This was a tough position. There are quite a few good/bad first basemen who have played for the Cubs. Julio Zuleta, Phil Nevin, Eric Karros, Manny Trillo (1987 ver.), Carlos Pena, Xavier Nady. And go ahead and cry for Randall Simon, crybabies. It’s my list. If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past 9ish years, you’d know there was only one clear choice for this position. Hell, you might even ask yourself if the only reason I started this list was to have a reason to write an article about the greatest Cub player of all time, DARYLE WARD. And I shan’t provide an answer to that musing, good sir. Daryle Ward is an awesome, lovable teddy bear, and he is the clear choice for the starting first baseman on the Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time.
The son of former first baseman and left fielder Gary Ward, Daryle Ward was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 15th round of the 1994 amateur draft. Ward slugged baseballs and brews down in the minors, and he hit his way to value. I’m just going to go ahead and say he was involved in the biggest blockbuster trade of all time. On December 10, 1996, he was traded by the Tigers with Brad Ausmus, Jose Lima, Trever Miller and C.J. Nitkowski to the Houston Astros for Doug Brocail, Brian Hunter, Todd Jones, Orlando Miller and cash. Every other player in that deal was a worthless throw-in. Ward was the shooting star. The wildflower. The milkshake. And oh, how he did put the “shake” in milkshake.
Ward made his Major League debut with the Astros on May 14, 1998. With the Astros already trailing 6-1 in the bottom of the fifth, Ward pinch hit for pitcher Mike Grzanich. As he was wont to do, Ward battled through seven pitches, six of them strikes, before he was finally retired swinging by Jose Silva.
Ward had a decent run in parts of five years in Houston, compiling a .269/.316/.465 slash line. He played in the 1999 and 2001 NLDS with the Astros, hitting a home run each year in series losses to the Atlanta Braves. In fact, on October 12, 2001, his two-run, pinch-hit homer cut the Braves’ seventh-inning lead in half. The Astros still lost in a Braves’ sweep, but WHOSE FAULT IS THAT, LARRY DIERKER???
After the 2002 season, the Astros sent Ward to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Ruddy Lugo. Because the Astros are dumb. While the Cubs were having their best year in ages in 2003, Ward refused to take any headlines away from Chicago, turning in his worst year. Because he’s an unselfish goddamn angel. The Dodgers let Ward go after the 2003 season, so he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he had a career rebirth. Or resuscitation. Or at least he staved off the prospect of forced retirement for another few years. During his two seasons in Pittsburgh, Ward hit .256/.313/.434 with 27 home runs and 120 RBIs.
Prior to the 2006 season, Ward signed with the Washington Nationals. He hammered the ball to the tune of a .308/.390/.567 line, making him an attractive bench player for a contending team. The Braves were just that, and they sent Luis Atilano to Washington on the last day of August in exchange for Ward. Ward hit well enough for the Braves in 20 games, but they missed the playoffs, and the nation was once again deprived the opportunity to see Daryle’s big old grin on FOX.
Prior to the 2007 season, Ward signed a 2-year, $2.2M deal with the Cubs. It will be the best $2.2M the Cubs spent until they eventually buy some goddamn pants for Clark. I know it’s been some time since you’ve thought about this, but the 2007 Cubs were actually good, and Ward was great. In 133 plate appearances, Ward hit .327/.436/.527. On a free-swinging offensive team, Ward managed to draw nearly as many walks (22) as he struck out (23). His 143 OPS+ was the highest of his career, and he was a monster at Wrigley Field, where he hit .345/.457/.569.
Though Ward cooled off in the 2008 season, he still had more RBIs than Henry Blanco, so shut up, Dolan. He had, however, cooled to the point that, unbeknownst to him, his career had ended. He played his final game on September 27, 2008 against Dale Sveum’s Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs won 7-3, partially on the strength of a first-inning, two-run shot Ward hit off of Ben Sheets. And that’s how I’m going to remember him. Not for the two strikeouts in his final two at-bats.
Ward tried to catch on with the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Nationals (again), and most recently the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he didn’t stick anywhere. Like Roy Hobbs, he’s still barnstorming with the Lancaster Barnstormers in Pennsylvania along with another former Cub phenom, Ryan Harvey. Ward is on the disabled list right now, so here’s hoping for a productive 2014 from the big lug. I’m not saying, but Theo JUST SAVED all that Tanaka money…
Also, Daryle is on Twitter! He looks like he’s loving life, and isn’t that the greatest gift of all? He only has 224 followers, so get on that, people.
Greatest Cub Moment: Back before Kevin Gregg was awful for the Cubs, he was awful for the Florida Marlins. The Cubs were in Florida on August 15, 2008, and the Marlins were staked to a 5-3 lead in the top of the 9th inning. Mark DeRosa and Reed Johnson both reached base in front of Ward. When Lou Piniella called his named, Daryle was probably a bit surprised. He was currently mired in an 0-13 slump. But Daryle calmly got up from the bench, squeezed a whole tube of chocolate cookie dough into his mouth, and launched the second pitch he saw from Gregg into deep right center. Some stay he’s still rounding the bases. My runner up game is this one, when he single-handedly outscored the St. Louis Cardinals. But I have a LOT of favorite Daryle Ward games, so screw you.
Worst Moment as a Human: If you have a long enough baseball career, odds are you’re going to wear the sombrero at some point. Ward did on June 7, 2001. The Astros managed the near-impossible, losing a 2-1 game in Colorado to the Rockies. Ward had four at bats, struck out four times, and left five guys on base. NO ONE IS PERFECT, JERKS!!!