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David Brown

For anyone else wanting to wear No. 31 on the Cubs, it's too late

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Fans at Wrigley Field get a 2-for-1 deal when the Cubs, at long last, retire No. 31 on May 3.

Ferguson Jenkins, a Hall of Famer, and Greg Maddux, probably on his way to Cooperstown, each wore No. 31 with distinction. Now, after years of curious decisions to not do so, the Cubs are running No. 31 up a flag pole where it belongs.

Jenkins told the Chicago Tribune he's honored:

"I knew eventually it would happen," Jenkins said from Arizona on Wednesday. "It is something that I think is good for the fans because they recognize a player from a certain team who wore a certain number. I think it is important that fans recognize it, as well as the organization. It makes me happy."

And it's about time.

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Why did the Cubs let anyone wear No. 31 after Jenkins left them and retired in 1983? Many of his 284 career victories and 3,192 strikeouts came pitching for the Cubs. He's always been on good terms with them. Yet, 2 1/2 years after Jenkins retires, Maddux comes along they issue the kid No. 31.

Maddux only recently retired. Not counting his stint as a spring instructor for the Padres, this will be his first season away from the game since 1986.

The Cubs probably wanted to avoid a Harold Baines-ish situation by retiring No. 31 while Maddux still was playing. You see, the White Sox retired Baines' No. 3 three weeks after trading Baines to the Rangers in 1989. Only a decade or so later, with a couple of more stints with the Sox thrown in, Harold retired. The Sox had to "un-retire" No. 3 a couple of times in the process before encasing Baines in carbonite so he would come back no more.

Maddux ended up outperforming Jenkins, but that doesn't excuse the Cubs from handing No. 31 to the likes of Mark Guthrie, Donovan Osborne, Mike Fyhrie, Bobby Ayala, Brad Woodall and the late Kevin Foster.

Ted Lilly wanted to wear No. 31 after signing in 2007, but the Cubs made him drop a digit.

All came along after Maddux left the Cubs for the first time in 1993, and none of them had Hall of Fame stuff. Which is a good thing, because the Cubs would have to dilute the May 3 ceremonies by one more if any had.

Here are the other retired Cubs numbers:

• No. 10 — Ron Santo

• No. 14 — Ernie Banks

• No. 23 — Ryne Sandberg

• No. 26 — Billy Williams

• No. 42 — Jackie Robinson

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