Cubs’ Top 5 second basemen: Bastian's take

April 7th, 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 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 5 second basemen in Cubs history. Next week: Third basemen.

Cubs' Top 5 rankings: Catcher | First base

1) , 1982-97
Key fact: In the 22 seasons since Sandberg's retirement, thirteen players have started at second base for the Cubs on Opening Day (none more than two years in a row).

As the story goes, Cubs manager Jim Frey challenged Sandberg to tap into his potential as a power hitter, rather than settling for being a table-setter. During Spring Training 1984, Frey posed a question to the future Hall of Famer.

"How come you're not more of a power hitter and not an MVP?" Frey was quoted as saying in Carrie Muskat's book, Banks to Sandberg to Grace: Five Decades of Love and Frustration with the Chicago Cubs.

"My job with Sandberg was to convince him that he could be that type of player," Frey continued. "It wasn't so much physical ability as a state of mind and his approach to hitting."

Over the next decade, Sandberg developed into one of baseball's all-time great power-speed middle infielders. He could already steal bases and play exceptionally clean defense, but unlocking his power is what helped elevate Sandberg to the Mount Rushmore of Cubs legends.

By the time he retired after the 1997 campaign, Sandberg had surpassed Joe Morgan for the most homers by a second baseman (277 of his 282 career blasts). That record has since been beaten by both Jeff Kent and Robinson Canó, but it was Sandberg who paved the way for teams rethinking how a second baseman should look.

Sandberg's signature moment came in that '84 season, which ended with him winning the National League MVP Award. On June 23 that summer, the second baseman turned in a performance forever known as "The Ryne Sandberg Game" among Cubs fans. He collected five hits, launched two homers and knocked in seven runs in a 12-11 win over the rival Cardinals.

In that classic contest, Sandberg launched a game-tying solo homer off Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter in the ninth and then belted a two-run, game-tying shot off the closer in the 10th. That set the stage for Dave Owens' walk-off single an inning later.

"Roy Hobbs, The Natural, would be pleased by Sandberg's performance today," legendary broadcaster Bob Costas proclaimed on NBC's airing of the game that night.

When his career was complete, Sandberg had been named to 10 All-Star teams, won nine Gold Gloves, picked up seven Silver Slugger Awards and eventually earned enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. He remains on the Cubs' top-five career leaderboards for homers, doubles, hits, runs, stolen bases, total bases, extra-base hits and WAR (68.1 per Baseball Reference).

During his Hall of Fame induction speech, Sandberg said, "I didn't work hard for validation. I didn't play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do."

2) Billy Herman, 1931-41
Key fact: 40.9 of 56 career WAR with Cubs

Herman's Hall of Fame plaque refers to the second baseman as the "master of hit-and-run play." He was also an extra-base machine, churning out 57 doubles in both the 1935 and '36 seasons during one of the great eras of Cubs baseball. He was a seven-time All-Star for the North Siders.

Herman started at second in 10 Opening Day games for the Cubs and played in three World Series (1932, '35 and '38) with the franchise. He still owns the single-season doubles record for the club and fell two hits shy in '35 of equaling Rogers Hornsby's single-season hits mark (229) for Chicago.

On the Hall of Fame's website, former Cubs player Charlie Grimm is quoted as saying that Herman "was a wonderful fielder and as great a hit-and-run batter as I have ever seen. I can't remember anyone who could handle the inside pitch to right field better than Herman."

3) Johnny Evers, 1902-13
Key fact: Had 556 walks vs. 211 strikeouts with the Cubs

Evers' name will forever be a part of Cubs lore as a part of the "Tinker to Evers to Chance" refrain in F. P. Adams' 1910 poem, "Baseball's Sad Lexicon." The Hall of Famer was a part of four pennant winners and the 1907-08 Cubs teams that won consecutive World Series titles. His best offensive year came in '08, when he hit .300 with a .402 on-base percentage and a 143 OPS+. He was routinely one of baseball's toughest strikeouts, recording just 50 strikeouts compared to 247 walks across the '08-10 seasons.

4) Rogers Hornsby, 1929-32
Key fact: 10.4 WAR in '29 remains the Cubs' single-season record

Hornsby is unquestionably one of baseball's all-time legends, but his stint with the Cubs was too brief to be higher on this list. But, boy, was that short stint an incredible one. The Boston Braves traded Hornsby to the Cubs for five players and $200,000 in November 1928, and then he hit .380 with 39 homers, 47 doubles, 149 RBIs, 156 runs and a 1.139 OPS en route to a World Series berth and NL MVP honors in '29. He hit .350/.435/.604 in his 317 games for the Cubs (out of 2,259 career contests).

5) Glenn Beckert, 1965-73
Key fact: Led Majors in runs in 1968

Beckert was the Cubs' Opening Day second baseman eight times, hitting his stride as a player in the late 1960s. He was named to four National league All-Star teams from '69-72, won a Gold Glove Award in '68 and amassed 16.4 WAR (Baseball Reference) in his Cubs career. An up-the-middle partner for shortstop Don Kessinger, Beckert hit at a .283 clip over his 11-year career in the big leagues.

Honorable mentions
Given that has appeared more at shortstop (2,646 2/3 innings) than second (1,856 innings) in his career, he will be considered for the shortstop category in this project. Manny Trillo is worth mentioning for his seven seasons (1975-78, '86-88) with the Cubs. This list would also be incomplete without lauding , whose status as a utility man hurt his case as a pure second baseman. That said, Zobrist played a key role for the Cubs from 2016-19, winning World Series MVP honors in Chicago's triumph over Cleveland in '16.