Chicago Cubs: Rick Wilkins and his illustrious 1993 season
The 1993 Chicago Cubs were barely an above-average team. And while fans can reminisce about Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace, it was an unknown who shocked fans with a season for the ages.
I was three years old in 1993. My earliest memories of Chicago Cubs baseball are from the nights where my grandfather would forcefully sit me down on his lap to watch the game while my sister and cousin would play around their house. At the time, I thought it very unfair, but it also stemmed from my love for baseball at an early age.
My memories are watching Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace. They were the two guys my family seemed to cling to and with good reason. The 1993 season for the Cubs was pretty average. The team finished 84-78 and skidded to a fourth-place finish in the National League East.
Many guys that season had above-average years. One guy took the cake though and came through with one of the greatest seasons in the modern ERA of Cubs baseball, a catcher by the name of Rick Wilkins.
Chicago Cubs: A journey from Geneva to Chicago
The Cubs drafted Wilkins in the 23rd round of the 1986 Major League Baseball amateur player draft. A kid from Florida Junior College, Wilkins, became just another guy at that point. His first year in professional baseball came in 1987 for the Geneva Cubs. They were part of the New York-Penn League and, for a few years, represented the organization as their Class A Short Season affiliate.
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Wilkins was pretty average in his first year. He hit .251 across 243 at-bats with eight home runs and a .796 OPS. Impressively, Wilkins managed a much higher walk rate than the strikeout rate. From 1988-1991, Wilkins moved through the system quickly, jumping one level each subsequent season.
The 1991 season at Triple-A Iowa ended up as Wilkin’s best minor league season as he slashed .271/.339/.458 in 38 games before his promotion to the big leagues. At 24 years old, midway through the year, the Cubs brought Wilkins up. It went about as well as they could have hoped. Wilkins hit .222 with a 23.8 percent strikeout rate and an 83 wRC+. He did finish the season; however, worth 1.1 WAR, so overall, it was more positive than negative.
Chicago Cubs: An incredible season
Looking back on the career of Wilkins and his pre-1993 years to his post-1993 years, that one season will always remain a kooky outlier in the annals of Cubs history. Wilkins was certainly not a terrible player in his first two seasons. As far as catchers go, it was pretty league average.
He hit .248 over his first two seasons with a .714 OPS and 14 total home runs—nothing special but nothing awful. Then 1993 happened. Wilkins played his first “full” season in 1993, 136 games, racking up 500 plate appearances and finished the year with the best season of everyone.
In an unreal display, Wilkins slashed .303/.376/.561 with 30 home runs, 73 RBI, and a 6.7 WAR with a 144 wRC+. He managed to keep his walk rate at the same steady ten percent mark and his strikeouts just north of twenty percent. It certainly quickly became a year nobody expected from the then 26-year-old and one fan forget.
Chicago Cubs: The peak and the pit
Never again did Wilkins come remotely close to reaching that level of production. The following season Wilkins played in just 100 games, slashing .227/.317/.387 with seven home runs and a strikeout rate of 24 percent. He still posted a 1.1 WAR, but the outlier year seemed a pipe dream by that point.
Midway through the 1995 season, the Cubs made a deal with the Houston Astros to send Wilkins to Houston in exchange for future World Series hero Luis Gonzalez and now Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais.
Wilkins bounced around the league for six more seasons before retiring in 2001. He never came close to that production of 1993, actively seeing the production significantly decrease. For one summer though, and one season, Wilkins could hang his hat on that year, and it will forever be one of the best in Cubs history.