These five debuts were best in Cubs history

February 1st, 2021

CHICAGO -- When considering the greatest debut campaigns in the long, storied history of the Cubs, one could begin with the franchise's first season.

Way back in 1876, when the Chicago club was known as the White Stockings, Al Spalding -- yes, the Hall of Fame executive also of Spalding sporting goods fame -- chewed up 89 percent of his team's recorded innings. Spalding won 47 games and twirled a 1.75 ERA over 528 2/3 frames.

Baseball has evolved greatly since the 19th century, however, so opinions over which debuts were the best in team history could vary greatly based on the different eras in question. For this list, we focused on the Modern Era (since 1900) and looked at true debut campaigns (meaning, the first year a player appeared for the Cubs).

There have been plenty of highly-anticipated prospects and standout rookies, or veterans who compiled impressive numbers following a trade to Chicago or signing a free-agent pact. There have been Rookie of the Year Award winners, MVP Award winners and Cy Young Award winners among the many players to don Chicago's uniform for the first time.

With that in mind, here are our picks for the best debuts in Cubs history:

1. Ed Reulbach, 1905
The most famous debut season in Cubs history belongs to Hall of Famer . But when he joined Chicago in 1929, he was a known commodity. Everyone knew the Cubs landed a superstar. The more fascinating debut goes to Ed Reulbach, who came out of nowhere in 1905.

The 22-year-old righty, who went on to be known as Big Ed, featured a high leg kick (similar to , per historic accounts) and a sweeping curveball. In his rookie season, Reulbach fashioned a 1.42 ERA, still the lowest ever for a qualified rookie in the Modern Era, over 291 2/3 innings.

He started 29 games, completing 28 of them along the way to a total of 9.1 WAR. That trails only Irv Young (9.9 in 1905) and (9.6 in 1976) for the highest WAR in a pitcher's first season since 1900. Reulbach went on to become an anchor for the Cubs' rotation for four World Series, including the club's triumphs in 1907 and '08.

2. Rogers Hornsby, 1929
The Cubs acquired Hornsby from the Boston Braves in the midst of his prime for five players and $200,000. Then the Hall of Famer turned in a performance in 1929 that remains the single-season club record for WAR by a position player both via Fangraphs (11.1) and Baseball Reference (10.4).

In 156 games, Hornsby racked up 229 hits and scored 156 runs -- both single-season franchise records to this day. The second baseman logged a .380/.459/.679 slash line to go along with 39 home runs, 47 doubles, eight triples and 149 RBIs. Hornsby drew 87 walks and struck out just 65 times.

Hornsby took home the National League's Most Valuable Player Award (called the League Award at the time) after helping power the 1929 Cubs to the World Series. Alas, the Philadelphia Athletics held him to a 5-for-21 (.238) showing and defeated Chicago in five games.

3. Rick Sutcliffe, 1984
Fifteen starts into the 1984 campaign, was 4-5 with a 5.15 ERA for Cleveland. That was before the Cubs and Tribe swung a blockbuster trade on June 13 that shipped Sutcliffe, George Frazier and to the North Siders in exchange for Darryl Banks, Mel Hall, Don Schultze and the Cubs' top pick in the 1981 MLB Draft, .

All Sutcliffe did for the rest of 1984 was go 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA, piling up 155 strikeouts against 39 walks in 150 1/3 innings for Chicago. That helped the Red Baron pick up all 24 first-place votes in balloting for the NL Cy Young Award, even though he spent the first two months in the American League.

4. Kris Bryant, 2015
The second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, was arguably the most-hyped prospect in the franchise's history. After posting a 1.652 OPS in 14 Spring Training games, Bryant had a 1.042 OPS in seven games with Triple-A Iowa to start the '15 season. The Cubs faced criticism for keeping Bryant in the Minors, but he arrived on April 17 and kept his foot on the gas.

Bryant hit .275/.369/.488 with 26 home runs, 31 doubles, 77 walks, 87 runs and 99 RBIs in 151 games en route to the NL Rookie of the Year Award. One year later, he won the NL MVP Award and helped the Cubs capture their first World Series triumph since 1908. Others had better statistical debuts, but Bryant's immediate impact puts him on this list.

5. Andre Dawson, 1987
Prior to the 1987 season, famously offered the Cubs a blank contract, as free agency grew frustrating. Sutcliffe also offered to pay $100,000 out of his own salary to help bring the Hawk to the North Side. The Cubs inked Dawson for a bargain base salary of $500,000, and he made it more than worth the investment.

That summer, Dawson hit .287 with an .896 OPS, while leading the Majors in both homers (49) and RBIs (137). He won the NL MVP, was an All-Star and picked up a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award. Dawson continued on his path to the Hall of Fame while with the Cubs, spending six seasons in all with Chicago.

Five more worth noting:

, 1998: Struck out 233 batters, including 20 in his legendary May 6 outing against Houston, and won the NL Rookie of the Year.

, 1992: Won 16 games and spun a 2.55 ERA in 240 innings after coming over to the Cubs as a free-agent signing.

, 1926: Cast aside by the New York Giants, Wilson had a .944 OPS in his debut season with Cubs. He set the MLB record for RBIs (191) in 1930.

Lefty Tyler, 1918: Acquired from the Boston Braves, Tyler went 19-8 with a 2.00 ERA in 269 1/3 innings, and then spun a 1.17 ERA in the World Series.

Orval Overall, 1906: Overall had a 1.88 ERA in 144 innings down the stretch in '06, following a trade with the Reds. He pitched in four World Series for Chicago.