The Cubs have retired five uniform numbers, all for members of baseball's Hall of Fame, and all among the greatest to have ever worn a Cubs uniform: Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux.
What do all those players have in common, other than the criteria above? That's right -- not one of them ever played in a World Series for the team, all of them became Cubs after 1950, and just two (Sandberg and Maddux) even played in a postseason game for the team.
This ignores decades of Cubs history during which the team was considered one of the elite franchises in the game -- from 1906-45, a 40-season span, the Cubs won ten pennants and two World Series. Only the Giants did better during that era.
I'm writing to make the case for five more number retirements for past Cubs greats. I'm not suggesting that the Cubs should go overboard, as the Yankees have done, and have 16 retired numbers (the Yankees have just two single-digit numbers unretired, and one of them, Derek Jeter's No. 2, is surely going to be).
But there are several players who I believe should be recognized in this way: Billy Herman, Gabby Hartnett, Charlie Root, Phil Cavarretta and Stan Hack. Herman and Hartnett are Hall of Famers; Root is the best pitcher in team history; Cavarretta and Hack were key performers on multiple Cubs pennant winners and both managed the team (admittedly, neither had much success as managers).
Part of the problem is which number to retire for these men; before the 1960s, most players didn't much care what their uniform number was (Yankee players were notable exceptions) and most of these men wore multiple numbers. Here are the numbers I'd retire for each:
No. 2: Hartnett. Though he wore No. 9 for better seasons, No. 2 is what Hartnett was wearing when he hit the famous Homer in the Gloamin' in 1938.
No. 4: Herman. Herman wore No. 2 during his best years, but since we're retiring No. 2 for Hartnett, you could retire No. 4 for Herman (he wore it from 1937-41). Or, retire No. 2 for both, as No. 31 is for Jenkins and Maddux.
No. 6: Hack. Hack wore no fewer than eight different numbers with the Cubs, but wore No. 6 for the longest period (1937-47). Hack isn't in the Hall of Fame, but did get some consideration after retirement; he's the second-best third baseman in team history.
No. 17: Root. Root's best years were pre-uniform number (1932 was the first year numbers were worn in the National League), and he wore five different numbers, No. 17 for the longest period. Or pick from 12, 15 or 19 (he also wore 14, which is already retired).
No. 44: Cavarretta. His numbers don't look gaudy by today's standards, but he was, from 1941-46, a .304/.396/.433 hitter with a 138 OPS+, and an MVP award. In fact, Cavarretta's number was scheduled to be retired in 1954, when he was managing the team; a ceremony was going to take place in early April. Then Cavvy told P.K. Wrigley that year's team wasn't going to be very good; he was fired and the ceremony was cancelled. No Cubs number was retired while the Wrigleys still owned the team; Ernie Banks was the first in 1982. Meanwhile, No. 44 wasn't issued to anyone until Burt Hooton in 1971, and Yosh Kawano, issuer of numbers, had Hooton call Cavarretta to ask permission.
This would honor five of the greatest players in Cubs history, all key contributors to many Cubs pennant years. As for pre-uniform number players in the Cubs' great era of the early 20th Century, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance and Mordecai Brown should be honored; the Giants handle this by having plaques reading "NY" with their great players' names (McGraw, Mathewson, etc). The Cubs could fly "C" flags with those names on them. All these potential honorees are deceased; the retirements could be done in one ceremony, perhaps with descendants of those honored present.
Five more retired numbers (or four, if you'd choose to retire No. 2 for both Hartnett and Herman) for nearly a century's worth of history isn't too many, I don't think; any current player wearing those numbers would be allowed to keep them as long as they're with the team, after which they wouldn't be re-issued. Who knows? If Anthony Rizzo has the career we hope he could have, perhaps No. 44 could be retired again in his honor.