIs in the 1906 campaign. He also hit .471 in the five games against Detroit in the '07 World Series triumph.

Honorable mention
Heinie Zimmerman (24.0 WAR from 1907-16) nearly cracked the top five here, but he bounced all over the infield in his years with the Cubs, so it was difficult to classify him purely as a third baseman. ... Bill Madlock was only with the Cubs for three years ('74-76), but he certainly left his mark. To this day, Madlock's .336 average is tied for first in club history. He made one All-Star team, won two batting titles and was in three Opening Day lineups for Chicago. ... Randy Jackson, who made two All-Star teams ('54, '55) in his seven years also deserves mention here.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.