Loyal Chicago Cubs rooters are one of the largest baseball fanbases in Arkansas. (According to Facebook, Arkansas’ favorite team is the rival St. Louis Cardinals). Naturally, young and old Arkansans alike have dreamed of donning a Cubs uniform and competing in front of the ivy at Wrigley Field. However, only a handful have actually had this day dream become reality. In fact, by my count, only 15 Arkansans have played with the Cubs. Among these are players like brothers Solly and Sammy Drake of Little Rock, the first two black Arkansans in the major leagues. Also included in the Arkansas-Chicago club is Joe Berry, a Huntsville native who’s entire Cubbie career consisted of two innings in 1942. However, several Arkansans have left a more significant impact on Wrigleyville over the years. Thus, here are the top five Chicago Cubs from Arkansas:
#5: Travis Wood (Bryant, Saline County)
Wood is one of only two Arkansas natives to play with the Cubs during the last 40 years. (Fayeteville’s Blake Parker is the other). Since he was traded from the Cincinnati Reds to Chicago before the 2012 season, Wood has played 220 games with the Cubs, fourth most ever by an Arkansan. Working as a starting pitcher for the Cubs in 2013, Wood was named an All-Star and finished the season with a team-leading 3.11 ERA. This past season, Wood pitched 77 games out of the bullpen to help the Cubs win their first National League pennant since 1945. And for what it’s worth, Wood has been valuable at the plate as well. Since 2010, only one pitcher has hit more home runs.
#4: Hank Wyse (Trumann, Poinsett County)
Wyse was one of the Cubs’ best starters during the war-shortage years of 1940s. Though not overpowering, Wyse possessed excellent control and a curve ball that earned him the nickname “Hooks”. After breaking into the big leagues with Chicago as a September call-up in 1942, Wyse pitched the next five full seasons in a Cubs uniform. His best year came in 1945 when he won 22 games and posted a 2.68 ERA in the process of helping the Cubs win the National League pennant. Although no All-Star game was held that year due to the war, Wyse was unofficially named to the National League squad by the Associated Press. In the World Series, Wyse pitched parts of three games, including the final inning of decisive Game 7. Thus, Wyse earned the distinction of being the last Cubs pitcher to appear in a World Series until Jon Lester in 2016. After his career in Chicago ended in 1947, Wyse appeared in several seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators.
#3 Randy Jackson (Little Rock)
“Handsome Ransom” Jackson played parts of seven seasons with Chicago during the 1950s. A big third baseman with plus power, Jackson averaged around 15 home runs a season as a Cub. He graduated from Central High in Little Rock in 1943 and subsequently attended the University of Arkansas, Texas Christian University and University of Texas at Austin. He was signed by Chicago in 1947 and made his major league debut with the Cubs during the 1950 season. He was selected to the 1954 and 1955 National League All-Star teams before he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He briefly returned to the Cubs during the 1959 season before retiring from baseball. In total, Jackson hit 88 home runs as a member of the Cubs, by far the most of any Arkansan.
#2 Don Kessinger (Forrest City, St. Francis County)
Only a handful of people have played more games with the Chicago Cubs than Don Kessinger. Between 1964-1975, Kessinger played 1,648 games with the Cubs, 10th most among all big league players and by far the most of any Arkansas native. During those years, Kessinger showed good range as a defensive shortstop, a position that had been long held at Wrigley Field by legendary Cub Ernie Banks. He routinely led all major league shortstops in assists, putouts and double plays and was awarded Gold Gloves for his defense in 1969 and 1970. Although he never hit above .274, Kessinger was selected to six All-Star games and led the 1969 Cubs squad with 109 runs scored. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals before the 1976 season and later spent time as a player-manager for the Chicago White Sox.
#1 Lon Warneke (Mount Ida, Montgomery County)
In the 86 years since Lon Warneke became the first Arkansan to play with the Cubs, no native of the state has been as successful in Chicago. Warneke, a tall and lanky country boy from Mount Ida, pitched 1.1 innings for the Cubs in 1930 and thereafter pitched 1,624 more during parts of ten seasons in Chicago. In all, he won 109 games for the Cubs, including twenty or more in three different seasons. His best year came as a 23-year old in 1932 when he finished second in the National League MVP voting by going 22-6 with a 2.37 ERA. His performance on the mound led Chicago to National League pennants in both that season and 1935. He thrice represented the Cubs in the All-Star game, including in the first ever All-Star game in 1933. Although he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1937, Warneke ended his career in Chicago by rejoining the Cubs for the 1942, ’43 and ’45 seasons. He also later returned to Wrigley Field as a big league umpire for many years.