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Cubs Retired Numbers: Have We Seen The Last?

Everyone calmed down a little from last night's discussion? Good. Let's change the subject.

Yesterday's ceremony honoring Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux by retiring the #31 they both wore was the fifth such ceremony the Cubs have had since 1982. Six players and five numbers have been given this honor; that doesn't seem that many for the 77 years since the Cubs first put numbers on their backs on June 30, 1932, particularly since that includes four pennant seasons and quite a number of Hall of Famers.

So there are, the "day after", a couple of questions: should the Cubs have more retired numbers, honoring past greats? And who, if anyone, will be next, and when?

Let's look back, first. On March 31, 1954, the Cubs retired Phil Cavarretta's #44.

What? you're saying. #44 isn't retired. You're right, it's not. But the Chicago Tribune reported on April 1, 1954, that the Cubs had officially retired Cavarretta's number the previous day. Of course, that was right after he had told P. K. Wrigley that the 1954 Cubs would be a "second-division club" (he was right, they finished seventh and lost 90 games) and for his honesty, he was fired. Nevertheless, the Cubs probably would have gone ahead and kept #44 retired -- except that in May 1954, Cavvy signed and finished his career with the White Sox. It's my guess that Wrigley decided that he wasn't going to honor Cavarretta, who he must have seen as a turncoat, with the number retirement, so it was forgotten, and that may very well be why no Cub numbers were retired under the Wrigley regime. #44 was not reissued until 1971, when Burt Hooton, who had worn #44 at the University of Texas, asked for it when recalled to the major league Cubs. Clubhouse manager Yosh Kawano, who remembered the promise to retire #44, actually called Cavarretta and asked his permission to give it to Hooton, which was granted.

You could make legitimate arguments for retiring numbers to honor Gabby Hartnett and Billy Herman, who are Hall of Famers, and Stan Hack, the greatest Cub third baseman before Ron Santo, in addition to Cavarretta. But then, you might have to retire a number for Charlie Root, the greatest pitcher in Cubs history. And all of those players -- Cavarretta included -- wore more than one number. So what number would you choose for each one? And how would you honor the pre-1932 great Cubs, who wore no digits?

My suggestion would be to retire #44 for Cavarretta to honor all those who came before Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams, the first generation of Cubs to have their uniform numbers retired. Cavarretta isn't a Hall of Famer, but he did play 20 years in a Cub uniform, played well, and was a key part of three pennant winners -- and, he is still living. He'll turn 93 in July. Plus, this list of players who have worn #44 since Burt Hooton isn't exactly stellar:

Mike Garman (1976), Dave Giusti (1977), Ken Reitz (1981), Dick Ruthven (1983-86), Drew Hall (1986-88), Steve Wilson (1989-91), Jeff Hartsock (1992), Bill Brennan (1993), Amaury Telemaco (1996-98), Chris Haney (1998), Tony Fossas (1998), Kyle Farnsworth (1999-2004), Roberto Novoa (2005-06), Chad Fox (2008)

Now, on to the future. Who might get this honor in years to come? The proverbial "elephant in the room" is Sammy Sosa. It is not my intention here to start or continue any arguments over whether Sammy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. What I will say is that IF he gets in, I suspect the Cubs will reconcile with him and retire #21 for him. If he DOESN'T get in to the Hall within a few years of eligibility and it appears he isn't, the Cubs may eventually reconcile and do it anyway, though in that case it may take longer.

What about current Cubs? Carlos Zambrano is moving his way up the club leader lists; by the end of this year he'll be #6 on the all-time club strikeout list and, with one more win, he will have 100 lifetime victories. If he plays out his current contract and perhaps one more, he will have a chance to break Charlie Root's team record of 200 wins. Aramis Ramirez is also working his way up the team lists -- presuming he gets healthy and contributes, he will have more home runs at the end of this year than any Cub except Sosa, Banks, Williams, Santo, Ryne Sandberg and Gabby Hartnett. A lot of whether Z or A-Ram eventually will have #38 or #16 flags flying at Wrigley will depend on whether they can help lead the team to a World Series title.

Which, of course, is what we all hope for. Here's to big years from Z and A-Ram and the rest of the team, and to add a 2009 World Series banner to the other flags flying at Wrigley Field.