James Russell is may be the best lefty the Cubs bring out of the pen these days…so why not give him #35? It’s been saved for southpaws in Chicago for over two decades. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
We are five weeks from Opening Day. Can’t come fast enough, can it?
I remember once being told, a long time ago, that if you can pitch – and can pitch left-handed – there will almost always be a job for you in the major leagues. Apparently if you can pitch left-handed, and you are signed by the Chicago Cubs to do so, you will most likely wear the number 35.
Nobody is going to rattle your cage as the best ever. But there are plenty of options. Chuck McElroy was a pretty good reliever in the early ’90s. I remember that. What I did NOT remember was that he was so good in his rookie year of 1991 with the Cubs, that he was actually fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. Remember the Cubs had the top TWO Rookies of the Year just two years prior in 1989 (Will the real Jerome Walton please stand up?). Things were looking up.
By 1994 McElroy, Walton and Dwight Smith were long gone.
In 1996, the Cubs brought in veteran – and by veteran I mean old – southpaw Bob Patterson. Patterson had one of his better seasons as a pro in 1997. Don’t remember that? That’s OK – Cub fans have been trying to wipe 1997 from their memory for 17 years (0-14 anyone?).
In 1998 it was out with the 39-year old Patterson and in with the 23-year old Felix Heredia. Another southpaw out of the bullpen, Heredia was a hired gun in ’98 and had a K/BB ratio of 2.67 in the final couple months of the season. Heredia stayed on the Northside for four years – not bad.
Will Ohman took over shortly thereafter and had two very, very forgettable seasons wearing 35. After injuries in 2002 and 2003 he came back in 2005 and pitched well. He was an integral part of the bullpen that helped to win the 2007 NL Central championship.
There is one name, however, that stands out for obvious reasons. He wasn’t a pitcher. In fact, when he wore 35 he was a coach with the team in the late ’50s and didn’t contribute much.
The guy had been a manager all over the place earlier in the decade – he won a “pennant” with the Beaumont Roughnecks in 1950 and the Seattle Rainiers in 1951. He was such a disliked guy as a manager that, in 1952 when he was back in the majors managing the Browns, when he was fired by one Mr. Bill Veeck the players actually celebrated by giving an engraved trophy to Mr. Veeck as a show of their appreciation. Not exactly a guy’s guy, I suppose. He was a heck of a hitter, but was never going to win anyone’s version of Mr. Congeniality.
Suffice to say, the number 35 has been worn by a Hall-of-Famer in Chicago. It just happened 30 years after the guy was a Hall-of-Famer. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?