During his playing days, Shawon Dunston never quite lived up to Cubs fans’ hype.
Like it or not, Shawon Dunston wasn’t that great a hitter. Sure, he was a number one overall pick back in 1982, but he was a .269 hitter in his career – including a .267 mark with the Chicago Cubs. Now his arm? That’s a different story. He would pat the ball against his glove three or four times before throwing across the diamond – and he’d still get the out.
In his 18-year career, he slashed .269/.296/.416 with an OPS of .712 and an OPS+ of 89. Those are hardly MVP-worthy numbers. With a below-average walk rate and a .146 ISO, let’s just say pitchers weren’t shaking in their spikes on the mound when Dunston stepped to the dish.
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In 1988 and 1990, he was an All-Star, joined by future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. In 1989, he had his best year as a Cub. He hit .278 in 138 games with nine home runs and 60 RBI. Sandwiched between his only two All-Star selections, Dunston performed well in the NLCS that year, batting .316/.350/.316.
He enjoyed his time with the Cubs and acknowledges that as a first overall pick, there were lofty expectations placed on him. Dunston tried to deliver, and despite his fairly pedestrian offensive performance, to this day, he says he was unhappy batting near the bottom of the order during his playing days.
"“I disliked batting eighth,” said Dunston, who was tempted to use a stronger word to express his feelings. “I know I was better than an eighth-place hitter."
After the 1995 season, he was granted free agency. He spent the rest of his career splitting time with the Giants, Cubs, Pirates, Indians, Cardinals and the Mets. He retired in 2002 with San Francisco, playing 52 games and hitting just .231.
In the end, he was happy here with the Cubs even though he never became that franchise icon some wished he would become. One guy who was a constant critic of Dunston? Statistician and sabermetric godfather Bill James, who considered Dunston an ‘eternal rookie, a player who continued until the end of his career to make rookie mistakes.’
Dunston became eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. He garnered just 0.2 percent of the vote and was promptly dropped from the ballot. Cubs fans who were around back then undoubtedly remember him, but not for the reasons they once hoped for.