Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Cubs Fact: First Player of the Decade

The youngest players in the major leagues today are 21 years old, born in 1988. It won't be much longer before we have our first player born in the 1990's.

This week's fact looks at the first Cub player from the past seven decades, starting with the 1980's

The Cub's first player born in the 1980's was Carlos Zambrano, who made his debut on August 20, 2001 at the age of 20. I'm sure you are all aware of what Z has done since.

1970's: Pitcher Jessie Hollins made his debut on September 19, 1992 at the age of 22. He did not achieve the success that Carlos Zambrano did. Hollins appeared in four games for the Cubs that September and never pitched in the major leagues again.

1960's: The Cubs first player from my era was outfielder Mel Hall, who made his debut on September 3, 1981 at the age of 21. The best thing Hall did for the Cubs was getting traded to Cleveland in the Rick Sutcliffe trade in 1984.

1950's: Knucklecurve specialist Burt Hooton was the Cubs first player born in the '50s. He joined the team straight out of college and debuted on June 17, 1971 as a 21 year old.

1940's: Dick Ellsworth was the first 1940's born Cub. He made his first appearance as an 18 year old on June 22, 1958. He ended up with an 8 year career with the Cubs, winning as many as 22 games in 1963. After his time with the Cubs, he played with four other teams before retiring in 1971.

1930's: A real no-name here, pitcher Andy Varga was the first Cub born in the 1930's. He pitched in one game in 1950 as a 19 year old. He resurfaced the next year in two games, but that was it for Andy Varga. No baseball card of Andy Varga was ever issued.

1920's: Pitcher Johnny Schmitz made his debut for the Cubs on September 6, 1941 as a 20 year old. He made 23 appearances in 1942 and then was off to the war. He rejoined the Cubs in 1946 and spent the next 5 1/2 seasons on the north side. His best season was 1948 when he went 18-13 and was named to the All Star team. He was traded to Brooklyn midway through the 1951 season and then spent the next six years with six different teams. The only Topps issued card of Schmitz with the Cubs was from their first set in 1951. This card is a blue back

Recap - All but one of these decade firsts were pitchers. It must take more time to develop into a major league hitter than a pitcher. Four of the pitchers (Zambrano, Hooton, Ellsworth, and Schmitz) ended up as All Stars. That surprised me, knowing the Cubs poor record for developing talent.

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