As you know, the Cubs have retired No. 31 for two Hall of Fame pitchers, Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux. I know some of you don't think this number should be retired to honor Maddux, who had his best seasons in Atlanta. That isn't the point I want to make here, though.
Two years ago I wrote this article noting that the five retired numbers (for six players) ignore Cubs history before 1953, the year Ernie Banks debuted for the team.
And that's a shame, because the years before that contain many of the best seasons in the history of the franchise and, of course, all of its World Series appearances.
In that article, I proposed the Cubs retire numbers to honor five players who were key contributors to World Series teams in the 1930s and 1940s: Billy Herman, Gabby Hartnett, Charlie Root, Phil Cavarretta and Stan Hack. Herman and Hartnett are Hall of Famers and Hartnett was responsible for one of the signature moments in franchise history. Root is the Cubs' franchise leader in wins, games pitched and innings, ranks in the top five in several other categories and pitched in four World Series. Hack and Cavaretta also managed the Cubs (granted, with little success) and, as I wrote in the linked article, Cavaretta was supposed to have his number retired:
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.
In the article, I suggest numbers to be retired for all five of these players. "Suggest," because in the early days of uniform numbers players frequently changed numbers from year to year. Having an individual player become associated with a specific number, at least for Cubs players, didn't seem to become important until longtime clubhouse manager Yosh Kawano came up with his numbering system in the early 1960s. Root, for example, wore five different numbers: 12, 15, 19, 17 and the now-retired 14.
It would be nice for the Cubs to rededicate a restored Wrigley Field, when it's complete four years from now, with retirement of the numbers of those players, who brought the team glory in its earlier years.
Perhaps 20 or 25 years from now, we'll be having this discussion about Kris Bryant, or Jorge Soler. That's a nice thought, too.