Who are the 5 best right fielders in Cubs history?

(MIKE FIALA/AFP via Getty Images)
(MIKE FIALA/AFP via Getty Images) /

The “five best” series continues today with a look at the five best right fielders in s history. This series is based on last year’s all-time top 25 rankings. Unless otherwise noted, statistics are for each player’s tenure as a Cub, and references to WAR are to the Fangraphs version unless otherwise noted.

#5: King Kelly 1880-86, .316/.367/.453, 138 wRC+, 24.5 WAR

Kelly was a rich man’s Ben Zobrist, a multi-position star who crushed it no matter where he was on the diamond. He made slightly more than half of his career appearances in right, but played everywhere during his career, including 45 innings on the hill. However, unlike the devout Zobrist, Kelly was a hard-drinker and flamboyant cheater, rumored to keep a spare baseball in his pocket that he would use to prove he made a catch that he hadn’t. He was also an early nationwide sports media sensation; the song Slide, Kelly, Slide remained popular until after World War I.

#4: Wildfire Schulte 1904-16, .272/.330/.403, 115 wRC+, 28.5 WAR

The right fielder for the early 20th century Cubs juggernauts, Schulte was a classic power-speed threat typical of the great players of that time. He still leads all Cubs in career stolen bases and achieved just the third 20-20 season in baseball history. Still hitting well at age 33 for a bad Cubs team in 1916, the Cubs shipped him to the Pirates for backup catcher Art Wilson in what was likely a salary dump. This was the end of an era; Schulte was the last of the Frank Chance dynasty to leave the building.

#3: Kiki Cuyler 1928-35, .325/.391/.485, 128 wRC+, 29.2 WAR

Remember the showgirl who shot Billy Jurges? That was allegedly Cuyler’s fault. Cuyler, a clean living sort, tried to stop Jurges from seeing Violet Valli (you can’t make this stuff up), leading to the lovers’ quarrel in which Valli quite literally went ballistic. Like George Springer, Cuyler struggled with a stutter, which perhaps explains his nickname; correctly pronounced, it rhymes with “Wi-Fi.” Cuyler himself had a happier if not entirely convincing explanation. Offensively, Cuyler was a turbo-Schulte, producing doubles and steals in prodigious quantity. He stole bases at a 68 percent clip, unimpressive today but outstanding by the laxer standards of the 1930s.

#2: Bill “Swish” Nicholson 1939-48, .272/.368/.471, 135 wRC+, 37.8 WAR

A top-25’er, Nicholson was a good player that the war years made better. From 1943-45, Nicholson launched 75 homers with a slash line of .281/.378/.487 and a 145 wRC+. He had received controversial health-related draft exemptions allowing him to remain stateside. Swish initially lived up to his nickname; when he retired in 1953 he was 11th on the all-time strikeout list. Today, he’s 551st.

#1: Sammy Sosa 1992-2004, .284/.358/.569, 134 wRC+, 60.7 WAR

On May 17, 1995, Giants third baseman Matt Williams hit his 62nd home run, surpassing Roger Maris’ rec – wait, what? Williams, of course, didn’t break Maris’ record because he had the bad fortune to spread his 62 homers in 162 games over parts of three seasons. That day in May was nevertheless a critical one in baseball history; a then-current player had demonstrated the feasibility of toppling Maris.

Thanks in part to the 1994 strike, which deprived Williams (then with 43 HR) of his chance to depose Maris that year, and which may have led to MLB’s tolerance of PEDs in a misguided effort to win fans back, Sosa was one of the players who would cash in Williams’ chip. He was an unlikely suspect. In baseball history, 254 players have amassed at least a thousand plate appearances by age 22. Among them, Sosa ranks 221st in wRC+ (78), right between Frankie Hayes and Hal Janvrin.

Breakthroughs happen. Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson is just below Sosa at 77 wRC+. George Kell, a more questionable HOF’er, is just above him at 80. Sosa did stand out for his power; ranked by homers Sosa jumps to 83rd, tied with some legit major league hitters including Joe Torre. If major league teams are giving you 1000 PAs before your 23rd birthday, they must see something in you. But there are many more misses than hits in the lower wRC+ reaches of this Fangraphs list.

Sosa turned out to be the happy face of the 1998 home run race, a race that now comes with a side of brimstone. Perhaps it is the very joy with which he hunted down Maris that makes him a more compelling and sinister figure than the grimly mechanical Mark McGwire. Sosa set out to leave an indelible mark on the game. It is safe to say he succeeded.

Chicago Cubs: Looking at some honorable mention candidates

Andre Dawson (1987-92, 17.2 WAR) was, in some ways, the anti-Sosa. Calm, always professional, he was a team-first player who stood out with his performance on the field and his humanity off of it. He does share one significant attribute with Sosa: he got better once he joined the Cubs, no mean feat for a 32-year-old with knees long out of warranty. Dawson’s OPS+ with the Cubs (125) was six points better than his career. His homer and K rates were better as well. His speed had waned, of course, but when he did attempt to steal he did so at a respectable 73 percent rate.

Frank Demaree (1932-38, 12.9 WAR) played center and (mostly) right during his tenure with the strong Cubs squads of the 1930s. His two best seasons were in 1936 and 1937, during which he hit 33 of his 72 career homers. He hit less well in 1932 and 1935, but raked during both of those World Series. On the other hand, his 1938 postseason appearances against Detroit (1-for-10 with no extra-base hits) are best forgotten.

Max Flack (1916-22, 9.6 WAR) beat the odds. There have been 22,564 major league players, the vast majority have never had even a single at-bat in a World Series. Flack is in the select group that have, going 5-19 with four walks for the Cubs in the 1918 series. Flack also may have beaten the odds in a different way, by participating in throwing that series. Flack had a fractious relationship with his baseball employers prior to coming to the Cubs, but he seemed to have performed with minimal controversy once there.

However, a combination of allegedly poor performances in the 1918 series and vague accusations by Eddie Cicotte from the beyond the grave have cast a shadow over Flack’s legacy. There is little clear evidence, but I tend to think Flack is innocent . Unlike other nefarious characters of this period (Bill Dahlen, Hal Chase, Heinie Zimmerman) Flack had no apparent history of dogging it or throwing games prior to 1918, and no obvious criminal associates.

dark. Next. Taking a look at the full top 25 Cubs of all-time list

And while Flack did not hit especially well in the 1918 series (a .680 OPS) he was far better than most of his teammates, in a series marred by atrocious offense from both clubs.