The infield at Wrigley Field has but one thing in common with a clear night sky in the middle of nowhere: It’s full of bright shining stars. Tinker to Evers to Chance, meet Bryant to Russell to Zobrist to Rizzo.
The latter may not have the eternal poetic lyrical value of the former, the Cubs’ famous double play combination immortalized in the poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” by sportswriter Franklin Pierce more than a century ago, but the Cubs’ current fearsome infield foursome has already made its mark on baseball history.
This year’s Cubs’ starting infield is just the second ever to start at all four positions in the All-Star Game, the 1963 Cardinals (Ken Boyer, Dick Groat, Julian Javier, and Bill White) being the only other time this has happened. It’s also an accomplishment that happened by the slimmest of possible margins, with Cubs starting second baseman Ben Zobrist beating out Daniel Murphy for the starting nod by 88 votes.
Whether or not each player deserved to start at his respective position will likely be debated for awhile, but all four likely wound up receiving a bump due to the Cubs’ blistering first half of the season, which has them up by 8.5 games over the Cardinals despite some recent woes.
Bryant and Rizzo were the absolute no-brainers. Bryant, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, is proving in his sophomore campaign that his phenomenal freshman year was no fluke. He leads all of baseball with 25 home runs to go along with an impressive .948 OPS and 44 extra base hits. Likewise, Rizzo leads all NL first basemen in home runs (20), RBI (61), OPS (.964) and extra base hits (40).
Zobrist, meanwhile, has been one of the key reasons why the Cubs are in the position they’re in, despite the fact that he has cooled off significantly over the past month or so.
Of the four, Russell’s selection is the most puzzling from a statistical perspective. While he’s shown flashes of brilliance mostly with the glove and potential with the bat, he hasn’t been, ummm, quite the offensive stalwart Bryant, Rizzo, and Zobrist have been, to put it generously.
Russell’s .242 batting average has him tied for 10th among all NL shortstops out of 14 according to MLB.com, and he ranks 7th or worse in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. However, never count out the Cubs fans’ loyalty which clearly carried Russell in the voting. Offensively speaking, he’s nowhere near the most deserving candidate to start at the position — That would be future NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager and his .304/.362/.539 slash line. However, playing for the darling of the 2016 MLB season while making any number of jaw-dropping plays defensively means voters are willing to overlook your shortcomings with the bat, apparently.
So, whatever became of the 1963 Cardinals and their star-studded infield, anyways?
According to Retrosheet, that team was 46-38 heading into the All-Star break, good enough for fourth place in the National League, which was just a single division at the time with the winner heading straight to the World Series.
They’d go 47-31 in the second half of the season, good enough for 93 wins…and second place in the National League, six games behind the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The good news for Cardinals fans back then, and perhaps Cubs fans now? That Cardinals team would bounce back and win the World Series themselves the very next season.
Matt Lindner is a sports and business reporter, he routinely contributes his thoughts on baseball to SiriusXM. Don’t forget you catch all of the festivities from the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game on SiriusXM’s Major League Baseball Network Radio.
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