Through the years, there have been a number of ‘‘faces’’ of the Cubs, and some have not been exactly gorgeous.
I’m thinking of fellows such as Hack Wilson, Leo Durocher, maybe even Sammy Sosa here. It’s not that they were physically ugly, — though Wilson, when recovering from a bender, could make a mirror crack — it’s just that their character made them rather difficult to hug tightly.
From alcohol to crabbiness to Flintstones vitamins, each had a flaw that hurt that face-of-the-franchise tag.
There were others, too. Ryne Sandberg was a good guy but was shy and had little to say. Andre Dawson was private and cool. Some stars flamed out or never achieved the greatness expected of them.
But now we have young Kris Bryant, and if anyone could have happy-face-of-franchise written more starkly across his mug, it would have to be one of those smiley circles on a small-town water tower.
Though only 24, Bryant has done things that have excited Cubs fans more than any player in years.
Think of what he accomplished this season alone, only his second in the majors — 39 home runs, 102 RBI, 176 hits, 121 runs scored. Those are MVP numbers.
And guess what? Bryant is almost a dead-solid lock to be voted the 2016 National League MVP. He’s doing this with his happy teammate Anthony Rizzo right behind, with near-MVP numbers himself. Indeed, Rizzo, a bit older at 27, is like a partial face of the Cubs himself.
It’s just that there’s something about fresh kid Bryant that seems impossible to contain, as if the 6-5, 230-pound multiposition man has no limits and the sky is reachable.
Though Bryant is lanky, he has a natural swing that is ferocious and beautiful. The other day at a practice game at empty Wrigley Field, I sat close enough to him while he warmed up in the on-deck circle to hear the wind sizzling as his bat flew through its arc. The sheer speed of the swing seemed magical.
And it’s not as if Bryant is a shocking newbie who hasn’t been rewarded for his excellence.
In high school in Las Vegas, he was named to USA Today’s All-USA baseball team. In 2013, he won the Golden Spikes Award as the best college player in the nation and was taken by the Cubs with the second pick in the amateur draft. He was sent to the Cubs’ farm system and promptly was named the 2014 Minor League Player of the Year.
Brought up to the bigs in 2015, Bryant was named NL Rookie of the Year and played in the All-Star Game. This year, he again made the All-Star team, and, of course, it’s just a matter of a few weeks before he gets his MVP award.
Is this crazy? I’ll answer: Yes, it is.
Because what is left? Really, only a World Series crown and, one supposes, getting named the MVP of that little event.
But here’s where Bryant’s good-hero side kicks in — he genuinely does not seem to be concerned with individual honors, something that seems real and is nice and that makes him appear to be a regular, humble fellow rather than a freak of baseball nature.
‘‘I’ve always said they’re just trophies,’’ Bryant said of all the hardware he has won or has yet to win.
Gone are the days when he could do a Lyft ad and drive a car around Wrigley, as he did last year, picking up riders who either had no clue who he was or thought maybe he looked like a ballplayer they had seen on TV or the laundromat.
‘‘The expectations we have for ourselves are bigger than anything out there,’’ Bryant said after practice Thursday, again deflecting the individual-honors thing.
Bryant still seems caught up in all the sweetness of the game, of batting hard, running hard, cutting down on mistakes (he went from 199 strikeouts last year to 154 this year, while raising his batting average from .275 to .292) and proving his versatility (he played third base, left field, right field, center field, first base and DH this season).
And then there’s that easy smile, those courteous responses and the blue eyes with the extraordinarily long eyelashes that make him at times look like a Ken doll with a helmet on. You know what they say: Chicks dig the long ball.
At any rate, Bryant is the current face of a surging program. And it’s a fine match.
Follow me on Twitter@ricktelander.