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Best position-player seasons in Cubs history

@MLBastian
November 30, 2020

CHICAGO -- One season can change the course of a career. It can lead to history or a place in a franchise lore or baseball legend status. The statistics can be held up as facts, and the players and their stories may eventually veer closer to myth. For the Cubs,

CHICAGO -- One season can change the course of a career. It can lead to history or a place in a franchise lore or baseball legend status. The statistics can be held up as facts, and the players and their stories may eventually veer closer to myth.

For the Cubs, who have a history that traces back to the 19th century, there are plenty of examples that fit all the descriptions above and then some. MLB.com is examining each team and compiling lists of the best single-season performances of all time.

Here are five of the greatest one-year showings by position players in Cubs history:

1. 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.

2. Sammy Sosa, 2001
Sosa's 1998 season is the one that will be remembered most ages from now. In that magical and historic summer, Slammin' Sammy engaged in a season-long slugfest against Mark McGwire of the Cardinals. They captivated the nation as they chased down Roger Maris' single-season record of 61 homers. McGwire won with 70, while Sosa finished with 66 and took home the NL MVP Award.

Really, though, the 1998 campaign was not even Sosa's best work over a single year.

Three seasons later, the right fielder hit .328/.437/.737 with 64 home runs and 160 RBIs. He set single-season club records for slugging percentage, total bases (425) and intentional walks (37 out of his 116 free passes that year). In 160 games, Sosa scored 146 runs and ended up with 10.3 bWAR and 9.9 fWAR (both second to Hornsby's 1929 tour in team history).

3. Ernie Banks, 1958
Banks won the NL MVP Award in 1958 and '59, becoming the first player to win it in consecutive seasons in the Senior Circuit. According to WAR, his '59 season was slightly better than his '58 campaign mostly due to the defensive metrics.

Offensively, both seasons were incredibly close. Banks hit .313/.366/.614 in 1958 and then .304/.374/.596 in '59. He had 47 homers, 23 doubles, 11 triples, 119 runs and 129 RBIs in '58. Then he had 45 homers, 25 doubles, six triples, 97 runs and 143 RBIs in '59. He had more walks (64) and fewer strikeouts (72) in '59, when compared to '58 (52 walks and 87 strikeouts).

So how do you choose between two masterpieces? For this list, we'll go with 1958, since it was the year Mr. Cub picked up his first of back-to-back MVP Awards.

4. Hack Wilson, 1930
For the WAR disciples out there, there are other single-season showings in Cubs history that could top Wilson's production in 1930. For this list, though, history wins out. That was the year Wilson -- the stocky, powerful slugger -- set a Major League record with 191 RBIs.

In 155 games, Wilson hit .356/.454/.723 with 56 homers, 146 runs, 208 hits and 105 walks (compared to 84 strikeouts). His 423 total bases were a Cubs record until Sosa topped it in 2001. A few players in the 1930s approached Wilson's all-time RBI mark, but since 1940 the closest anyone has come is Manny Ramirez's 165 RBIs for the Indians in 1999.

5. Ron Santo, 1967
Since Sosa's 1998 season was already mentioned on this list, we will go in a different direction for the final choice.

Santo was a model of consistency in his prime for the Cubs, but his showing in 1967 checks in at fourth-best in WAR both on Fangraphs (9.5) and Baseball Reference (9.8). Per B-R, Santo had 2.7 defensive WAR within that, during this Gold Glove Award-winning season. In 161 games, Santo hit .300/.395/.512 with 31 homers, 23 doubles, 98 RBIs, 96 walks and 107 runs scored.

Honorable mentions
There are plenty of other individual seasons in Cubs history that could have cracked this list. Some that were debated included performances from: Cap Anson (1881, '86), Banks (1955), Kris Bryant (2016), Phil Cavarretta (1945), Andre Dawson (1987), Gabby Hartnett (1930), King Kelly (1886), Bill Lange (1895), Derrek Lee (2005), Ryne Sandberg (1984), Santo (1964, '66), Billy Williams (1965, '72) and Heinie Zimmerman (1912).

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.