London Series: Five Cubs Legends who would excite Home Run Derby X

Last week, MLB Europe announced that, in addition to two games of major league baseball, the UK would be treated to a three-day baseball bonanza in Trafalgar Square as part of London Series 2023.

The event is described as a “three-day celebration of the best of baseball culture, set in one of the capital’s most iconic locations”. It will feature Home Run Derby X: The Cage, a “dimension-defying new baseball game that blends real life and virtual gameplay using the latest ball tracking technology” and that will feature “teams of MLB Legends, Superstars, and Big Hitters, representing the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and St Louis Cardinals”.

The announcement got me thinking about which former Cubs players I would like to see participate in the event. So I compiled a list of players that a) played during my time as a fan, b) would qualify as a Cubs ‘legend’, and c) could potentially still participate in such an event.

Dexter Fowler: 2015-2016

When the Cubs traded for Dexter Fowler in January 2015, they acquired one of the most effective leadoff hitters in baseball. Along with a career .366 OBP and 12.5 percent walk rate, the centre fielder averaged just over 15 stolen bases per season as of 2014, while bringing bags of experience to a young team.

Fowler was by no means a power hitter though, having managed to go yard just 48 times in seven major league seasons to that point – six of which were spent playing at Coors Field. While Fowler managed just 17 regular season home runs for the Cubs in 2015 and a further 13 in 2016, he did hit one of the most important home runs in franchise history; a lead-off home run off of Corey Kluber that came just four pitches into Game Seven of the 2016 World Series. It was the first-ever lead-off home run in a World Series Game Seven in baseball history and secured Fowler a place in both the record books and Chicago Cubs lore.

Fowler left the Cubs at the end of 2016, signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the rival St. Louis Cardinals, where he was plagued by injury. He retired in 2021 and has since started a broadcasting career with the Cubs television network Marquee, solidifying his link to the club and making him a prime candidate for Home Run Derby X.

Carlos Peña: 2011

Carlos Peña was thirty-three when he signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs in 2010. Two years removed from his sole All-Star appearance – and a regular season campaign that saw him hit 39 home runs for the Tampa Bay Rays – the lefty first baseman offered plenty of power-hitting potential.

Peña was, however, coming off a plantar fascia injury impacted season that limited him to a career-low .196 batting average while he struck out 158 times in 484 at-bats. Regardless, he hit 28 home runs that year and succeeded in duplicating the number exactly for the Cubs in 2011 while also bringing Gold Glove-calibre defence to the line-up.

As the Cubs shifted into rebuild mode the following season, Peña lasted just a year on the North Side. He retired in 2014 at the age of 36, having hit 286 career home runs over the course of a major league career that spanned fourteen seasons.

In 2017, Peña participated in MLB Battlegrounds, an experimental predecessor to Home Run Derby X that took place in Hyde Park and had an “awesome” time, suggesting he’d be up for returning for this year’s event.

Alfonso Soriano: 2007-2013

The eight-year, $136 million deal the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to in November 2006 is frequently referred to as one of the worst contracts in franchise history. It was the fifth-largest total package given to a major league player at the time (up there with A-Rod and Jeter) and a sure-fire statement of intent from a team that finished 66-96 in 2005.

Like most mega deals, it paid dividends in the early years, as Soriano helped the Cubs make the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, hitting 62 home runs during that span.

As the team fell out of contention and their superstar centre fielder began to age, the contract became something of an albatross for the Cubs, even though Soriano notched a further 119 home runs between 2009-13.

He was an 8.2 fWAR player during his tenure with the Cubs and only failed to exceed 20 home runs once – during his final season, when the rebuilding Cubs agreed to eat a chunk of his remaining salary just to get him off the books. Soriano retired in 2014 at the age of 38 but remains in incredible shape, which suggests he’d be more than capable of holding his own at Home Run Derby X.

Derrek Lee: 2004-2010

Derrek Lee’s Cubs career was beginning to wind down when I started following the team. During his seven-year tenure on the North Side, he was an absolute tour de force at the plate, hitting a whopping 179 home runs during that stint.

Lee made two All-Star appearances as a Cub, once in 2005, when he hit .335/.418/.662 with a 1.080 OPS, 107 RBI and a career-best 46 HR, and then again in 2007. That year, and again in 2008, Lee used his experience of winning the World Series with the Florida Marlins in 2003 (sorry, fellow Cubs fans) to lead the team back to the postseason, and although they were swept out of the National League Division Series both years, Lee produced in both series, hitting .333 with four hits in 2007 and .545 with six hits in 2008.

Lee remained on the North Side until 2010, when, with the team well out of the race for the Central Division, he was traded to the considerably more competitive Atlanta Braves. He continued playing until 2011 and remains, in the eyes of many Cubs fans, one of the most underappreciated players in recent history. He threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Cubs game in September 2021 and would be a huge draw if he were to appear at Home Run Derby X.

Aramis Ramírez: 2003-2011

Aramis Ramírez was something of a rarity in that he played all of his 18-year big league career in the NL Central Division. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was traded to the Cubs in 2003, a year that saw him hit 27 regular season home runs while recording a 102 OPS+. Ramírez was a force in the postseason that year too, notching one home run and three RBI in the five-game NLDS series against the Atlanta Braves, before hitting three home runs and driving in seven RBI against the Florida Marlins in the ill-fated NLCS (sorry Cubs fans).

During the lean years before the Cubs made their eventual return to the postseason in 2007, Ramírez remained a bright spot on a bad team, hitting .318/.373/.578 with a .951 OPS, 36 home runs and 103 RBI in 2004 and .291/.352/.561 with a .912 OPS, 38 home runs and 119 RBI in 2006.

Unfortunately, he exemplified the Cubs’ struggles when they did return to the postseason though, registering zero hits in the 2007 NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks and just two hits in the 2008 NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Despite the absence of subsequent playoff baseball, Ramírez stayed with the Cubs until 2011, when he signed with the rival Milwaukee Brewers.

Over the course of his career on the North Side, he averaged 28 home runs (hitting 239 in total), 96 RBI and a .297/.359/.533 slashline and currently sits sixth on the Cubs’ all-time home run leader list, making him the Cubs legend I would most like to see represent the North Siders at Home Run Derby X.

Honorary mention: Kosuke Fukudome: 2008-2011

Having already attained stardom in the Nippon Professional Baseball, Kosuke Fukudome signed with the Cubs in 2008 at the age of 31. The Japan native quickly endeared himself to the Wrigley Field faithful by hitting a game-tying, three-run home run off Milwaukee Brewers closer Eric Gagne in his regular-season debut.

After a solid first year in which he hit .257/.359/.379 with a .738 OPS, 10 home runs and 58 RBI, helping the Cubs reach the postseason while also being named an All-Star, Fukudome drifted into a gradual decline, failing to deliver on the four-year, $48 million contract he’d signed with the Cubs until he was traded to the Cleveland Indians part way through the 2011 season.

After another failed stint in Chicago, this time with the White Sox, Fukudome returned to Japan, where he continued to play until he retired last year at the age of 45.

Over the course of an incredible career that spanned three decades, he logged an impressive .279/.375/.462 slashline with 2,519 hits and 334 home runs. Fukudome was my first favourite Cub, and as a result, I’d love to see him make an appearance at this year’s London Series.

Featured image of Dexter Fowler by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sean Guest is the Chicago Cubs correspondent for Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @SW_Guest

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.