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Cubs' Top 5 left fielders: Bastian's take

@MLBastian
April 28, 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 left fielders in Cubs history. Next week: Center fielders.

Cubs' Top 5 all-time lists: Shortstop | 3rd base | 2nd base | 1st base | Catcher

1) Billy Williams, 1959-74
Key fact: 4,262 total bases with Cubs, second to only Ernie Banks in club history

The way Fergie Jenkins remembers it, Billy Williams used to chew gum in the on-deck circle before going to the plate. When it was time to bat, the Cubs left fielder would spit out the gum, take a swing and send the wad flying into the grass.

"He never missed," Jenkins said with a chuckle.

For 16 seasons with the Cubs and 18 years in the Majors overall, Sweet Swingin' Billy grew into not only one of the greatest hitters in franchise history, but one of the elite players of all time. He hit for average and power and was a key figure to the famous and beloved Cubs teams of the 1960s.

And to think, there was a moment when Williams considered walking away from baseball.

Cubs scout Irv Griffin signed Williams to $1,500 and a cigar before the 1956 season, but the young outfielder grew weary by '59 in the Minor Leagues. The racism he encountered while playing in Texas convinced Williams to go home to Alabama, where former Cubs scout Buck O'Neil paid him a visit and played a role in changing Williams' mind.

"It could have worked out a different way," Williams said in an interview for the National Baseball Hall of Fame's website. "It was just lucky that Buck O'Neil came down. Buck knew exactly what he was doing."

Williams reached the big leagues in '59 and won the National League Rookie of the Year in '61. He went on to make six All-Star teams, twice finished as the runner-up for the NL MVP and won a batting title in 1972. Williams was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.

Over his career, Williams had three seasons with at least 200 hits and five with at least 100 runs scored. He ended with 426 homers (392 for the Cubs ranks third in club history), 434 doubles, 2,711 hits and a .290/.361/.492 slash line. Only Banks and Cap Anson have more games played, at-bats, plate appearances or hits in Cubs history.

Williams also set an NL record for consecutive games played with 1,117 across the 1963-70 seasons -- a mark later broken by Steve Garvey.

"Billy Williams is the best hitter, day-in and day-out, that I have ever seen," longtime teammate Don Kessinger is quoted as saying on the Hall of Fame's website. "He's unbelievable. He didn't hit for just one or two days, or one or two weeks. He hit all the time."

2) Riggs Stephenson, 1926-34
Key fact: 24.4 WAR ranks second to Williams among Cubs left fielders

After parts of five seasons with Cleveland, Riggs Stephenson found himself playing for Indianapolis in the American Association. His defense frustrated Cleveland manager Tris Speaker and put Stephenson in a position where he had to prove that he could cut it as a big league outfielder.

The Cubs acquired Stephenson in a trade with Indianapolis in June 1926, and he became a fixture in left field for nine seasons. That included playing for the 1929 and '32 Cubs teams that reached the World Series. During that '32 campaign, Stephenson finished fifth for the NL MVP.

"[Stephenson is] one of the immensely valuable players who doesn't command the spotlight," claimed a 1928 article in the Chicago Daily Tribune, as noted in Stephenson's SABR bio. "The Chicago fans know how valuable he is, but the customers in other cities know more about Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, and others."

To this day, Stephenson's .336 career average with the Cubs is tied for first in franchise history. His .408 on-base percentage checks in at third all-time for the club. He compiled 1,167 hits, 237 doubles, 40 triples, 49 homers, 533 runs scored and 395 walks (compared to 176 strikeouts) in his career with Chicago. As a left fielder, only Williams has more hits for the Cubs.

3) Alfonso Soriano, 2007-13
Key fact: 69 stolen bases as Cubs left fielder, first in club history

Soriano made his name with the Yankees and had arguably his best offensive season with the Nationals in 2006, but he was a key cog for the Cubs for seven of his 16 seasons. Looking purely at production out of left field, only Williams tops Soriano in Cubs history in runs, doubles, homers, RBIs and total bases. Soriano made two All-Star teams (2007, '08) with Chicago and turned in a .264/.317/.495 slash line in 889 games with the North Siders.

4) Hank Sauer, 1949-55
Key fact: 18.9 of 25.2 career WAR with Cubs

Hank Sauer made two All-Star teams (1950 and '52) for the Cubs and also captured the NL MVP Award in '52. That season, Sauer hit .270 with 37 homers, 121 RBIs and an .892 OPS in 151 games. He posted a .269/.348/.512 slash line with 198 homers, 587 RBIs and 852 hits in 862 career games with the Cubs.

5) Jimmy Sheckard, 1906-12
Key fact: Played in four World Series

Jimmy Sheckard started six Opening Days as the Cubs left fielder, tying him with Soriano and Stephenson for the second most in Cubs history behind Williams (10). Over 1,001 games for Chicago, Sheckard amassed 907 hits and was a part of two World Series championships. In 1911, he incredibly had 147 walks compared to 58 strikeouts, posting a .434 on-base percentage that season with 121 runs scored.

Honorable mentions
Looking at the Opening Day lineups for the Cubs on Baseball-Reference.com, which has that data going back to 1904, there have been 64 players to get the nod in left field. The list runs from Alou (Moises) to Zagunis (Mark). Only center field has had more players cycle in and out of the Opening Day lineup over the past 116 years. So there are a few more left fielders worth mentioning ...

It was hard not to include Augie Galan (1934-41) in the top five. He was an All-Star in 1936, amassed 17.8 WAR with the Cubs and played in two World Series (1935 and '38). ... Moises Alou (2002-04) was a part of the 2003 team that reached the NL Championship Series and was an '04 All-Star. ... Dave Kingman (1978-80) made two All-Star teams and led the NL in homers (48), slugging percentage (.613) and OPS (.956) in 1979. ... Gary Matthews (1984-87) deserves mention based on his '84 season (103 walks, 101 runs and a .410 on-base percentage) alone. ... Who can forget the "Oh Henry!" candy bars that flew out of the bleachers whenever Henry Rodriguez (1998-2000) homered? ... Kyle Schwarber (2015-present) doesn't crack the top five, yet, but his part in Cubs lore is already secured between his tape-measure homers and postseason heroics.

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.