Cubs History: Randy Hundley is a legend and innovator in the game

Chicago Cubs (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Next to Gabby Hartnett, the best known catcher in Chicago Cubs history is likely Randy Hundley. Hundley arrived in Chicago from San Francisco in December of 1965, the same year that Leo Durocher took over. He came with another player who would be a great Cub, Bill Hands, as the Cubs dealt away Lindy McDaniel and Don Landrum.

Hundley was chosen by Durocher specifically to be his every day catcher. In 1966, his rookie year, he caught 149 games and hit 19 homers, a record for rookie catchers at the time. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year balloting in ’66.

Cubs: Randy Hundley’s greatest contribution to baseball

As a boy, Hundley started out as an infielder, playing for his dad. He also pitched, but decided he didn’t like either position and he asked his father if he could play catcher. Cecil Randall Hundley Sr. had played minor league catcher and he told his son that if he was also going to be a backstop, he would do it his way.

His father taught Randy to catch with one hand, using his father’s old glove. When he got to the pros, Randy became the first catcher to use the ‘hinged’ mitt, allowing a catcher to keep his throwing hand safe from foul balls, hidden behind him.*

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As soon as he reached the majors others, including the foremost catcher of the day, Johnny Bench, quickly saw the advantage of Hundley’s technique and they all eventually adopted it.

Today, all catchers try to one-hand the ball with flexible mitts that act more like a first baseman’s glove, all thanks to Randy Hundley and his dad.*

Hundley goes on the secure his place in baseball history

Randy caught an unheard of 150 or more games for three years (’67, ’68, ’69) and was generally acknowledged as the leader of the team on the field. An injury to his knee in 1970 led to him having to drastically cut back his appearances. He never regained his exceptional defensive form after that.

He retired in 1974, went on to coach the minors for a couple of years, and then he came up with another brainstorm that has since proliferated mightily. Hundley originated the fantasy camp – something that’s become widespread in baseball today.

Offering would-be ball players a chance to rub shoulders with retired Cubs stars and act like a major leaguer for a week, his camps remain enormously popular.

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Randy Hundley impacted the game we all love like no one else.

*Bill Weekes, “Cecil Hundley’s Biggest Baseball Accomplishment Son’s Rise In Majors,” Martinsville Bulletin, June 29, 1969.