Countdown to Opening Day: 13 days, and an unlucky number

Starlin Castro

hasn’t been wearing #13 long enough to have the number retired in his honor…yet. Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

13 Days to Opening Day and it seems that if you mention the number 13 to a ball player you may as well just walk away. The conversation will go no further. It’s one of the few uniform numbers where there has actually been less players wear the number than the number itself. Only ten players have worn it – it may as well be retired. That begs the question: If No. 13 was retired in Chicago, who would it be retired for?

The answer? Not Neifi Perez. Certainly not Rey Ordonez. Honorable mention to Turk Wendell, mostly because of his quirkiness, and to Starlin Castro, who will in my opinion end up being the best Cub to wear the number ever. He’s just too early in the process to know exactly what we’re going to get, especially after his regressions in 2013.

I said retire the number and you may think I’m crazy. You wouldn’t be the first, by the way. I digress, however. Between the years 1947 and 1992, a span of 45 years, only one player wore No. 13 – and it was only for two seasons. If it went away, would anyone even notice?

There’s one player on the list who’s absence would have been truly noticed – and the course of Cubs history may have been changed without him. I speak of Claude Passeau. Don’t know much about him? Not many do. When I saw his name on the list I recognized it from the history books as a member of the 1945 pennant winners. A look at his career shows, that guy was pretty darn good.

Passeau started his career with the Pirates and won double-digit games with Pittsburgh in each of his first three seasons, although his record was under .500 each year. In 1939, the Cubs were defending their pennant and added Passeau in a midseason trade. What they got was a guy whose right arm was so rubbery it could have made Gumby jealous. Passeau threw over 200 innings each season for an entire decade, from 1936 to 1945.

When the Cubs brought him in they thought he would help them defend their pennant. Passeau was unable to do that in 1939, but did help them win the pennant in 1945 with one of his best seasons. He had a career-best ERA of 2.46 and won 17 games, including five shutouts. He was the anchor of a pitching staff that was the oldest in the National League, and the stingiest. The staff had an overall ERA of 2.98, and it was on the right arm of Passeau that the Cubs won the pennant by three games over the Cardinals.

Imagine how different things would be without Passeau on that club. We all talk about how long it has been since the Cubs won a pennant. Well, add seven years to that.

Only ten players have had the “courage” to wear No. 13 over the years. I say retire it. And, in doing so, don’t forget to acknowledge the best Cubbie to ever don it. Claude Passeau.