Countdown to Opening Day: 38 Days…Who wore #38 best?


Before being shipped to Miami, Carlos Zambrano wore #38 in Cubbie blue better than it ever had been before. Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

As our countdown to Opening Day continues, we hit 38 days to go and wonder…which Cub best performed with the number 38?

There are a few choices, though not many. There was the “Super Freak” Rick James in 1967. No, not THAT Rick James. Willie Hernandez wore it well from 1977-1983 – he was one of the best closers the Cubs have ever had. He changed numbers in 1984 while he was winning both the MVP award and Cy Young Award with the Detroit Tigers. Though he was good in Chicago, his best years came elsewhere.

Otherwise, you have to fast forward and join us in the 21st century. One Carlos Zambrano is the best Cub to wear the number 38. I was surprised, too.

He had himself a pretty good run with the Cubbies. You know, when he wasn’t punching his catcher in the dugout and stuff. Seven of eight seasons from 2003-2010 he won double-digit games and actually tied for the league lead in 2006 with 16. His most wins were in 2007 with 18, but his ERA was close to 4.00 that year. His best season was 2004: 16-8, 2.75 ERA and a 2.32 K/BB ratio. Don’t forget – that 2004 team, at least in my opinion, was better than the 2003 team that…well, you know the end of that sentence.

Win or lose, he was fun to watch. There was never a doubt about that. As under the radar as this club has been the last two seasons, can you imagine how Zambrano would have handled all the losing? They would have had to build a boxer’s ring for him to take on his teammates in between starts.

He and Kerry Wood were with the club for 11 and 12 seasons, respectively. You’d think Zambrano would’ve learned something about class just by breathing next to that guy in the locker room. Lou Piniella didn’t rub off onto Zambrano, so I suppose it’s silly to ask why Kerry Wood didn’t either.

The last time the Cubs played in a World Series, in 1945, they had three different guys wear number 38 that year.  So, I say hitting coach James Rowson gives it up to someone who, in turn, gives it up again at some point this season. If three Cubs have to wear the number 38 in one season for the Cubs to reach the promised land, then so be it.

Theo…make it happen.