Honoring Chicago Cubs Greats

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The Chicago Cubs are about to embark on their 149th season of baseball. More than 2,000 players have donned the uniform of the Chicago National League Ball Club. Yet the Cubs have only retired seven numbers.

Among the century-plus franchises, the average retired number count is ten. The Yankees lead the majors with 22, and the hated Cardinals are presently at 12. Even the crosstown White Sox have 11, despite the Cubs’ 28-year head start.

It is time for the Cubs to catch up. Players will have an additional incentive to achieve greatness knowing the organization will honor them alongside other immortals.

Overtime Heroics presents an investigation into who should join Banks, Williams, Sandberg, Santo, Jenkins, Maddux, and Robinson.

The Method

With so many worthy possibilities, it is important to identify how the following players were selected. The following earned automatic consideration:

  • Any player who spent more games with the Cubs than any other team and is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame is due automatic consideration.
  • A player must spend at least five seasons in Chicago to be eligible.
  • Players who hold franchise records, accomplished incredible feats, or made a marked, positive contribution to the club’s success or culture should receive review.
  • Only players who actually had numbers are considered for now. The Cubs first wore numbers in 1932. For those greats who donned the uniform without a numerical marker, some other honorific should be given. Perhaps an article for another time…

This methodology produced 29 names for consideration. To start the conversation, let’s limit the first wave to five newly-honored players.

The First Five

Stan Hack (6)

Stan Hack 1938

Smiling Stan is arguably the original Mr. Cub. As Cubs fans know well, the years were long between Ron Santo and his worthy successor, Aramis Ramirez. Two generations prior, fans hailed Santo as the worthy successor to Hack. Playing the hot corner for 16 seasons with the Cubs, the aptly-named infielder slashed .301/.394/.397. Hack finished with a career 52.6 WAR, including a season-best 6.0 in the pennant-winning 1945 campaign.

Speaking of pennants, Hack’s Cubs claimed four pennants. This success allowed Hack to become the all-time club World Series leader in career CWPA, single series CWPA, and single series hits with an OPS of .857.

Andre Dawson (8)

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The Hawk soared into Wrigley Field in 1987 and immediately captured the hearts of the Cubs faithful. He was a star in Montreal but suffered knee damage exacerbated by the artificial turf of Olympic Stadium. Due to his injuries, Dawson sought a friendly field. As a free agent after the 1986 season, Dawson essentially had to beg his way onto the Cubs. The club owners were colluding to keep player salaries low and keep for themselves the profits the players’ labor produced. However, Dawson and his agent surprised the club by showing up with a blank contract in spring training. The terms of the deal were so good that even cheating general managers like Dallas Green had to sign.

Cubs fans immediately reaped the benefits. In his inaugural Chicago campaign, Dawson led the National League in home runs (49), runs batted in (137), and total bases (353) on his way to MVP honors. During his six-year Cubs career, Dawson was an inspiration on an often awful team. His teammates sang his praises, and he eventually earned a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Astute readers may have noted that current Cub Ian Happ wears number eight. Never you worry, we would be sure to advocate grandfathering in all current Cubs and allowing Happ the chance to join Dawson should he earn it.

Gabby Hartnett (9)

(Don’t worry, Javier Baez is grandfathered in and can still earn retirement honors)

Cubs

After trailing the Pirates by as many as nine games, the Cubs had gone on a tear and narrowed the lead to a mere half-game. With the sun setting and darkness beginning to descend on a tied game at a lightless Wrigley Field at the end of September, Gabby Hartnett stepped up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The veteran catcher was finishing his seventeenth season in the big leagues. He put in a storied career, earning MVP honors three years earlier and lauded as the best National League catcher since Buck Ewing.

Now, with the season on the line, Hartnett was hoping to earn his fourth trip to the World Series. Falling behind to an 0 and 2 count to the Pirates’ reliever Mace Brown, it appeared metaphorical darkness would join the literal at Wrigley. The third pitch of the at-bat came in. Hartnett took a mighty swing. Connection! The ball, barely visible in the darkening sky, would not be seen again until landing in the centerfield bleachers. Cubs win! Cubs win!

What became known as the ‘Homer in the Gloamin’ is alone good enough to translate to retired number status for Gabby. Throw in a Hall of Fame career, and this recommendation might be the easiest of the list.

Sammy Sosa (21)

Cubs

The story of the Cubs cannot be told without Slammin’ Sammy Sosa. The charismatic Dominican wowed fans with his talent and won their hearts with his affectionate displays of his love for the game. Sosa’s mannerisms caught on across baseball: from his bunny hop to his kiss-chest tap to his running to right to salute Chicago fans to start the game.

In five seasons, Sosa hit 292 home runs. That is an average of 58 a year. No player in 150 years of professional baseball has come close. In multiple seasons, Sosa led the National League in runs (3), home runs (2), runs batted in (2), and total bases (3). He finished in the top ten in OPS+ three times. With 234 stolen bases, Sosa contributed on the base paths, too. A more than decent right fielder, Sosa led the majors twice in outfield assists, finished in the top ten on another five occasions, and fielding percentage for his position four times.

It is hard to underestimate what Sosa meant to baseball. After the strike and the owners’ refusal to return the wealth created by the players, the World Series that survived two World Wars was cancelled for the first time in 90 years. Football and the NFL had overtaken baseball and MLB as the most popular sport and league. Additionally, Michael Jordan, the hometown Bulls, David Stern, and Nike combined powers to fashion the NBA as the it-league of the decade. Even soccer, with the World Cup in the U.S. and launch of MLS, was making inroads.

Then came Sosa. In his 1998 most valuable player season, Sosa went toe-to-toe with the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire as both chased and ultimately passed Maris’s single-season home run record. While Mark McGwire ended with the larger tally, Sosa’s pure joy made the slugfest the talk of the nation. Sosa was instrumental in bringing fans back to baseball. Moreover, Sosa and his homers led the Cubs to their playoff appearance in nine years. A few seasons later, and Sosa’s Cubs came within five outs of a pennant.

Kerry Wood (34)

Cubs

Like their predecessors a century earlier, the Cubs of the Aughts earned three playoff appearances. This iteration had many players come and go. Yet one stalwart stands out as the true anchor of these Central Division champions: Kerry Wood.

The Texan righty joined the Cubs during the 1998 campaign and quickly served a crucial role in earning a playoff appearance. This author’s quick summary of the almost indescribable 20 strikeout game in only his fifth game can be found here. That performance, combined with an exemplary season, earned Wood Rookie of the Year honors.

With that auspicious start, Wood would spend 12 years as a leader with the Cubs. He reached 1,000 strikeouts faster than anyone else in major league history gauging by both games (134) and innings pitched (853). His serviceable 3.67 Cubs career ERA is supplemented with a praiseworthy career mark of a 1.258 WHIP. Wood’s real career claim to fame is, of course, in strikeouts. Wood averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings, good enough for the sixth-best rate in major league history. With a picture-perfect ending, Wood returned for one last strikeout to end his career before the Cubs faithful.

Raise the Flags on the Foul Polls Now!

It is time to add numbers to the flag polls at the Friendly Confines. Please share, @ the Cubs, and spread the word.

But this list is not authoritative, so please comment and retweet with your top five Cubs numbers to retire!


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