Countdown to Opening Day: 27 days – Phil Regan was among the best


May 5, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs fans celebrate Cinco De Mayo in the bleachers by wearing themed hats during the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

With less than four weeks until Opening Day, we take a look at the number 27 in Cubs history and it gives us a lesson in just how good the 1969 Cubs were. They were just before my time, but rumor has it the Cubs of 1969 were to that generation what 1984 is to my generation, and 2003 is to this generation.

The names that have donned 27 are fun to list. We had a Clemens – Doug, not Roger. Doug Clemens hit .238 in two seasons with the Cubs in the mid-60s. Sadly, I think Roger had a better bat. Clarence Jones had a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 1967, hitting .252 with a couple of home runs. Clarence Thomas may have had a better bat than Clarence Jones ever did.

Just about the time closers were becoming a mainstay in major league bullpens, the Cubs had a pretty darn good one. In fact, as I wrote yesterday, the Cubs have a history of some pretty good closers – from Carlos Marmol (at the start of his career) to Randall Curt Myers to Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter – if you keep going back, you’ll find Phil Regan, who pitched for Chicago from 1968-72.

Before Regan came along, the Cubs had only had one closer worth mentioning: Don Elston. It was Regan who solidified the back-end of the bullpen in 1969 when the Cubs came oh so close. He not only saved 25 games in 1968, he saved 17 more in 1969 and had 60 saves in his Cubs career. He also won 12 games in 1969.

Those numbers may seem a bit pedestrian, but put them in “era” context and you see that Regan was quite the asset. He was fifth in the National League in saves with 17 in 1969. Finishing fifth in 2013 was Edward Mujica of the Cardinals with 37 saves. I think Cubs fans would take a closer that finishes the season with 37 saves just about anytime. Not only because that means we have a good closer, but because that would mean the Cubs are a contender. Wins for a closer can be very misleading. Simply put, if a closer is eligible to get the win, then most likely he gave up a lead and the team reclaimed it in their next at-bat.

That wasn’t necessarily the case for Regan in 1968 when Regan led the league with his 25 saves. In fact, nobody was within eight saves of him for the lead that year, his first in Chicago. He had led the league in saves previously, as well – in 1966 with a Dodgers team that won the pennant and got swept in the World Series.

Phil Regan was the first great closer the Cubs had, and the first they had on a team that was actually worth something. A look back at the best closers in Cubs history shows us that, even though we may not remember him, Phil Regan was a top five all-time closer in Chicago.

Think he has anything left in his arm?