The Cubs made Dunston the first pick in the nation in the 1982 June draft after he batted .790 as a senior at Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High. A raw talent with a rifle arm, he was Chicago’s Opening Day shortstop in 1985, but hit .194 before being sent down on May 15; he was obviously unprepared as a fielder, and made glaring baserunning mistakes. Some felt the Cubs had rushed the wild-swinging youngster.
But Dunston was handed back his job when Larry Bowa was released in August. In 1986, he led NL shortstops in putouts, assists, double plays, errors, and home runs (17). But his wild swing limited him to just 21 walks in more than 600 plate appearances. Injuries kept him out two months of 1987, but he was hitting .287 in mid-1988 and won an All-Star spot. He was pulled out of the last game before the break by manager Don Zimmer for reportedly missing three hit-and-run signs.
Despite streakiness, Dunston slowly matured into one of the top shortstops in the National League. He joined double-play partner Ryne Sandberg as an All-Star in 1988 and 1990 and was a key contributor to the Cubs’ NL East division title in 1989.
Ignoring Dunston’s overly aggressive nature at the plate, Cubs manager Jim Lefebvre toyed with the idea of using him in the leadoff spot in 1992. But while Dunston hit .315, he drew just three walks in seventy-three at-bats, and the experiment ended when he underwent season-ending back surgery in early May. Dunston was lost for the season and was out of commission for virtually all of the 1993 campaign as well.
Dunston returned as the Cubs’ everyday shortstop in 1994, but his bad back prevented him from playing too much on artificial turf. 1995 saw him return to form — his .340 average in late July was second-best in the NL — but a late slump decreased his value on the free-agent market. He moved to the Giants in 1996, but a brief return to Chicago in 1997 signaled the beginning of a nomadic second career that saw him drift to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis and New York.
By the turn of the century Dunston was being used mainly as a fourth outfielder and a role player off the bench — still preferring to don his usual #12, worn in honor of former Met second baseman Ken Boswell.