11 Days to Opening Day now and it is time to look at No. 11 for the Chicago Cubs. Ron Cey wore it during his short tenure, Joe Garagiola did in 1953 and 1954, but shortstop Don Kessinger probably wore it best.
Kessinger was a smooth fielding, light-hitting leader who was a cornerstone for Cubs teams in the 1960′s and early 1970′s that truly contended. How highly respected was Kessinger in his day? How many career .252 hitters with 14 career home runs – at shortstop, nonetheless – do you see go to the All-Star Game six times? Without a ticket, that is. That is who Kessinger was.
He was a two-time Gold Glove winner, in 1969 and 1970 with a .972 fielding percentage in 1969. To put that into perspective, St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith‘s lifetime fielding percentage at shortstop was .976. Essentially, Kessinger had Smith-like numbers for a couple of years.
Kessinger was an anomaly statistically, and a shorter-lived “ironman.” From 1967 to 1975, he never had less than 642 plate at-bats in a season. He may have had a slugging percentage that was actually lower than his on-base percentage, but it was his glove and leadership that kept him in the game inning after inning, day after day.
Kessinger and Ron Santo formed an infield’s left-side that was as good as any in the National League at the time. Without those two, the 1960′s would have a vast wasteland of bad teams much like the 1950′s or most of the 1970′s were on the North Side.