Early 1960s accidental deaths of two infielders likely cost Cubs and White Sox several pennants in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
By William S. Bike
The Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox perennial pennant contenders and pennant winners?
As unlikely as this scenario seems, the teams were headed that way in the 1960s — until fate stepped in and took the lives of two young men who were great ballplayers — and great people.
Cub fans of a certain age remember the Williams-Santo-Banks Cubs of the 1960s and early 1970s, and how close they came to winning the pennant, particularly in the years 1967–1973. One or two more good players could have gotten the Cubs not only one pennant, but several.
Few people remember that they had a player who was not only good but great, but was tragically lost.
That player was second baseman Ken Hubbs.
Hubbs was only the second Rookie of the Year in Cubs’ history. After Billy Williams won the award in 1961, Hubbs followed up as Rookie of the Year in 1962.
People may look back at Hubbs’ two full years in the majors, 1962 and 1963, and be unimpressed with his batting. He hit a respectable .260 in his Rookie of the Year season in 1962, but his batting suffered from the sophomore jinx in 1963 when he hit a mediocre .235.
But Hubbs’ value to the Cubs generally wasn’t at the plate. Hubbs in only two years proved to be one of the most sensational fielders in major league history.
He was the first rookie in baseball history to win a Gold Glove Award in his rookie season. He set several fielding records that year, and easily won Rookie of the Year.
As a 13-year-old, Hubbs played shortstop in the 1954 Little League World Series. In that series, there was a play in which he ran all the way from shortstop to right field to catch a fly ball. And he did that despite playing the whole Little League tournament that year with a broken toe.
So with Hubbs’ incredible range, having him in the infield was like having a tenth player on the field. In Chicago softball leagues, there is a tenth player called the short center, who serves as an extra infielder and outfielder. When Hubbs was playing second base for the…