Just a Number….Right?

Athletes are very superstitious, they have their routines, they are very much creatures of habit. What is the line again from Bull Durham? If an athlete gets accustom to wearing a certain number, they do everything they can in order to retain it if they change teams, sometimes to the point of cash payouts or extravagant gifts in order to obtain their favorite number from a new teammate once the lucrative free agent contract as been signed or the blockbuster trade has been made,

The Cubs reassigned a few of the player’s numbers on Friday after the signings of Ted Lilly and Daryle Ward were made official. However Lilly’s comment about the number 31, that he had previously worn, not being available because of the imminent retirement of the number has raised a few questions….not to mention, what will they do with number 21?

The retirement of number 31 is just a matter of time….too much history has been made by the two main owners of that number, but which player deserves the right to have his name on the flag? If the Cubs do retire the number 31 that was previously worn by Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux, among others, who’s name should be on the flag that will one day join Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks as the only retired numbers in the organization’s history?

Ferguson Jenkins is in the Hall of Fame and Greg Maddux is a first ballot Hall of Famer 5 years after he decides he cannot be successful in the league any longer. Both players deserve to have their name and number retired by the Cubs.

Ferguson Jenkins pitched for the Cubs from 1966-1973 and 1982-1983. Although he was near a shell of his previous self in his second stint with the Cubs in his first stint he was unbelievable. Jenkins won 20 or more games for 6 straight seasons (1967-1972), started 40 or more games 2 straight seasons (1968-1969) (started 38 games in two different seasons and 39 in two different seasons as well) and compiled more than 300 innings 4 straight seasons (1968-1971). He also completed 20 or more games for 6 straight seasons (1967-1972) and completed a remarkable (by today’s standards) 30 games in 1971 while going 24-13 with a 2.77 ERA. Jenkins won a Cy Young in 1971 and he is one of two pitchers in the history of the game with more than 3000 strikeouts and less than 1000 walks….the other, Greg Maddux. His career record…. 284-226, 167-132 with a 3.20 ERA as a Cub.

Greg Maddux pitched for the Cubs from 1986-1992 and 2004-2006. Like Jenkins, father time had caught up with Maddux before he returned to the Cubs in 2004 but he was still very effective and threw over 200 innings in 2004 and 2005 and just over 136 innings before he was traded to the Dodgers at the end of July 2006. Maddux won a Cy Young for the Cubs in 1992, then departed to the Atlanta Braves where he achieved most of his success and even won a World Championship in 1995. Maddux will be voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot he is on….no doubt, book it! Maddux has a career record of 333-203 with a 3.07 ERA….133-112 with a 3.61 ERA as a Cub. 16 Gold Gloves, 4 Cy Young Awards and at least 15 wins a year for 18 of the last 19 seasons.

The resumes of Jenkins and Maddux speak for themselves, they are two of the best pitchers the game has ever seen. According to a report by Paul Sullivan in the Tribune, the Cubs are unsure of how they are going to handle the retirement of number 31, just a suggestion….retire both and hang one on the left field foul pole and the other on the right field foul pole. This is the only possible move that can be made and at least there would be three on each side at that point.

The Debate…. When the Cubs apparently agreed to terms last week with Jason Marquis, little did they know the number debate would follow. (Believe it or not, that was the second thing that popped in this writer’s noggin.) So, should the Cubs allow Jason Marquis to wear number 21 when he officially signs his contract?

According to the report by Paul Sullivan, the Cubs are not planning on stopping Marquis from wearing the number, if he so desires. If Marquis wants his number, he can wear it with the Cubs, but should he? Sometimes an athlete might need, what is commonly referred to as, a change of scenery….so what about a change of number as well? Granted Marquis has had success at the highest level but with the way the former owner of number 21 in blue pinstripes departed Chicago, Marquis might look at an old high school or college number that he had success with. With the level of scrutiny that has surrounded his arrival to this point he might not want to add anything else that would take away from him doing everything possible to change the public perception of this signing.

Whether you liked Sammy Sosa or not, the bottom line is he was a larger than life figure for several years and was the face of the franchise for even longer….that combination does not bowed well for a pitcher looking to reestablish himself and fly under the radar.

Quote of the Day

"Baseball, just a game as simple as a ball and a bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes." - Ernie Harwell
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