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Cubs' Top 5 shortstops: Bastian's take

@MLBastian
April 21, 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 shortstop in Cubs history. Next week: Left fielders.

Cubs' Top 5 rankings: C | 1B | 2B | 3B

1. Ernie Banks, 1953-71
Key fact: One of 13 players in history to win consecutive MVP Awards

During his Hall of Fame induction speech in the summer of 1977, Ernie Banks delivered a line that summed up his approach to baseball and life.

"There's sunshine, fresh air and the team's behind us," said Banks, who then paused and smiled. "So, let's play two!"

That was the signature line from the joyous Banks, who was so affectionately known as "Mr. Cub" that the nickname was included on his Hall of Fame plaque. When considering who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Cubs greats, the list should begin with Banks. There is no argument otherwise.

So who was the greatest shortstop in Cubs history? That is an easy question that takes little research. It is Banks by a long shot, and it would take a transcendent figure to ever surpass him.

Formerly a star in the Negro Leagues, Banks signed with the Cubs in 1953, debuting with the club on Sept. 17 that fall to become the first African-American player in the franchise's history. He went on to win back-to-back Most Valuable Player Awards in '58-59 (the first National League player to achieve that feat), made 14 All-Star teams and won a Gold Glove Award for shortstop in '60.

Banks remains the Cubs' franchise leader in games (2,528), total bases (4,706) and extra-base hits (1,009). His 512 career home runs held as the most in team history until Sammy Sosa eclipsed Banks en route to a club-record 545. Banks also ranks second in team history in hits (2,583) and RBIs (1,636).

Banks died in 2015 at the age of 83.

"He always had a positive attitude about the game and how it should be played," Cubs great Fergie Jenkins said at the time of Banks' passing. "He was always that way, always had a positive attitude, he was always bubbly. He always said there was no better place to play baseball than Wrigley Field during the day."

2. Joe Tinker, 1902-12, '16
Key fact: 29.7 defensive WAR most in Cubs history

Thanks to columnist F.P. Adams and his 1910 poem entitled, "Baseball's Sad Lexicon," many baseball fans remain familiar with the Cubs' double-play combination of more than a century ago: Tinker to Evers to Chance.

Before first baseman Frank Chance could glove the throw from second baseman Johnny Evers, it was Joe Tinker who got the twin killing started. That trio helped power the great Cubs teams of the early 1900s that averaged 106 wins across 1906-10, winning four NL pennants and two World Series in that span.

Over 12 years with the franchise, Tinker slashed .259/.303/.347, amassing 93 triples, 220 doubles, 304 stolen bases and 670 runs scored in 1,539 games. He was part of the 116-win team in 1906 and belted a key homer in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the 1908 World Series against Detroit. Tinker was elected into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1946.

Video: Tinker to Evers to Chance - The Carolyn Sills Combo

3. Don Kessinger, 1964-75
Key fact: Last Cubs shortstop to win a Gold Glove Award

In the second half of the 1960s, the Cubs assembled an infield group that remains beloved by fans to this day. Ron Santo was at third, Don Kessinger at short, Glenn Beckert at second and Banks had moved to first at this stage of his career.

"We really cared about each other," Kessinger said in Carrie Muskat's book, Banks to Sandberg to Grace: Five Decades of Love and Frustration with the Chicago Cubs. "There was a unique relationship between the players and between the players and the fans with that group of guys that in all my 16 years we were never able to emulate. It was really a unique deal."

Kessinger was a mainstay at shortstop, making six All-Star teams and winning consecutive NL Gold Glove Awards in '69-70.

Dating back to 1913, Kessinger still ranks first in games (1,602), hits (1,599) and runs (756) as a shortstop among all Cubs players in that time period. His 1,584 starts and 14,033 2/3 innings at short also rank first among Cubs shortstops in that span.

4. Javier Báez, 2014-present
Key fact: Now has more starts at short (300) than second (199) in career

Báez makes this list based on two primary factors: recent success and career trajectory. If the Cubs are able to ink their star shortstop to an extension, he could cement his place in the club's all-time ranks.

"This guy can do it all," former teammate Pedro Strop said last season. "This is a kid that he has the most passion for this game. I love to see him play. He's one of the best."

The artistry Báez has displayed in the field and on the basepaths, combined with that never-count-him-out reputation at the plate, helped him earn the "El Mago" moniker. He has started two All-Star Games (one at second and one at short), was runner-up in MVP voting in '18 (34 homers and NL-high 111 RBIs) and played a key role in the '16 World Series-clinching season.

It was Báez's leadoff homer in Game 7 of the '16 World Series that knocked Cleveland ace Corey Kluber out of the game in the fifth inning. In the three seasons since that triumph, he has averaged 29 homers, 34 doubles and 90 RBIs per year. In '19, when Báez made the move to short full-time, all he did was lead all MLB defenders in Outs Above Average (19).

5. Shawon Dunston, 1985-95, '97
Key fact: First overall pick in 1982 MLB Draft

In retrospect, Dunston's career slash line with the Cubs (.267/.295/.407) was underwhelming, but he spent more than a decade on the North Side and became a favorite for many fans. Since 1900, no shortstop in Cubs history has more Opening Day starts than Dunston (11), whose totals for games and innings at the position are only topped by Kessinger in the past century.

Dunston played in 1,254 games for the Cubs in 12 of his 18 MLB seasons. Looking purely at the production out of the shortstop position in franchise history, he ranks first in doubles (221) and steals (172), as well as second in homers (105) and hits (1,207).

Honorable mention
Starlin Castro (2010-15) made his mark as the youngest All-Star in club history, when he made the Midsummer Classic at 21 in 2011. He led the NL in hits (207) that summer and made three All-Star teams for the Cubs before being traded to the Yankees before the '16 season. ... Woody English (1927-36), Billy Jurges (1931-38, '46-47) and Bill Dahlen (1891-98) are among the other shortstops in team history worthy of mention.

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.