Countdown to Opening Day: 1 Day…There was only one Jose Cardenal


Cody Ransom was #1 in 2013 and now moves on to Japan. Who wore #1 longer than any Cub in history? The very unique Jose Cardenal. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Finally we are one day away from Opening Day and a look back at the uniform number one in Cub history shows that only one player wore it for more than five years. Nobody wore No. 1 more than Jose Cardenal. Fitting, because there really is only one guy like Jose Cardenal.

If you don’t know much about Cardenal, he was a guy who played 18 seasons in the majors. And he did it for nine different teams. Everything he did well he did best while wearing Cubbie Blue from 1972-77. He was a career .275 hitter, he hit . 296 as a Cub. On-base careerwise: .333 – for the Cubs: .363. He stole 129 of his career 173 bases as a Cub, too.

But if you notice or remember anything about Cardenal, it was the afro.

He was like ‘Fletch’ – 5’10”, but 6’1″ with the afro. His officially listed weight was 150. The April wind in Chicago should have just picked him up and dumped him in Lake Michigan at one point, you’d think. He never looked like a ball player. His batting stance was peculiar. His throwing style was downright weird. And, his hat sat on top of his afro like it was velcroed on.

That’s what was best about Cardenal – he was one of a kind.

He spent the end of the 1980 season with the Kansas City Royals and was part of their first-ever pennant. He played decent defense in September for the Royals then ended up banging out a couple of World Series hits in the Royals’ loss to the Phillies. You want to know just how unique this guy was?

That same year he also would help with ushering at Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City – between innings. In order for his hat to fit over his afro, he was forced to wear a size 11 cap. And, one time during his playing days with the Cubs, Cardenal did something that I will never forget.

Cardenal, at one point, says he got tired of having to reach into the ivy to retrieve batting practice balls because there were rats and such in the ivy. So, according to Cardenal, he left a few balls hit in the ivy in batting practice in there instead of reaching in to get them. Of course, during the game a ball was hit by the opposition into that exact same spot in the wall – where when the batted ball went into the ivy, two BP balls dropped out. Cardenal figured he would just take both balls and hold them up for the umpires, who ruled a ground-rule double. We never saw the actual batted ball on that play, and as recent as 2012 Cardenal still tries to explain that he wasn’t cheating, he was just being lazy during BP.

Dude was a trip.

And, speaking of trips. That completes our trip down Memory Lane as we countdown the days to Opening Day. Tomorrow the Cubs will take the field in Pittsburgh and away we will be in 2014. From Rick Sutcliffe’s No. 40 to Jose Cardenal’s No. 1, we all know the Cubs have a colorful history. It’s filled with horror, humor and a lot of close calls – interspersed with some very bad teams.

Starting tomorrow we find out where 2014 fits in.