Best Cubs Players Of All Time: Top 5 Legendary Chicago Athletes, According To Fans

Chicago is a midwestern metropolis known for its windy conditions, hearty deep-dish pizzas, and passionate sports fans. Without a doubt, one of the most passionate fanbases in Chicago is Cubs fans. The Cubs have been playing at Wrigley Field for well over 100 years, and the franchise is a staple of the city of Chicago as well as professional baseball in America. Chicago is home to generational Cubs fans, and they’re beyond invested in their baseball team. Yes, Cubs fans have plenty of history to draw from when trying to determine the best Cubs players of all time. Of course, there’s a fair amount of debate over which players should be considered among the greats. 

And speaking of fans arguing over sports, a recent study found that sports fans are willing to end friendships over sports. A survey of 2,000 American football fans found that a staggering 52 percent of respondents are willing to call it quits with a friend because that person cheers for a rival football team. Furthermore, the survey sought to discover where fans prefer to watch their favorite team play. Just over 35 percent of fans say they prefer to watch in person at the stadium while 30 percent of respondents prefer to watch their team play from the comfort of their own home. 

While we’re on the topic of serious fandom, another study found that the average sports fan is willing to travel to see their favorite team play in person. A survey of 2,000 self-identified sports fanatics examined the lengths people are willing to go to in order to watch their favorite sports team play in person. The survey found that the average fan is willing to travel a whopping five hours and 48 minutes plus spend $762.20 on tickets just to see their favorite team play live. Sounds like a great way to spend a vacation and celebrate your fandom at the same time. And, we hear Wrigley Field is a great summertime destination

So, which players are considered legends in the windy city? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and baseball websites in an effort to bring you the best Cubs players of all time. As always, feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

person holding blue Chicago Cubs cap at Wrigley field
Chicago Cubs hat at Wrigley field (Photo by Blake Guidry on Unsplash)

The List: Best Cubs Players of All Time, According to Baseball Experts 

1. Ernie Banks (1953-1971)

Ernie Banks played all around the infield for the Chicago Cubs in the 1950s and ’60s, but he starred at shortstop. Ernie Banks could do everything on a baseball field – hit, throw, run, and field. Ernie Banks defined Chicago Cubs baseball for nearly two decades. 

Ernie Banks
Ernie Banks (“Ernie Banks” by John Mathew Smith & is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

“Many players on this list could be shuffled around or replaced, but naming the best player in Chicago Cubs history was an easy choice. Ernie Banks, ‘Mr. Cub’ is the greatest player to ever suit up for the team, and the numbers speak for themselves. The Hall of Fame infielder played all 19 of his seasons with the Chicago Cubs and was an All-Star 14 times during his career. Banks won back-to-back MVP Awards in 1958 and 1959 and is one of the best players in Major League history as well. Banks played in 2,528 games with the Cubs, which is the most all-time. Number 14 also holds the franchise record for most at-bats, most plate appearances, most total bases, and most extra-base hits,” writes Cub Baseball

In all, Banks holds countless records as a Cubs player. “Who else but ‘Mr. Cub’? Banks won back-to-back NL MVP Awards in 1958 and 1959, and was a 14-time All-Star during a career spent exclusively with the Cubs. Banks is the all-time Cubs leader in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), plate appearances (10,396), total bases (4,706), extra-base hits (1,009), sacrifice flies (96) and intentional walks (202). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, and the Cubs retired his No. 14 in 1982,” adds Audacy.  

However, Ernie Banks didn’t start his career in MLB. Ernie Banks was originally a member of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League before serving in the Army and eventually signing with the Chicago Cubs of MLB. Banks was the franchise’s first African American player, and his legacy as the best Cubs player of all time is just the icing on the cake. 

“After being spotted by Cool Papa Bell while he was playing in Amarillo, Texas, Banks was signed to play in the top negro league for the Kansas City Monarchs. After a stretch in the army in the Korean War, he was signed by the Cubs and made his debut on September 17, 1953, the first black man to play for the franchise. Banks became a superstar in his third year when he hit 44 home runs. He hit 40 homers four more times before he was 30, and he won two MVP awards,” explains Baseball Egg

2. Ryne Sandberg (Cubs Player from 1982-1994 & 1996-1997)

Originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, Ryne Sandberg would go on to play for the Cubs and become an instant star. In the late ’80s, there were a handful of stars among Chicago’s professional athletes, and Ryne Sandberg was certainly one of them. 

Ryne Sandberg
Ryne Sandberg (“Ryne Sandberg” by mwlguide is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

“Ryne Sandberg was actually drafted by the Phillies and coincidentally would come full circle with his original franchise when he later became Philadelphia‘s manager. But make no mistake. The second baseman is a Chicago Cub. Sandberg spent all but 13 games of his playing career in a Cubs uniform and just piled up accolade after accolade for this team. He made 10 all-star teams, won seven Silver Sluggers and nine Gold Gloves, and was the 1984 NL MVP. He led the league in runs three times, triples once, and won a home run derby. Sandberg’s number 23 is retired in Chicago, and he was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2005,” explains Yardbarker.    

Of course, Sandberg wasn’t the only Chicago star wearing number 23 in the ’80s and early ’90s. However, Ryne Sandberg defined Cubs baseball during his time with the team, and when you consider his MVP, and nine gold gloves, it’s easy to see why Sandberg is one of the best Cubs players of all time. 

“Ryne Sandberg is the greatest second baseman in Cubs history and by a long stretch. He’s one of the best in that position of all time, period. His athleticism, grittiness, and passion for making outstanding defensive plays were only topped by his offensive impact. Sandberg is 4th all-time in stolen bases in Cubs history. He was the building block of the team throughout his entire career and even led the league in home runs in 1990. Sadly, he was never able to lead the team to a World Series pennant but that’s the only stain on his otherwise perfect resume,” raves BolaVIP

Again, Sandberg could clearly do it all on the baseball field. Sandberg was fast, as evidenced by his stolen bases total, and when needed, the all-star second baseman could also hit for power. In all, Sandberg amassed over 2,300 hits, smashed 282 home runs, and swiped 344 bases. 

“He was the complete package for over a decade-and-a-half in the Windy City. The 1984 MVP was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. The man they call ‘Ryno’ led the MLB in runs (1984, 1989-1990), triples (1984), home runs (1990), and total bases (344) at certain points throughout his career. The career .285 hitter recorded over 2,300 hits, 1,000 RBIs, and 280 home runs… Sandberg was one of the most complete players in the MLB and in Chicago Cubs history because of what he could do with his bat and glove,” adds Sportskeeda

3. Ron Santo (Cubs Player from 1960-1973)

The legendary Cubs third baseman, Ron Santo’s career overlapped with that of Ernie Banks, providing the Cubs with one of the best infields in the National League and MLB during the 1960s. To put it simply, Ron Santo was a great hitter in the Cubs lineup. However, as one expert explains, Santo’s game tends to be underrated. Ron Santo was a balanced, great all-around baseball player.  

“Was Santo better than Brooks Robinson? He was at his peak, whether measured by three-year, five-year, or seven-year increments. Whereas Robinson derived 75% of his value from his defense, Santo was closer to a 50/50 player. His defense was excellent, but he could hit the ball out of the park too. Players like Robinson, who are clearly greater at one thing, are usually overrated a bit. While players blessed with many diverse skills tend to be underrated,” writes Baseball Egg

“Ron Santo is the most beloved and respected member of the Chicago Cubs franchise and by a – very – long stretch. He’s one of the top-tier third baseman of all time and an outstanding leader, even though he was often overlooked and underappreciated by the rest of the league. Santo’s passion and grit were contagious to the rest of the team. He was one of the best defenders in the league while also being a perennial threat [at] the plate. He led the NL in walks 5 times throughout his career. Sadly, he had to wait until his passing to finally be inducted into the Hall of Fame, which is a disrespect nobody can fathom to this day,” explains BolaVIP

It is a shame that Ron Santo wasn’t alive for his Hall of Fame induction, but unfortunately, that’s all too common in major American professional sports. Santo smacked over 340 home runs, amassed more than 2,200 hits, and scored 1,138 runs. 

“Santo spent all but one of his big league seasons with the Cubs, and he was a force to be reckoned with in every one of them. In the 14 seasons in which he called Wrigley Field home, the right handed slugger slashed .279/.366/.472 with 337 homers and 1290 RBI. He was selected to nine all-star games, won five Gold Glove awards, and was selected to the Hall of Fame in 2012. The Cubs retired Santo’s number 10 in 2003,” adds Yardbarker.  

4. Sammy Sosa (Cubs Player from 1992-2004)

Powering into the fourth spot among the best Cubs players of all time is ‘Slammin’ Sammy Sosa. Despite his alleged PED and steroid use, Sammy Sosa was a beloved member of the iconic Chicago Cubs franchise. Sosa was the best Cubs player for most of the 1990s. Along with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa helped revive a flailing league, and allegations aside, most Chicago fans feel he’s a true Cubs legend. 

Sammy Sosa
Sammy Sosa (“Sammy Sosa 12-11-12-0111” by SammySosaTheRealMr609 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)

“Let’s get this out of the way right now: Sammy Sosa ‘allegedly’ used performance-enhancing drugs, and was also caught using a corked bat. ‘Slammin’ Sammy’ was still one of the best players to ever play in Chicago, and was the best player in baseball for a short period of time. Sosa is the Cubs’ all-time leader in home runs with 545 blasts, a majority of which traveled onto Waveland Avenue. Sosa ranks in the top-10 in several other statistical categories, and his love for the game and for the city of Chicago was second to none. The slugger hit at least 49 home runs in each season from 1998-2002 and blasted 66 long balls and drove in 158 runs en route to a league MVP Award in 1998. His home run chase with Mark McGwire saved the game of baseball, and it turned the fortunes of the franchise around,” explains Cub Baseball

Sammy Sosa’s greatness wasn’t just limited to the 1998 season when he and Mark McGwire went back and forth chasing Roger Maris’s record. Sosa continued to dominate opposing pitchers in the following seasons, hitting a staggering 60+ home runs three times in four years. 

“Slammin’ Sammy and Mark McGwire electrified baseball with their home run chase in 1998, with Sosa ultimately capturing the NL MVP after hitting 66 home runs. Sosa is the only player in MLB history to hit 60 home runs in three separate seasons, having done so in 1998, 1999 and 2001. Sosa is one of nine players in MLB history in the 600 Home Run Club, with a franchise-record 545 of those having come during his time with the Cubs. In 10 years on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, Sosa was not elected. His No. 21 has not been retired by the Cubs,” writes Audacy

Perhaps Sammy will make it to the Hall of Fame one day, but for now, he’s out. However, there are a lot of great players from the ‘steroid’ era being snubbed by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). In fact, some of the best MLB players of all time are being kept out including Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Regardless of whether Sammy is recognized nationally for his accomplishments, Cubs fans continue to support him as one of the best Cubs players in history. 

“The home run chase of both he and St. Louis’ Mark McGwire tracking down Roger Maris’ historic number of 61 was national news and helped revive baseball after the ’94 strike. Sosa’s home run totals for the next few years were 63, 50, 64, 49, and 40 as he drove in well over 100 runs each season. All told, he made seven all-star teams, won a home run derby, and took home six Silver Slugger awards. Sosa’s Hall of Fame eligibility is understandably tainted by steroid use, but at the time his exploits were being celebrated by the sport,” adds Yardbarker

5. Billy Williams (Cubs Player from 1959-1974)

Rounding out the list of the best Cubs players of all time is legendary Cubs outfielder, Billy Williams. Although it took him a few years to get an opportunity, Billy Williams made the most out of his chance and was named the NL Rookie of the Year in 1961. Along with Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, Billy Williams helped comprise one of the best Cubs teams in history. The Cubs of the 1960s gave Chicago diehards hope and Billy Williams played a big role

Billy Williams statue
Billy Williams statue (“Cub Outfielder Billy Williams — Wrigley Field Chicago (IL) April 2012” by Ron Cogswell is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

“Outfielder Billy Williams debuted for the Cubs in 1959 and got cups of coffee with them in both’59 and ’60, but still had his rookie status headed into ’61 when he really got a chance to play. And once he got his opportunity, it became clear Chicago had a star on its hands. Williams slashed .278/.338/.484 with 25 homers and 86 RBI in that ’61 season and was named NL Rookie of the Year. He would go on to make six all-star teams and win a batting title in a Cubs uniform, and the club retired his number 26 when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987,” explains Yardbarker

Billy Williams possessed the rare combination of speed and power, and the legendary outfielder had no problem showing off both. Williams was a walking highlight reel, and he perfected stealing home runs by jumping high enough to snag the ball before it went over the fence. 

“Billy Williams is considered by some as the greatest outfielder to ever wear the Chicago Cubs uniform and he clearly has the numbers to back up that claim. He was nothing short of spectacular during his time with the team. Williams was hitting home runs all over the country and then making the highlight films with some incredibly athletic and impressive catches. He was a master at stealing home runs and is still second in extra-base hits (881) in franchise history,” explains BolaVIP

In all, Billy Williams smashed more than 390 home runs and racked up over 1,350 RBIs. Williams is a true Cubs legend, and during his time with the Cubs, Billy Williams even dominated one of the best pitchers of his generation. 

“Billy loved the ball down and in, and as a result of that preference, he ended up having good success against baseball’s best pitcher. Bob Gibson threw a slider unlike anyone: he held the ball with his fingers apart and he threw his slider harder than recommended, closer to his fastball speed. But Gibson found the harder he threw the slider, the more it broke down and in on left-handed batters. Williams could handle a pitch down there, even Gibby’s slider, and as a result his ten homers are the most anyone hit off the Hall of Fame pitcher,” explains Baseball Egg

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