Chicago Cubs: Dave Kingman’s 1979 season is underappreciated

Dave Kingman, Chicago Cubs . (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Dave Kingman, Chicago Cubs . (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Despite spending only three years with the Chicago Cubs, Dave Kingman put together the best outing of his career in 1979 on the North Side.

When you look back at the 1979 Chicago Cubs, the first thing that comes to mind is likely Bruce Sutter’s Cy Young award. After that, however, the season seems rather forgettable, with the team placing fourth in the NL East with only 80 wins.

There was, however, one other major bright spot on that team besides the dominant Hall of Fame closer. Slugger Dave Kingman joined the Cubs in 1978 on a deal that would earn him $275,000 per year for the next five years. 1979 would be the most significant year of his career.

Kingman was comparable to your typical modern slugger, striking out a high rate while completely obliterating the baseball when he made contact. In 1979, however, Kingman took obliteration to a whole new level, posting an insane .613 slugging percentage and leading the National League with 48 long balls. That honor put him among Cubs like Bill Nicholson, Ernie Banks, Hack Wilson, Ryne Sandberg, and Sammy Sosa, who also led the league in homers.

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To put Kingman’s destruction into perspective, Sosa’s highest slugging percentage was .647, not that much better than that of Kingman. Yet, even that number would be eclipsed entirely by Kingman’s monster June, where he slugged over .800 and hit 12 home runs in 23 games, a feat more comparable to those of Barry Bonds.

Perhaps most impressive about Kingman was the theory that he didn’t like baseball and that 1979 was the year where he decided to prove to everyone how skilled he was. Before joining the Cubs, Kingman had been a reliable slugger, but it was about all he was good at. His deficiencies at other parts of the game like walking, fielding, playing small ball, and staying healthy led to a series of trades and, eventually, a release.

1979, however, saw Kingman shoot into the stratosphere, posting not just a league-best slugging percentage, but a league-leading OPS as well. He even achieved vengeance against the Mets, the team that began his long string of trades, by hitting five home runs against them across two games.

He had another three home run day on May 16 in the infamous 22 to 23 loss against the Phillies. He stunned Cubs and Phillies fans alike with a home run for the ages: an over 500-foot bomb that hit the front porch of the third house past Waveland and capped off the hat trick.

While he ended the season on a lower note than how he started, Kingman demonstrated just how amazing a player he could be. He never reached those heights again, and, eventually, the Cubs would trade him back to the Mets in 1981. Five years later, after being the same long ball blaster with little to no other skills, Kingman would be out of baseball.

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Kingman was never the most liked person in the game, and his unpopular personality likely left him relatively forgotten among other Chicago Cubs greats. Still, his 1979 campaign is worth remembering for the dramatic highs and insane power he brought to a relatively underwhelming team. If anything, he’s more of a cult hero for the joy he brought with his magnificent moonshots.