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New book on the Cubs goes by the numbers
By Mike Spellman | Daily Herald Staff

Cubs By The Numbers

 

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Published: 3/24/2009 12:07 AM

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The cynical Cubs fan, upon hearing the title of the new book "Cubs by the Numbers" by Al Yellon, Kasey Ignarski and Matthew Silverman, could probably come up with some numbers of their own.

How about 101, as in the number of years since the team won a World Series?

Or 0-6, their postseason record over the past two years? Then there's 1969 and 1984 ... oh, the list goes on and on.

But "Cubs by the Numbers" doesn't dwell on those numbers, rather it takes joy in the names and uniform numbers of the present and the past, and the presentation of each number serves as sort of a history lesson/refresher course for Cubs fans of every stripe.

Every name you remember as a kid - and some you've tried to block out - are in this book. From Rick Reuschel (good ol' number 48) to Kiki Cuyler (No. 3) and everyone in between.

Yellon, in addition to being a news director at ABC-7, is the founder and editor-in-chief of a popular fan Web site, BleedCubbieBlue.com. He recently took a few minutes to chat with the Daily Herald about the book, the team and all those numbers:

Q: When did you actually start bleeding Cubbie blue?

Yellon: I shouldn't admit my age; I'm 52. I was taken to my first game when I was 7 and I've been hooked since then. I lived through the 1960s and all those disappointments, and the '70s and '80s. I haven't seen it all, but I've seen a lot over the years.

Q: Some of my favorite parts of this book are the features at the end of each chapter highlighting both the most obscure player to wear a certain uniform number and the player you never thought of as a Cub to wear that particular number. What name sticks out for you as the most obscure player over the years?

Yellon: The most obscure Cub has to be a guy named Mark Leonette. He is the only player in Cubs history to be on the roster during the time of the 25-man roster limit and never get into a game. He was one of three guys the Cubs got for Dennis Eckersley. Neither of the other two ever played in the major leagues.

Leonette was recalled when someone went on the disabled list in July of 1987. He spent about 10 days on the roster, actually warmed up in the bullpen at least once, but never got into a game. After that, someone else came off the DL and Leonette was sent back to the minors and never returned.

Q: You focus a bit on the ever-changing Cubs' uniforms over the years. Which ones are among your least favorites?

Yellon: The ones I hate the most are the ones they call the "pajamas," - the powder blue ones with the white pinstripes that they wore on the road in the late '70s. I also wasn't fond of the ones in the mid-90s that had the word "Cubs" in script. It looked like "Cuba." They finally realized it did look like "Cuba" and dumped those after three or four years.

Q: After all the work and research you've put into this book, what's your favorite uniform number and why?

Yellon: Oh, gosh. There are a couple interesting stories about famous uniform numbers that are kind of my favorites. One of the all-time Cubs trivia questions is: who is the last player to wear uniform number 14 before Ernie Banks?

It was an outfielder named Paul Schramka, who had been signed by the Cubs as a college player, played a few years in the minors and in 1953 was told by Phil Cavarretta, the manager, that he was going to make the roster and would probably start in left field on Opening Day. But he never did. He made a couple of token appearances, was sent back to the minors and never came back. Later that year they gave that number to Ernie ... and that was it.

When Ernie's number was retired in 1982, Schramka sent him a telegram that said "I left all the base hits in the jersey for you."

Q: How much have you learned about this organization through all your research?

Yellon: A lot. Just the history of individual players and the types of trades the Cubs used to make in the '50s and '60s; the typical scenario was they'd take a young player and he wouldn't do well the first few years and they'd trade him away and he'd become a star somewhere else - and I'm not even talking about Lou Brock. There were dozens of players like this.

And conversely, they would often drag an old familiar name out of nowhere, who had long passed his usefulness, and tried to capture lightning in a bottle and it almost never worked. Last year they got a good deal with Jim Edmonds. They tried to do Edmonds-type deals in the '50s and '60s and they almost never worked.

• "Cubs by the Numbers" (Skyhorse Publishing; $14.95; 352 pages; paperback), is available at most bookstores and online book sellers.