Chicago Cubs: Will we ever see a player spend his entire career here again?

Thomas Erbe
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

Will we see another player spend his entire career with the Chicago Cubs organization ever again? As recent history indicates, the answer is probably not.

Now if this question were asked immediately following the World Series in 2016, or even leading into that season, I would have answered it with “Yes, and I see at least three right now.” Those three would have been Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras. (Remember, Anthony Rizzo came to Chicago via trade; he also played for the San Diego Padres and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox.) I could have even made an argument for Addison Russell too, at the time, of course.

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As of today, only one of those five players mentioned remain on the Chicago Cubs. It is still a strange thought that the core we thought would be here for life is now broken up and scattered across the league.

Whether it be the player refusing to hang up the cleats or the franchise deciding to go in a new direction or capitalize on value, the Cubs have a long history of “franchise” players playing somewhere else. You don’t even have to go that far to find them, just look at the foul poles.

Along with 42 league-wide for Jackie Robinson, the Chicago Cubs franchise has retired five different numbers for six different players. Of those six players, just one  spent his entire career wearing only a Cubs uniform – “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks.

Five retired numbers, one lifetime Cub. Think about that.

Now, there are a couple of bullet points I do need to make here to keep things fair:

  • Ron Santo spent only his final season elsewhere, on the South Side with the White Sox.
  • Billy Williams spent only his last two seasons elsewhere, in Oakland with the Athletics.
  • Rhyne Sandberg had six at-bats in 13 games breaking into the league with the Philadelphia Phillies, then moved to Chicago and stayed for the remainder of his career.

But both of our good ole’ number 31’s Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux spent the better part of half of their careers not on the Cubs.

Banks is the only one who stayed start-to-finish, playing in only one uniform, something we just do not see. It has never been more apparent than today’s game.

Chicago Cubs: Loyalty between teams, players growing rarer and rarer

I was born in Chicago, but grew up in Atlanta. I saw a lot of Braves in my childhood, probably more than Cubs if I’m being honest. I grew up watching Chipper Jones, another guy who never wore any colors but a Braves uniform. And now, he’s an ambassador for the team. I could make an argument that he should be “Mr. Brave” for them.

The reason I bring that up is because that was my expectation for Bryant. When he was drafted, when he came up, I was playing a game of ignorance with the “seven is more than six” conversations and the writing on the wall that the plan was always to not re-sign KB. I wanted him to change the narrative and be the Cub for life. I wanted Rizzo to never wear another uniform again. Heck, I’d even watch Baez strikeout on a low and outside pitch for another 10 years if that meant he was ours. My heart outweighs my brain, obviously.

Our only hope (for now) to see a Cub for life is Willson Contreras. He has already expressed his desire to be a Chicago Cub for his entire career; just as Bryant did, just as Baez did, just as Rizzo wanted to finish. They are all gone now, and Contreras remains.

If I were to place a bet, I’d say we’re in for another tough goodbye in the next two years and another “Cub for life” making his return to Wrigley in a different uniform. It’s just how business is run here.

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Don’t be too sad, at least we’ll see him again someday singing the seventh inning stretch on a Friday afternoon from the TV booth.