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Should the Cubs retire Jon Lester’s number?

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Opinions differ. I’m on the fence.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Thursday, Tribune columnist Paul Sullivan wrote this article pushing the idea that the Cubs should retire No. 34 in honor of Jon Lester, who announced his retirement earlier this week.

The gist of Sullivan’s argument is here:

Lester would be the first — and probably the last — of the 2016 champions to have his Cubs number retired. He’s virtually a shoo-in to make the Hall of Fame, even if it’s not on the first ballot, and his legacy in Boston and Chicago was secured when Lester led those teams to titles in 2007 and ’16, respectively.

“Looking at Jon’s career in full now, he made an incredible impact on the history of the game, two great franchises, millions of fans, hundreds of teammates and many young kids fighting cancer,” former Cubs President Theo Epstein said Wednesday. “That’s a true Hall of Fame legacy.”

Theo summed up Lester’s career quite well. We were lucky to have him as a Cub for six years.

Sullivan says Lester is a “shoo-in” for the Hall of Fame. Yesterday, we discussed this and about three-quarters of you thought Lester would be inducted eventually. Seventy-five percent of voters in a BBWAA election would put Jon in the Hall. It might happen and I’d vote for him, but I’m not so sure he’s a “shoo-in.”

All the Cubs’ retired numbers honor Hall of Famers: Ernie Banks (14), Billy Williams (26), Ron Santo (10), Ryne Sandberg (23) and No. 31 for both Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux. (The order listed is the order in which those numbers were retired.) Santo’s number was retired in 2003, before his Hall election, an honor given largely as a result of the snub Santo received from a Hall Veterans Committee. At that number retirement ceremony September 28, 2003, Santo said, “THIS is my Hall of Fame.” He meant it, too.

I suppose if Lester reaches the Hall, it would seem a number retirement should follow. That’s several years away. I’d think No. 34 will be kept out of circulation for the time being, and the same is likely the case for numbers 9, 17 and 44, numbers worn by beloved members of the 2016 World Series team who are now playing elsewhere. It doesn’t seem likely that any of the latter three will make the Hall or have their numbers retired, though.

In the case of No. 34, Sullivan also makes this point:

The tricky part for the Ricketts family, the Cubs owners, is that Kerry Wood also wore No. 34. While not a Hall of Famer, Wood is a franchise legend, and his record-tying 20-strikeout day on May 6, 1998, is celebrated annually by many Cubs fans.

Wood gave Lester his blessing to wear No. 34 when Epstein signed the free-agent starter in 2014, saying it would be “an honor” to share it with the All-Star pitcher. Lester wore No. 31 in Boston and said during his introductory news conference he chose 34 because of Wood, Nolan Ryan and former Bears great Walter Payton.

“Obviously the Chicago tie of Kerry Wood — I remember watching him as a young pitcher,” Lester said that day. “I don’t want to date him. I’m sure he’ll appreciate that. And obviously there’s the Walter Payton aspect. And for me, the personal aspect of watching Nolan Ryan, or not necessarily watching him but studying his career and being a part of that. It’s always been one of my favorite numbers other than 31.”

That’s all well and good and nice of Lester to say. Kerry Wood, though beloved by Cubs fans and one of my personal favorites, is not anywhere near a Hall of Famer. He did have Hall-worthy talent, but that was all ruined by injuries.

Could the Cubs retire No. 34 to honor both Lester and Wood? Other teams (notably, the Yankees) retire numbers of non-Hall players who are beloved by their fans. It’s not a terrible idea. Since Wood first donned No. 34 in 1998, just one player besides he and Lester has worn it. The Cubs, oddly, assigned it to righthander Jeff Gray, who made seven undistinguished appearances for the Cubs in April and May 2010.

So as I said above, I’m on the fence regarding retiring No. 34, either for Lester or for both Lester and Wood. I think the Cubs should see what happens regarding Lester’s Hall of Fame candidacy before making a decision.

And if they do retire No. 34 for Lester, they ought to consider retiring No. 8 for Andre Dawson.

Lastly, this seems like an appropriate time to link to my 2020 article advocating for the Cubs to retire several pre-1945 uniform numbers in honor of franchise greats who helped the team win pennants in the 1920s and 1930s. The current list of retired numbers make it seem as if the Cubs franchise started in 1960. From that article:

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).

At the very least, numbers should be retired for Herman and Hartnett, who are both Hall of Famers. My suggestions, from that article, are No. 2 for Hartnett and No. 4 for Herman. Also, regarding Cavarretta’s No. 44:

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.

This is likely the reason why none of the great players of the 1930s had their numbers retired by the Wrigley ownership. The Ricketts family can, and should, correct that past error by honoring players who meant a great deal to the Cubs franchise.

Poll

Regarding the Cubs retiring No. 34 for Jon Lester...

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    ... they should do it right away
    (26 votes)
  • 13%
    ... they should do it only if he’s elected to the Hall of Fame
    (57 votes)
  • 42%
    ... they should do it to honor both Lester and Kerry Wood
    (179 votes)
  • 37%
    ... they should not do it
    (159 votes)
  • 0%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (4 votes)
425 votes total Vote Now