CENTER FIELD: MONDAY OR DERNIER?

July 21, 2015

16 July:  (Photo: moderneracubscards.blogspot.com)

Center field is pretty thin gruel for most teams; usually a fast, good field no-hit type is inserted out there.

Occasionally you’ll get a generational player like Willie Mays, or even Jim Edmonds. Plus defense AND an amazing offense. Right now, the Dodgers Joc Pederson, who Theo passed on for Addison Russell- and it doesn’t look good at this point; still too early to tell- is one of the best combinations of defense and power to play center in the majors in a long time.

The Cubs have never had a player like that in his prime. During the team’s last dalliance with the post season they acquired veteran and long-time St. Louis cardinal nemesis Jim Edmunds. But it was the final season in a marvelous, potential Hall of Fame career, and even though Edmunds had two forks sticking out of his side by that time, he still was one of the best guys on the team; instrumental in the 2008 divisional championship.

Going back through the archives, names that pop up are far from legendary. Hyped players that never were (Adolfo Phillips) Stringers like the poor, beleaguered Don Young who took an unfair brunt of the blame for the team’s 1969 collapse or Phillies castoff Jerry Martin – who actually had two excellent seasons as Cub CF in 1979-80,hitting 19 and 23 Hrs respectively, and driving in 73 each year.

Or how about Jerry Morales? He roamed the center stage at the friendly confines four four seasons, (1974-77) never batting under .275, hitting in double figures in home runs every year, driving in as many as 91 in 1975.

“Julio” (his real name) actually was an All-Star as a Cub in 1977, raking at a top ten .345 clip at the the break, before getting plunked square in the left knee, then seeing his average did to.290.

From that point on Morales stood a good six inches farther from the plate and became susceptible to anything on the outer half. He continued to be servicable, but was never the same and subsequently was gone the next season.

But old Cubs never die, they just come back to be older Cubs, and Morales returned in 1981 for three more seasons to end his career in Chicago.

The beloved Jose Cardenal played some center between 1972-77, but mainly settled in as the every day right fielder.

The same could be said for his successor, Bobby Murcer, the one time phenom that succeeded Mickey Mantle as the New York Yankees center fielder, but once he made it to Chicago in 1977, was primarily ensconced as the sun field corner guy at Wrigley during his three season tenure.

More recently of course there is the Cubs execrable 1998 first round draft pick Corey Patterson, one of the myriad ‘legend in his own mind’ types the Cubs liked to collect in the pre-Theo era.

It’s not as if Patterson was without talent. He actually had some decent numbers with the Cubs. In 2004 – his best campaign – his line was .269, 24 HR, 72 RBI, 32 SB….

But there was something missing. That element of baseball acumen that doesn’t show up in the box score.

Patterson, as then Cubs analyst Steve Stone used to state; “fancied himself a power hitter”. Those 24 long balls were the diminutive (5’8″) outfielder’s career water mark, never hitting more than 16 in a season otherwise.

But his refusal to play the small man’s game with occasional power which his tools and skill set suggested, was his Waterloo.

In an attempt to motivate the young man, then Cubs skipper Don Baylor became progressively frustrated with Patterson’s game and particularly his refusal to master the art of bunting when he profoundly stated “Willie Mays could bunt, Oddibe McDowell couldn’t…”

This wisdom bounced off Patterson’s tin ear, and he continued his status quo of doing it “his way” and was out of baseball at age 32 – when most are right in their prime.

However Patterson DOES enter the picture for the argument for the greatest modern era Cubs CF.  But it’s his absence that’s key.

During the Cubs storied playoff run of 2003, Corey suffered a season ending injury and Cubs GM Jim Hendry was forced to acquire a fitting replacement.

And find one he did.

A really good one. Kenny Lofton.

He was so much better than the homer obsessed Patterson that his presence pushed the team towards their eventual post season run. They simply don’t get there without him.

All Lofton did was hit a robust .327 with a .383 obp, steal a bunch of bases and score a bevy of runs.

But Lofton’s stay though memorable and prosperous, was short lived, and for some inexplicable reason, he was not brought back the following season.

And then there’s Rick Monday.

A central figure of the Cub offense from 1972-76, Hitting 20 or more Hrs three times and being the only Cub CF ever to hit more than 30 deep flies with 32 in 1976.  Rick was the rare power hitting leadoff man who in four of his five seasons in Chicago compiled an obp of .362 or greater.

His opposite field power was impressive, and the shallowest in baseball left field power alleys were much to his liking.  Monday was quite the specimen at 6’3, 195, was a pro’s pro and carried himself with a cache’ and demeanor that Cub outfielders rarely conveyed.

Monday came to the Cubs from the Oakland A’s, in a 1971 offseason trade for popular two-time no-hit legend Kenny Holtzman. Monday went on to have the best seasons of his 19 year career patrolling the cozy center field at Clark and Addison.

One might wonder his thoughts on this, as the very next year the A’s went on to begin their storied trifecta of World Championships, filling Holtzman’s hand with rings, that woulda, coulda, shoulda… But that’s another story for another time.

Monday did however make it to the post season with the Dodgers in 1977-8, and won his sole World Championship in the strike shortened 1981 season.

The conversation for premier CF can’t conclude without exploring the unique talents of early 80s mainstay Bobby Dernier.

The first of the what at the time was tabbed “the daily double”, along with the budding superstardom  of Ryne Sandburg, the duo at the top of the order terrorized National League pitching with a combination of power (Sandburg) and speed (both) from 1982-6.

Dernier stole 35, 45, 31 and 27 bases during that time and offered perhaps the finest leadoff man the team has ever had in the modern era.

His contributions in 1984 were instrumental in achieving their first postseason since 1948. The numbers?

.278/.356/45 steals. 63 walks and only 60 strikeouts.

Dernier could bunt and play small ball. He won a Gold Glove in 1984. The only Cub CF to ever earn that honor.

So Cubsquest is boiling this far from slam dunk down to Dernier and Monday.

In Monday’s five seasons, he hit 104 homers, by far the most power out of than position. His OBP averaged .365. And his defense, while not quite in Dernier’s league was certainly more than adequate.

His most famous moment is rescuing the American flag from some idiots attempting to burn it in center field at Dodger stadium. The former Marine swooped in and snatched it at the last minute, and it so impressed Tommy LaSorda that he promptly traded for him.

Interesting facts about the flag saving incident:

The Cub pitcher was Steve Stone

Monday received a 5 minute standing ovation after the incident; the scoreboard said ‘RICK MONDAY YOU MADE A GREAT PLAY’

In 2008 he was awarded an American flag that flew over Valley Forge

He still has the flag he rescued in 1976. He has been offered over a million dollars for it but has refused all offers

He was quoted as saying ‘if you’re going to burn the American flag don’t do it around me’

Perhaps he didn’t get the Cubs to the playoffs. They weren’t a very good team while he was there. And Bobby Dernier and Kenny Lofton did.

Given the body of evidence, and considering that awesome moment at Chavez Ravine, Cubsquest says Rick Monday is THE Cub center fielder of all time…

 


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