16 Top Chicago Cubs Players of All Time – and What Their Last Names Say About Them

Surnames
28 October 2016
by Ancestry

The 2016 World Series marks a historic moment for the Chicago Cubs — the first time they play in the Series since 1945.

With roots dating back to 1870, when they started playing as the Chicago White Stockings, the Cubs have had many incredible players over the years.

Here are the 16 top Chicago Cubs players of all time, and the meanings of their last names, based on top Cubs players lists from ESPN, Bleacher Report, About Sports, and Ranker.

Adrian “Cap” Anson: Anson is an English surname (found mainly in Yorkshire). It’s patronymic from one of several Middle English personal names.

Cap Anson, first player to reach 3,000 hits on July 18, 1897
Cap Anson, first player to reach 3,000 hits on July 18, 1897

Ernie Banks: Banks is an English and Scottish topographic name for someone who lived on the slope of a hillside or by a riverbank.


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It’s also from the Gaelic Ó Bruacháin, “descendant of Bruachán,” a byname for a large-bellied person.

Banks was tall and slender, not large-bellied. And he grew up neither near a hillside nor a river bank.

But being the exception rather than the rule was his hallmark. He was a trailblazer.

1955 Bowman baseball card of Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs. (PD-not-renewed)
1955 Bowman baseball card of Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs. (public domain image)

Banks signed on as the Cub’s first African-American player the same year he was discharged from the army after serving in Germany during the Korean War.

He was voted “greatest Cub ever” by fans in a 1969 Chicago Sun-Times poll. Banks was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.

Frank Chance: Chance is an English surname from Old French, chea(u)nce, “(good) fortune.” It’s also a nickname for someone considered fortunate or well favored. 

Frank Chance in 1899 (image public domain)
Frank Chance in 1899 (public domain image)

Frank Chance was certainly fortunate, in addition to being talented. He went from a reserve catcher and outfielder at the start of his career in 1898 to two-time World Series champion.

Chance was  part of the famous trio “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” and the highest paid player in baseball, earning as much as $25,000 in 1910. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1946.


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Mordecai Brown: Brown is English, Scottish, and Irish. It’s generally a nickname referring to the color of the hair or complexion.

Brown certainly had close ties with his last name; he was best known as “Brownie.”

 Mordecai Brown of the Chicago Cubs at the West Side Grounds in 1904
Mordecai Brown of the Chicago Cubs, West Side Grounds, 1904 (public domain image)

A farming accident, in which he lost most of his index finger and damaged others, was a tragedy. But it had the unexpected consequence of causing him to grip a baseball in an unusual way that resulted in an uncommon amount of spin.

His pitches were thus very hard to hit — and if you did manage to hit the ball, it often went into the ground because getting under the ball was difficult.

Brown played for the Cubs from 1904 to 1912. He was a two-time World Series champion and during his time with the Cubs won 20 or more games a half dozen times. In 1949, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Andre Dawson: Dawson is an English surname, a patronymic from Daw. Dawson’s nickname, like a number of players’, includes his last name: “Awesome Dawson.”

He played for the Cubs from 1987 to 1992 and was a star right fielder. He was the 1987 National League home run and RBI leader, with 49 runs and 137 RBI.  Not so surprisingly, he won that year’s MVP award.

Also notable: he’s one of eight Major League players to record at least 300 stolen bases and 300 home runs over the span of his career. Dawson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.


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Gabby Hartnett: Hartnett is an Irish surname (especially common in County Cork). The first syllable is probably from Art, “bear,” “hero.”

1933 Goudey baseball card of Gabby Hartnett of the Chicago Cubs #202 (public domain image)
1933 Goudey baseball card of Gabby Hartnett of the Chicago Cubs #202 (public domain image)

Hartnett was a hero of sorts, overcoming challenges to become one of the greatest catchers in the history of the National League.

In 1929, he was plagued by a mysterious arm ailment, striking out in all three of his at bats at that year’s World Series. The following year he came back with his best season, breaking his very own single-season home run record for catchers.

He played in four World Series games, hit a legendary 1938 game-winning home run that was immortalized as the Homer in the Gloamin, and joined the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

Rogers Hornsby: Hornsby is an English habitational name from a place in Cumbria. It’s from the Old Norse byname Ormr (“serpent”) +  býr (“farm”).

And guess what: There was in fact a farm in Hornsby’s personal history that played a pivotal role in his career.


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According to his biography, he “debuted professionally as an under-sized, erratic-fielding, light-hitting shortstop…at age 18.”

The St. Louis Cardinals owned his contract and tried selling him to the Little Rock of the Southern League. As Hornsby batted 0.232 at the time, Little Rock declined.

The Cardinals kept him, but after limited playing time and a .246 in the 1915 season, Hornsby decided to spend the winter bulking up, doing taxing physical labor on his uncle’s farm.

How to Play First Base Rogers Hornsby booklet (public domain image)
1939 1st edition Rogers Hornsby booklet (public domain image)

The farm work paid off. In 1916 he returned to spring training with 25 pounds of additional muscle and the rest was in a way history.

Hornsby went on to become one of the best all-time hitters. He’s the only player to bat .400 and hit 40 home runs in the same year (1922). His career batting average (.358) is the second highest in MLB history. In 1942 he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

As for the serpent part of his last name, perhaps it was reflected in his not-so-straightforward relationships.

He was not well-liked by his fellow players and had a reputation as someone who was not easy to get along with. He also had complex relationships with the women in his life, marrying a total of three times.


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Ferguson Jenkins: Jenkins is an English patronymic from Jenkin. The roots of Jenkins’ surname may be English, but he was born in Canada. He played the majority of his career (first from 1966-1973 then 1982-1983) for the Cubs.

He was the first Canadian and Cubs pitcher to win an NL Cy Young award, in 1971. He was also a three-time All-Star (1967, 1971, 1972).

Over his career, he had over 3,000 strikeouts.  In 1991, Jenkins was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first Canadian to claim the honor.

Derrek Lee: Lee is an English name for someone who lived near a meadow or a patch of arable land.

It’s not well documented whether Lee grew up living near a meadow or patch of arable land, but he did have an uncommon background compared to most Major League players: He lived in Japan during his elementary school years.

Greg Maddux: Maddux is an English surname of Welsh origin, a variant of Maddox. It’s a patronymic from the Welsh personal name Madog — which sounds an awful lot like his nickname of Mad Dog.


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Madog means good or benevolent. He definitely has used his success for good, starting the Maddux Foundation with his wife, Kathy.

Gregory (“Mad Dog”) Maddux played for the Cubs first from 1986 to 1992 then from 2004-2006. When he made his Major League debut, he was one of the youngest players in the majors.

He was a four-time NL Cy Young Award winner (1992-1995), a three-time MLB wins leader (1992, 1994, 1995), an eight-time All-Star (1988, 1992, 1994-1998, 2000), and an eighteen-time Gold Glove Award winner.

In 2005, Maddux joined the 3,000 strikeout club. He and only three other pitchers have ever topped 3,000 strikeouts while allowing fewer than 1,000 walks (999 walks in Maddux’s case).

In 2009, the Cubs jersey number 31 was retired, in honor of both Maddux and Ferguson Jenkins.


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Ryne Sandberg: Sandberg is a German and Norwegian surname, with sand meaning sand and berc (or berg) meaning mountain.

Sandberg was from Spokane, Washington, so there was no clear sand mountain connection there. But in his early life a variation of a sand mountain — a dirt mound — played an important role.

He was named after a professional baseball player, relief pitcher Ryne Duren. And in high school he was a champion baseball (and football) star whose varsity number was retired in both sports.

Sandberg spent all but one year of his career as a pro player with the Cubs, from 1982-1994 and 1996-1997. He led the National League in home runs in 1990 and was just the third second baseman to hit 40 homers.

Other career highlights include an incredible nine consecutive Golden Glove Awards (1983-1991), a 1984 National League MVP Award, and a 2005 Hall of Fame induction.

Sandberg became the fourth Cub to have his number retired (#23), following Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo.


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Ron Santo: Santo is Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese: from the personal name Santo, from santo, “holy.” It was also a nickname for a pious individual.

Ron Santo in Baseball Digest 1961 (public domain image)
Ron Santo in Baseball Digest 1961 (public domain image)

Santo was not exactly a saint (though in total fairness, how many of us are?). After a June 1969 win against the Montreal Expos, Santo was so excited he ran and jumped three times, clicking his heels each time he jumped.

He then continued doing this after every home win. Critics felt the routine was arrogant and Santo ended up discontinuing his heel clicks.

But on the day he was inducted in the Hall of Fame, the Cubs’ starting lineup performed the “kick” in tribute at the start of the game.

Over the course of his career, most of it spent as a Cub, Santo was a nine-time All-Star and Golden Glove Award winner five years in a row (1964–1968).

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012. His number (#10) was retired and a statue of him was erected at Wrigley Field in 2011.

In an inadvertent nod to his last name’s saintly origins, he did engage in charitable work. He helped raise over $65 million for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, endorsing the Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes in Chicago from 1979 until his death in 2010.

Sammy Sosa: Sosa is a Spanish surname, but his full name is Samuel Kelvin Peralta Sosa. In the Spanish naming customs, the father’s last name comes first and the mother’s last name second.

So his family surname through his father is actually Peralta.

Peralta is Aragonese, Catalan, and Spanish. It’s a habitational name from places with that name.

Sosa’s ties to Spain are via the Dominican Republic, where he was born and raised. He played for the Cubs from 1992 to 2004.

Sosa, with Mark McGwire, was named Sports Illustrated Magazine’s 1998 “Sportsman of the Year” and hit 66 home runs.

He also won the National League MVP Award. In 1999, he hit 63 homer and in 2001 hit 64, thus becoming the first player to hit 60 homers in three seasons.

Unfortunately, it was reported in 2009 by The New York Times that he was on a list of players that tested positive for performance-enhancing substances in 2003.

Though Sosa never failed an MLB illegal substance test throughout his career, the allegations cast a shadow over his career. Despite this and his anything but amicable exit from the club in 2004, his records still put Sammy on many top Cubs players lists.

Bruce Sutter: Sutter is English and South German. It’s an occupational name for a shoemaker or cobbler. 


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Sutter may have been descended from cobblers and shoemakers, but the relief pitcher’s talents, like his forefathers’, were in his hands.

And like them, traversing an ocean to start a new life, Sutter was no stranger to adversity. After recovering from arm surgery, he struggled to pitch as well as he used to.

But like often happens in sports, his challenge became a blessing in disguise, as he then was taught the split-finger fastball, which his large hand helped him master at a time when few others did.

He went from nearly being released by the Cubs to winning the 1979 National League Cy Young Award as the top pitcher in the league. He also led the league in saves for four consecutive seasons (1979-1982), becoming the only pitcher to lead the National League in saves five times.

Billy Williams: Williams is English, Scottish, and northern Irish. It’s a patronymic from the personal name Will, a very common medieval short form of William.

Billy Williams, 1961 issue of Baseball Digest.
Billy Williams, 1961 issue of Baseball Digest.

Billy Williams did his ancestors named William proud, distinguishing himself as one of the top Chicago Cubs players.

He played sixteen seasons for the Cubs (1959-1974). In 1961 he was the National League Rookie of the Year. In 1972 he was the NL batting champion and was a six-time All-Star (1962, 1964, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1973).

He hit over 400 career home runs, including thirty or more in five seasons. In 1987, Williams was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and his uniform number (#26) was retired at Wrigley Field.

Hack Wilson: Wilson’s given name was Lewis Robert Wilson. Wilson is an English name that is also very common in Wales. It is from the patronymic from William.

Just as his last name was formed based on the father’s first name, so was Wilson’s life affected by the identity of his father — and his mother.

His parents never married, and both were heavy drinkers. His mother died at the age of 24.

Perhaps because of a lack of family support he left school to take a job at a locomotive factory, swinging a sledge hammer.

This work no doubt laid the foundation for his powerful swing. Though relatively short, he weighed just shy of 200 pounds and had an 18-inch neck.

During his years with the Cubs (1926-1931), he was a National League home run leader four times. One of his homers in May of 1926 was one of the longest home runs in Wrigley Field history; he hit the center field scoreboard.

He was also the two-time National League RBI leader (1929, 1930) and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.


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Did your favorite Cubs player of all time not make this list? You can still look up the meaning of their last name — and yours. There’s no telling what it might say about them — or  you. 

What Does Your Last Name Say About You?

Try typing your surname into the Ancestry Last Name Meanings and Origins widget.

You can uncover the meaning of your last name plus other interesting facts like where your family lived in the U.S. and U.K., average life expectancy and common occupations.

Who knows. Your last name might have a similar meaning to your favorite players’.

 

List methodology: This list was compiled by analyzing top Chicago Cubs players of all times lists published by ESPN, Bleacher Report, About Sports,and Ranker. Players which appeared on multiple lists were included in this one. With such a long history, there is no shortage of players for consideration.