28 Days to Opening Day, or as Monica from ‘Friends’ would say, “Four weeks, baby…FOUR WEEKS!!” Speaking of friends, number 28 in Cub lore brings to mind man’s best friend. A fish, too. Yeah, it’s about to get weird.
The first two guys to wear the number 28 in Cub history are named Jack Russell, like the terrier, in 1938-39 and a guy named after a fish: Bobby Sturgeon. “Fish” wore it from 1940-42 before leaving for World War II. Sturgeon, a utility infielder, had his best season in 1941 when he cracked out 106 hits. Russell was a relief pitcher by the time he wore Cubbie blue in 1938. He managed to lead the league in losses with 20 in 1930, then led the league in saves in 1933 and 1934 with 20 saves. Combined. He led the American League with 13 in 1933 and seven in 1934. By the time he was in Chicago he was in his 30s and just about done.
So, you have a dog and a fish. Mitch Williams redefined the number 28 in Chicago, though, in 1989. The Cubs were not long past the Lee Smith era, which closely followed the Bruce Sutter era. Cubs fans were used to losing, but they were doing it with a good closer to use when they actually held a lead. Opening Day 1989 tells the story best. Cubs and Phillies at Wrigley Field. Sutcliffe started it and got the win – but not without having a heart attack first.
Closer Mitch Williams made his Cubs debut and, in a one-run game, walked the bases loaded to start the ninth. He then struck out the side. Thanks for coming, game over. It was like that all year long. Williams would eventually, more times than not, get the job done. But, while doing the job he sent all of us to the emergency room with chest pains. His 36 saves helped win a division title. He not only was in the top 10 in Cy Young voting that year, he was top ten in MVP voting, as well. That blew me away.
His career didn’t span long. In fact, he was essentially in the majors and out in exactly a decade. His best season came in Philadelphia in 1993 and that year didn’t exactly end the way he would have liked, “Touch ‘em all, Joe!” Say this for the guy: He fit in perfectly in Philadelphia with that group. He and John Kruk look like they were twins separated at birth.
Williams never really fit in Chicago, he was gone by the end of 1990. Much the way number 28 has never had a real good fit with the Cubs. A dog, a fish and a wild thing. That’s about all 28 has had to offer.