Chicago Cubs: Looking back at Derrek Lee’s tremendous 2005 campaign

Derrek Lee, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Derrek Lee, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Derrek Lee had a nice run with the Chicago Cubs. Yet his 2005 season was one of the best by a Cubs hitter in recent memory.

The Chicago Cubs trading for Derrek Lee prior to the 2004 season turned into one of the best moves the team has made in recent memory. The deal paid immediate dividends, as Lee batted .278 with 32 home runs and 98 RBI in 2004, while bringing above-average defense to first base. Lee was a solid player, but no one could have predicted the incredible season he would have at age 29 one year later.

In many ways, the 2005 season was a forgettable one for the Cubs. A year after their late-season collapse in the National League Wild Card race – and two years after coming within one game of the National League pennant – the team finished 79-83. Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou, two staples of the previous few years, were gone. There wasn’t much to get excited about.

Yet even if the team wasn’t good, Lee gave Cubs fans a reason to watch. Early in the season, in particular, it seemed that nobody could get him out. In the first half, he batted .378 with 27 home runs. He was hitting everyone, right- and left-handers, at home and on the road. I remember the game against the New York Mets on May 11 when he hit a walk-off home run into an incredible wind coming from left field at Wrigley. The only Cubs player I can ever remember being that locked in was Sosa.

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Lee cooled off a little in the second half, yet he finished the 2005 season leading the NL in hits (199), doubles (50), batting average (.335), SLG (.662), OPS (1.080), OPS+ (174), and total bases (393). He hit 46 home runs, drove in 107 and, for good measure, won a Gold Glove Award. Amazingly, he only finished third in NL MVP voting behind Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since Lee’s memorable season, and I don’t believe any Cub has matched that production since. Kris Bryant may have come close during his MVP season in 2016, but I still say Lee’s season was better. His 7.7 WAR from 2005 ranks 13th all-time in franchise history.

Lee had a great run overall with the Cubs, yet it could have been even better had he not gotten injured early in the 2006 season and missed significant time, right after it looked like he had broken through as one of the game’s next big stars.

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I’m still glad that I got to witness Lee’s 2005 season. Whenever I think about the best seasons that I’ve ever seen a Cub have – and I’ve been a fan since 1994 – that year always is one of the first ones to come up. I hope that my fellow Cubs fans remember it fondly.