Cubs: Discovering the fountain of youth in the summer of 1989
Chicago Cubs: All eggs in one basket
The 1988 season for the Cubs was less than stellar. Lackluster production from much of the offense, despite a steady rotation, led Chicago to a fourth straight losing season. It became apparent a change needed to happen, and, in the face of a fifth consecutive losing season, the club made a drastic change.
Dave Martinez, who the Cubs had drafted three years earlier, was coming off a solid season in 1987 where he hit .292/.372/.418 but digressed the following season to a .254 clip before he was traded to the Montreal Expos midway through the year.
In desperate need of a center fielder, the Cubs turned to 23-year-old rookie Walton. Moving quickly through the system, Walton established himself as a solid piece in the minors. He slashed .331/.399/.425 at Double-A in 1988 and as a surprise contender for the center fielder role Walton took off in his rookie season.
Don Zimmer who managed the club during this junction gave Walton rave reviews on Walton to Baseball Digest:
"“He amazes me with his fielding and his hitting every day I see him. If Jerome Walton isn’t rookie of the year, I don’t know who will beat him out. I don’t know how anyone can play better than he has.”"
Walton played 116 games during his first year, slashing .293/.335/.385 with 24 stolen bases. From July 21-August 20, Walton reeled off a 30-game hit streak, topping the previous high set by Ron Santo. In that span, Walton hit .338 and posted a .801 OPS. Zimmer’s thoughts came to fruition as Walton earned the National League Rookie of the Year.