33 Days to Opening Day and a look back at that number in Cubs history nets me one thought: What the Cubs got for number 33 is much better than what they ever really had.
There are parallels to be made between managers who donned #33 and Cubs history. One of the best managers in the history of the game, Gene Mauch, once wore number 33 on the North Side. His managerial career is very similar to the Cubs’ rich history of losing. Mauch spent all of nine seasons as a player in the Major Leagues. He played for six teams and hit a grand total of five home runs – in his entire career. It’s the heartbreak that Cubs fans can identify with.
Twice Mauch was close to a pennant. Twice he fell short. In 1982 his Angels lost a 2-0 ALCS lead in a best-of-five to the Brewers. In 1986 his Angels – and former Cubs player Donnie Moore – suffered a crushing loss to the Red Sox in the ALCS - again losing three in a row to fall short of a World Series berth.
Sound familiar to 1984 and 2003? Cubs fans feel his pain.
But it’s what the Cubs got in return for number 33 that may be the best way to look at this thing. Joe Carter hit one of the most memorable home runs in World Series history in 1993. Ten years prior he was a Cub, albeit briefly. He played all of the 1983 season and half of 1984 with Chicago.
On June 13, 1984 the season took a turn for the better when Carter got traded to Cleveland. In return, the Cubs got a reliever named George Frazier, a backup catcher named Ron Hassey and a starting pitcher to help bolster their rotation. That pitcher was Rick Sutcliffe. And that trade turned the 1984 Cubs from a contender to a juggernaut.
16-1. Cy Young winner. Sutcliffe had a great year – but he did it in four months. Yesterday, I mentioned Kerry Wood’s playoff home run in 2003. In 1984, Sutcliffe pitched a shutout in an NLCS Game One win over San Diego, 13-0. The Red Baron went deep that day and outscored the Padres all by himself. He was on the mound in Game Five and Cubs fans everywhere are still wondering how a guy who went 17-1 from June 13 to October 6 managed to lose a 3-0 lead to a bunch of guys wearing mud brown, highlighter yellow and had a first baseman whose name I, to this day, am not allowed to speak around my mother. It starts with a ‘G’ – and I dare you to say his name to her.
Joe Carter went on to a great career – one that should put him into the Hall of Fame. It may or may not. Sutcliffe may never be enshrined in Cooperstown, but his Cubs career was awfully darn good. A healthy Sutcliffe won 18 games in 1987 on a team that finished in last place. We all remember Andre Dawson winning the NL MVP that season on a last-place club. Don’t forget what Sutty did – 18-10 with six complete games. In fact, the Cubs nearly had the MVP and Cy Young Award winner in the same season – a season that saw them finish the year at 76-85 .
He did it again in 1989, helping the Cubs to another division title. He was an All-Star again and won 16 games – at the age of 33. All-in-all, Sutcliffe was a guy who was a Rookie of the Year in 1979, a Cy Young Award winner in 1984 and - somehow – managed to finish in the top five of Cy Young voting in the American League with an Indians team in 1982 that was pathetic.
Sutcliffe may have worn number 40 – but it was 33 that got him to Chicago. And, thank goodness it did.