A very meaningful number

When I started this blog last year, I learned pretty quickly that promotion is important. The Internet, and especially the blogosphere, doesn’t come knocking on your virtual door. So I applied, and was accepted, to the mlb.com/blogs page back in September. It was a great feeling to see my face on their web page for about a week or so, but more importantly than that, people started to click on the link to this page. The page views spiked upward, and they haven’t stopped since.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the MLB blogs page also tracks pages and ranks them at the end of each month. They recently released a list of the top 100 fan blogs for 2011, and I was honored to appear on the list as #31. Not too bad for a blog that didn’t come into being until the middle of June. This gives me an opportunity to write about the  number 31 which, for a Cubs fan like me, has great significance.

The first great Cubs player to wear #31 was Ferguson Jenkins. He pitched for the Cubs from 1966-1973, and again from 1982-1983. In his first run with the Cubs, he won 20 or more games for six straight seasons. To put that into some perspective, consider that after he left the Cubs, some thirty-nine seasons ago, the Cubs have had just three 20 game winners in a single season, and none of them did it more than one time. And in case you’re curious, they were Rick Reuschel in 1977, Greg Maddux in 1992, and Jon Lieber in 2001.

After Jenkins returned to the Cubs and pitched his final game for them in 1983, there was nothing to do but to wait for the call to Cooperstown, and it came in 1991. One of the perks of being a Hall of Famer is being able to sign baseballs with “HOF” and the induction year, as Jenkins once did for me on the ball shown below. And yes, I know that he’s a Canadian, but I had just come from Disney World, and let’s just say it’s hard to find regular baseballs when you’re there. I was lucky that I even had this one, and lucky that he obliged the autograph request. But here it is, in all its star-spangled glory.

The Cubs didn’t retire Jenkins’ number right away, because back in the early 1990s the only retired numbers belonged to Ernie Banks (#14) and Billy Williams (#26). The number 31 was assigned to a rookie named Greg Maddux in 1986, and he went on to win 20 games and a Cy Young Award in 1992, before leaving for Atlanta the following season. One can only wonder whether or not the Cubs could have won a pennant and a World Series in the 1990s, if Maddux had stayed in Chicago and been built around by Cubs’ management.

I saw Maddux pitch in person a few times, and the last time I saw him pitch at Wrigley–during his second stint with the Cubs in the mid 2000s–he was simply masterful. I told myself I’d never again see anyone as good at pitching as he was. May I be proven wrong in that assessment someday.

The Cubs decided to retire #31 for both Jenkins and Maddux in 2009, and their names now fly from the foul poles at Wrigley Field (Jenkins is in left field, and Maddux is in right). To have #31 attached to my blog, for whatever reason, allows me a moment to pay tribute to these two great pitchers, and to also give a special nod to the late Kevin Foster, an Evanston native who wore #31 while Maddux was pitching for the Braves.

To honor all of them in this space, I am also retiring #31 from any future posts here on BlueBattingHelmet. This applies to Dave Winfield (who I previously wrote about here) and probably a few others, as well.  I do, however, reserve the right to post something about Baskin-Robbins ice cream in this space at a future date.  Just give me a few months and I’ll think of some relevance for it.

5 thoughts on “A very meaningful number

    1. Thanks for reading. It always seemed strange that 2 Hall of Famers wore that same number, but it makes sense to me now.

      The Yankees did a similar dual number retirement for Yogi Berra and Bob Dickey in the 1970s, but I was kind of young then and you weren’t even born yet. Plus it’s the Yankees, so who cares what they do?

  1. Great post and congrats for making the Top 100 MLB.com Blogs in 2011! I think of Mike Piazza and Maddux. Keep up the great blogging and please spread the word as we will continue to grow this community in conjunction with WordPress.com during 2012!

    Mark/MLB.com
    http://mlblogs.mlblogs.com

  2. Congratulations on #31! I saw Ferguson Jenkins a couple of years ago at Spring TRaining. I had gone there to watch my Dodgers but it was raining and the game got cancelled as I was walking in. They had a few players signing autographs including Jenkins, Rollie Fingers & Tommy Davis of the Dodgers. When Maddux became a Dodgers, I was so excited that I left work early and was treated to seeing him work out in the bullpen. A Cub fan approached me asking me if I even knew who he was. I told him. I even have him in my baseball fantasy team.
    Emma

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. There was something I was going to get into about how Maddux and Jenkins were the only pitchers ever to have 3000+ strikeouts and less than 1000 walks for their career. Maddux–when he was with the Dodgers at the end of his career–was sitting at 999 career walks, but he pitched the last three outings of his career without a single walk to end up with 999 for his career. He was just a great pitcher.

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