Friday, April 15, 2016


Today marks the day that Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color barrier in 1947, a "gentleman's agreement" that fell courtesy of Jack's potent bat and strong will, along with Branch Rickey's bullheaded determination to right the wrongs he witnessed as a collegiate coach many years before.

As such, the number 42 which Jackie sported has been retired across the league since 1997, in tribute to the man who took the first steps to making baseball truly all of America's game.

For a few years now, after just a few players here and there were granted permission, all MLB players have been proudly displaying Jackie's digits on their backs on April 15th, so that we might never forget all the sacrifices and hardship that the second baseman went through along the way.  In an era of cash-grab green, pink, stars n' stripes, camo, etc. uniforms, this is one special uni modification that I can get behind.

However, it also got me curious; since it took several decades after Jack's retirement to closet the number, there were many, many, many men who wore that number in the intervening years.  Who was the last Cub to sport the number "42?"

The answer is two-pronged - that last player to wear that number out on to the field was washed up reliever Dave Smith.  After a decade of closing for the Astros with All-Star level success, he blew into the Windy City as a free agent.  The Cubs FO's of old were famous for the signings of over-the-hill, past their prime stars and Dave Smith was just another one of those type of moves.

However, despite his two miserable and injury-abbreviated years (1991-92), he is still notable for having been the last Cubs PLAYER to take the field with that famous number.  That said, he still wasn't the last Cub to don the digits.

The last uniformed person to wear that number in Cubbie blue was coach Dan Radison, who was on Jim Riggleman's staff from 1995-99.  After the retirement, Dan switched over to number 3.

Unfortunately, I have no cards of the coach, seeing as coaches rarely ever get love from the baseball card producers.  He shows up on a couple of multi-person, team-issue cards; however I have none.  In fact, this is the only picture I can even find of the guy in Cubs colors.  I wish it at least showed  his number.

My wheels were still turning at this point, since neither man was particularly notable in franchise history.  Who was the most successful Cub to play with the number 42 stitched onto the back of his jersey?

The answer is that Hall of Fame closer with the most famous split-fingered fastball the game has seen:  Bruce Sutter.  It's really not even close.  The number's history is populated with extra outfielders and middling pitchers who never really made it.

I.e., these guys:

Some other notable names to appear on this list include HOF manager Tony LaRussa (yep, he made one pinch-running appearance on the North Side), HOF outfielder Kiki Cuyler wore it in 1943 as a coach (#3 in his playing days), and manager Lou Boudreau during his partial season as skipper in 1960.

There you have it - the highlighted history of baseball's most famous number, Cubs style.  I'm sure you were all clamoring for that ever-so-fascinating run down!

Like I said, in this era where clubs wear special uniforms for every single minor holiday in order to have something extra to shill at the ballpark, this is one special uniform alteration that I can truly stand behind.  It's a touching tribute to a man who not only upended the baseball status quo, but who also did so much for jump-starting the Civil Rights Movement and gave hope to people of color across the nation.

They got this one right.

1 comment:

  1. So weird to see Bruce without the beard. Actually... it's weird seeing him in a Cubs uniform. Used to seeing him in a Cardinals or Braves uniform.