“MVP” meant something different a decade ago.
A passing comment on Twitter has led to my next pet project. I’ve compiled a 25-man roster of the best bad Cubs of my time. Let me clarify a few things right off the bat. I looked at stats, but I really don’t care about your stats-based argument. This is supposed to be fun. Calm down. As you’ll see as the roster develops, personality wasn’t as big a factor as it was for the Bottom 126. However, watching a bad player play well as a Cub made generally made him pretty likeable. I’m starting with the bullpen, then I’ll do the bench, then the starting pitchers, and finally the starting eight. HERE is the roster so far.
In the late ’90s to about the mid-2000s, there were a weird number of players that the Cubs and Boston Red Sox swapped back and forth as they both sought to avoid 100 titleless years. Jimmy Anderson, Shane Andrews, Terry Adams, Rod Beck, Damon Buford, Frank Castillo, Matt Clement, Jeff Fassero, Cliff Floyd, Chad Fox, Gary Gaetti, Nomar Garciaparra, Geremi Gonzalez, Tom Gordon, Mark Guthrie, Ricky Gutierrez, Chris Haney, Bob Howry, Damian Jackson, Sandy Martinez, Wade Miller, Bill Mueller, Troy O’Leary, Darren Lewis, Ron Mahay, Pat Mahomes, Orlando Merced, Kent Mercker, Mike Remlinger, Rey Sanchez, Matt Stairs, Chris Stynes, Julian Tavarez, Jermaine Van Buren, Todd Walker, and Scott Williamson all played for both historically horrible franchises around that time. The swapping worked for the Red Sox. Not so much for the Cubs. The starting third baseman on the Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time was one of those guys. Many Cubs fans blamed Dusty Baker for mismanaging Mark Bellhorn and not handing him the starting third base position during the 2003 season. I’m all for blaming Dusty Baker for everything. But I don’t think this one was on him. Bellhorn was awesome for exactly one season. Fortunately, that season happened when he was with the Cubs. Unfortunately, it happened in 2002, when they were absolutely terrible. Nevertheless, Bellhorn’s Cub career was enough to earn him a spot on this team.
Bellhorn was selected in the second round of the 1995 amateur draft by the Oakland Athletics, ahead of Carlos Beltran. The A’s saw a switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate. Which…Carlos Beltran also was, only Beltran was much better in the field. This is the pre-Billy Beane Oakland days, so feel free to continue worshiping him as a deity. In the minors, Bellhorn walked a whole lot, struck out a hell of a lot more, and hit some home runs. He got his first cup of coffee in 1997. On June 10, the A’s were visiting the Detroit Tigers, and Bellhorn started at second base. Bellhorn singled in his first MLB at-bat and ended the day 1-4 with, miraculously, no strikeouts.
Bellhorn’s power didn’t really develop until he was twenty-five years old. That year, he hit 24 home runs in 117 games for the triple-A Sacramento River Cats. The next year, the A’s called up Bellhorn in mid-April to pinch hit and fill in around the infield. He managed to stay in Oakland for nearly the entire year before being sent back down to triple-A at the trade deadline. He kicked ass back down in the minors, hitting 12 home runs in only 43 games.
Suffice it to say, Bellhorn was up and down in four seasons with the A’s. He had only 374 plate appearances and hit .198/.296/.316. But his hot finish in the minors in 2001 was enough for the Cubs to send infielder Adam Morrissey to Oakland for Bellhorn. Were you one of the weirdos who complained about the trade? If so, you’re sad. And Cub prospects are often overrated. So don’t get your hopes up TOO much for the future. Anyhow, the Cubs had Delino DeShields at second base, but…the Cubs had Delino DeShields at second base. Bellhorn was originally brought in to spell DeShields and Bill Mueller at third base, but something happened. He hit. He hit a lot. He hit so much that Don Baylor had no choice but to bench everyone’s favorite second baseman, especially when it became abundantly clear that all Bobby Hill could do effectively was pump blood through his forearms.
Bellhorn responded that year. He hit 27 home runs and drove in 56 RBIs in 529 plate appearances. His line for a terrible 67-95 Cub team was .258/.374/.512. His OPS+ was better than any Cub that year save Sammy Sosa. As an aside, did you ever think you’d be old enough to find a Sammy Sosa reference dated? As a further aside, guess who had the fourth-highest OPS+ on that team behind Sosa, Bellhorn, and Fred McGriff? Angel Echevarria. YOU HAVE WATCHED SOME TERRIBLE CUB TEAMS. Bellhorn may have been the best bang for the buck in the 2002 season, as he made only $224K in salary that year. Also, he and Sammy Sosa almost killed each other.
Many Cub fans expected Bellhorn to repeat his performance in 2003. If you think that might have helped, had Bellhorn not been bad in 2003, the Cubs may never have landed Aramis Ramirez. Would 2002 Bellhorn have been better in the 2003 playoffs than Ramirez? The world will never know, as in June 20, Bellhorn was traded by the Cubs to the Colorado Rockies for Jose Hernandez. He, too, was awful, but he was also part of the Kenny Lofton-Ramirez trade (as was Hill).
The Rockies sent Bellhorn to the Red Sox prior to the 2004 season as part of a conditional deal. The condition was that he had to be fucking awesome in the 2004 playoffs. Bellhorn had a good regular season with the Red Sox, hitting .264/.373/.444 with 17 home runs and 82 RBIs, though he led the league in strikeouts with 177. Again, we’ll never know how Bellhorn would have fared in the 2003 playoffs with the Cubs. HOWEVER. Bellhorn become a goddamn legend in the playoffs with the Red Sox. Here you go.
ALCS GAME 6
ALCS GAME 7
WORLD SERIES GAME 1
Also, I can’t stand the Red Sox, but I love Francona. And MLB umps have sucked for at least 10 years.
Bellhorn regressed again in 2005, and the Red Sox released their hero in August of that year. The New York Yankees signed him 11 days later, because the Yankees truly believe in the “If you can’t beat him, sign him” way of doing business. Bellhorn was unremarkable toward the end of his career, bouncing around in free agency from the Yankees to the San Diego Padres, to the Cincinnati Reds, to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and finally back to the Rockies.
Bellhorn finished his ten-year career with a .230/.341/.394 batting line. In his year and a half with the Cubs, he hit a terrific .247/.366/.466 with 29 home runs, 78 RBIs, and 105 walks. And that’s why he beat out the “also receiving consideration” guys: Luis Salazar, Steve Buechele, Ron Coomer, Cody Ransom, Gary Gaetti, and Vance Law.
So, where is Bellhorn now? Well, he tweeted once in September of 2012. Maybe if you live in the Boston area, you can find him…eating donuts?
Greatest Cub Moment: All of Bellhorn’s 2002 season was pretty record-setting for the Cubs. He hit more home runs in a season (27) than any other Cub switch-hitter, and he was the first player in Cub history to hit a home run at every infield position. But August 29, 2002 was probably his finest hour as a Cub. The were Cubs visiting the Milwaukee Brewers, and were locked in a scoreless game going into the fourth inning. After Alex Gonzalez led off the fourth with a walk, Bellhorn hit a two-run homer from the right side of the plate. Later in the inning, Bellhorn hit a three-run home from the left side in a 10-run Cub explosion. Bellhorn’s five RBIs in the inning tied a team record, and he was the first player in National League history to hit a home run from both sides of the plate in an inning. In fact, he was the last Cub player to homer from both sides of the plate in a game until Dioner Navarro did it against the Chicago White Sox in 2013. Bellhorn finished the day 2-4 with five RBIs, two runs scored, and a walk. That’s a good day.
Worst Moment as a Human: June 30, 2003. Yeesh. The Arizona Diamondbacks were in Colorado to face Bellhorn’s Rockies. Bellhorn went to the plate six times and came away empty each time. In each of his last three at-bats, Bellhorn came up with a 4-4 tie and a runner in scoring position. He flied out all three times, and after getting outscored 4-3 in the 12th inning, the Rockies managed to lose an 8-7 game.