The Cubs have retired five jersey numbers. All of them are for members of baseball’s Hall of Fame, and all are among the greatest to have ever worn a Cubs uniform: Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux. No. 31 is retired for both Jenkins and Maddux. While Greg had his best seasons elsewhere, his 33.7 career bWAR rank 11th in Cubs history (eighth post-1900) and he’s certainly one of the greatest Cubs ever.
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 21 retired numbers, and they have no single-digit numbers left at all (save 0, currently being worn by Adam Ottavino). Like the Cubs, though, the Yankees retired one number for two players: 8, worn by Hall of Fame catchers Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra.
There are several other Cubs 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 among the best pitchers in team history and pitched in four World Series for the Cubs. 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 (though Yankee players were notable exceptions) and all five of my proposed honorees 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, 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 seven different numbers as a Cubs player and manager, but wore No. 6 for the longest period (1937-47 as a player, 1954-56 as a manager). He wore an eighth number (No. 54) as a Cubs coach in 1965. Hack isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but did get some consideration after retirement. He’s at least the third-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 Root played six full years as a Cub before that), 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. Just before the season began Cavvy was asked P.K. Wrigley how that year’s team would do, and he answered honestly: “Not very good.” Cavarretta was summarily 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.
Of course, Anthony Rizzo (pictured) is now wearing No. 44 and is already one of the better players in franchise history. His 33.9 bWAR ranks 19th in Cubs history and if he can stick around and produce as he has been, he’ll easily be in the top 10. Perhaps No. 44 could be retired in honor of both of these players.
This would honor five — maybe six, if Rizzo is included — 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 a similar situation by having plaques reading “NY” with their great players’ names from the pre-number era (John McGraw and Christy Mathewson). 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. For any current player wearing those numbers, they’d be allowed to keep them as long as they’re with the team, after which they wouldn’t be re-issued.
When baseball resumes at Wrigley Field, which might not be until 2021, the Cubs should get this done.
If you had to choose just one jersey number from the ones listed above for the Cubs to retire, whose number would it be?
This poll is closed
No. 2: Gabby Hartnett
No. 4: Billy Herman
No. 6: Stan Hack
No. 17: Charlie Root
No. 44: Phil Cavarretta