Countdown to Opening Day: 12 Days – Shawon Dunston’s erratic arm


With 12 days until Opening Day, I am reminded of a shortstop who wore the number 12 in Chicago for an entire decade. When a team wins a division title and doesn’t do much to retool their roster, the common belief is that management believes they have youngsters coming up to make for new roster holes. After the 1984 season saw the Cubs win 96 games and nearly a pennant, the excitement level for 1985 was off the charts.

I was living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at the time and remember vividly how strongly I anticipated Opening Day that season. I could not wait to get to see the game on VHS – and finally did get to see the Cubs win on Opening Day about two weeks after it happened. Was it the bunting on the bricks that I couldn’t wait to see? Was it the thought of another run to an Eastern Division title that intrigued me? None of the above.

It was No. 12 that I wanted to see. I had heard so much about him, seeing him play was going quench that thirst immediately. It was Shawon Dunston.

What a spark plug that guy was. If you didn’t see him in his prime you really missed out. He truly hit his prime in his fourth, fifth and sixth seasons in 1988, ’89 and ’90. He was an All-Star in 1988 and 1990, when he hit .249 and .262 respectively. His best year was most likely the one that didn’t get recognized – 1989. Dunston was a guy who played the game without fear of anything. He never saw a pitch he didn’t like, although he really trained his eye by 1989. He walked a grand total of 30 times that year – and that was a career high.

He threw the ball the way he swung the bat – crazy. All over the place. The best thing to ever happen to Shawon Dunston may have been Mark Grace. Dunston’s error total in 1986 was 32. Once Grace’s Gold Glove manned the bag at first though, Dunston’s error total was nearly cut in half – 17 in 1989. It was like there was just enough stability on the right side of the infield with Ryne Sandberg and Grace, that it evenly matched the crazy that Dunston provided at shortstop for a decade.

Dunston is the proud owner of an 18-year major league career. Not bad for a guy who didn’t hit .300 but for one full season (1997) and brought with it an arm that was more erratic than your NCAA brackets on an annual basis. Put that together with the fact that he swung at nearly every pitch, it seemed at least, and you get a guy who should never have had the career he did. He played the game knowing those things about his game – and he embraced them. It’s just the way he played the game.

He is the proud owner of an 18-year career, an erratic arm and a sometimes solid bat. But, he owns one more thing: the most intriguing No. 12 in Cub history.