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A Numbers Game: A look at how every Cubs player — and the manager — picked their jersey number

10 months agoTony Andracki and Andy Martinez

As a kid growing up, Edwin Ríos would grab VHS tapes, pop them in his VCR and watch video of his dad, Edwin, playing baseball in his native Puerto Rico.

The younger Ríos would watch his dad on the diamond with the number “30” on his back.

As the current Cub grew up, he always wore 30, to honor his “pops.”

When he got the call to the major leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019, he wore 43 — and wore it throughout his tenure in Dodger blue.

“[It’s] what was available at the time,” Ríos said with a hearty laugh. “And I didn’t change it. I kinda just stuck with it.”

But 30 was always dear to him — his Twitter handle is @Edwin_Rios30 and his Instagram is @edwinrios30.

When he signed with the Cubs this spring, it was available, so the choice was a no-brainer.

“It’s always been one of my favorite numbers and to be able to wear it here, it’s pretty special,” Ríos said.

That number was part of the elder Ríos’ identity. It’s the effect that numbers can have. They become synonymous with a player.

“I sign my name with the number,” Ian Happ said, who also has “IH8” engraved on his baseball gloves. “It becomes part of your identity. You look at it every day.”

For Dansby Swanson, that identity was built for him.

“I never had any allegiance to 7 until I got to [Vanderbilt University] and that’s what they gave me,” Swanson said. “I had never worn 7, never really cared to wear 7 and then I got to Vandy and they gave me 7 and I haven’t taken it off since.”

When he signed with the Cubs in the offseason, 7 wasn’t readily available. Yan Gomes wore the number in his first season in Chicago in 2022, but Gomes wasn’t married to it and if there was a chance it could help in the recruiting process of Swanson, he was all for it.

So, Gomes reached out to Swanson, partly to recruit and partly to let him know that his number — his identity — was available.

“I said, ‘Hey, if we sign you, the number’s available. I think I’ll have to give it up anyways,’” Gomes said.

When Swanson officially signed in December, he was unveiled at Wrigley Field with a Cubs’ home uniform with the number 7 on the back.

“I don’t know how to really look at it. I like the number 7,” Swanson said. “It’s like a whole number. It just kinda became – I feel like I’m a 7. It just kinda worked out. Like, I’m a 7.”

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Swanson said he’s planning on getting Gomes some sort of gift as a token of appreciation for giving up his number. What it’ll be, though, is still undetermined. Swanson said he doesn’t just want to get him a watch but would rather get to know him more and get him something that’s more personal.

“I know he’s gonna come through it,” Gomes said. “He’s one of the good ones so I’m not too worried about that.”

As for Gomes, he switched to 15 this season. One reason was that it was available. But it was also the number of one of his former coaches, Sandy Alomar Jr., who spent 20 years in the big leagues as a catcher.

“He was super influential early in my career,” Gomes said. “I kinda wanted to pay him homage.”

Numbers, advertently or not, form a part of the player — you associate number 42 with Jackie Robinson, 3 with Babe Ruth, 2 with Derek Jeter and so on. 

Here’s the backstory on how the current Cubs settled on their number.

Manager

David Ross – 3

Arguably the most popular number on the Cubs right now belongs to their manager, David Ross, who wore 3 during the franchise’s historic run to the 2016 World Series.

But it almost was a different number that became synonymous with Cubs fans.

Ross had worn 8 with Atlanta from 2009 to 2012. When he joined Boston ahead of the 2013 season, he had to pivot.

“I came from Atlanta, and they had 3, 5, they started to list them off,” Ross said. “I said, 3, perfect. I got 3 kids. It’s 8 with a little cut off. … I’m not complicated.”

Wearing No. 3 in Boston became a big deal, especially when he won the 2013 World Series.

“When I got over here, I was like, ‘ah, I need 3. That’s the lucky number,’” Ross said.

He wore that in 2015 and 2016 as the Cubs broke their 108-year title drought. You can still find fans donning a “Ross 3” jersey at Wrigley Field. When he was named the team’s manager ahead of the 2020 season, 3 made a comeback — and it might be his for a while.

“I think my ready statement was anybody that’s got more rings than me, they can have it,” Ross quipped. “I got 2 rings with that number. Somebody comes in here with more than that, then they can definitely have it.”

Pitchers

Marcus Stroman – 0

Stroman became the first Cub to ever don 0 and it has special meaning to him.

“I like 0 because of the shape,” Stroman said. “The fluidness of it, how even it is. More things of that. More of those symbols that a circle represents rather than necessarily the number. I’ve always been a single digit pitcher, or single digit player my whole life.

“There’s so many different things when you really dive into the meaning of a circle or it being synonymous, it being continuous, like there’s no end point. There’s so many things there that are deeper. Definitely for more of the shape and what the circle means than the actual number.”

Marcus Stroman 0 Uniform Number Jersey

Justin Steele – 35 

35 wasn’t the first choice for the second year lefty. But it’s stuck.

“21 is my favorite number ever since I was a little kid. It’s been my family number for generations. My great grandfather had it, my grandfather had it, my dad had it, my brother had it and I also wore it,” Steele said. “Obviously 21 means something to the city of Chicago — or the Chicago Cubs anyways [as Sammy Sosa’s number]. I just picked a different number. Went with 35, seemed like a decent number for a pitcher. There wasn’t much thought that went into it.”

Jameson Taillon – 50

The Cubs’ free agent acquisition this offseason debuted with the Pirates in 2016 and picked his number for one of his favorite pitchers.

“I had a couple options when I got called up and I remember Adam Wainwright wore 50 and I thought it was a good pitcher’s number,” Taillon said. “My Twitter handle had 50 in it. My Instagram handle, [too]. My fiance had a bunch of merch with 50 on it and stuff. So I feel like it’s become sentimental over the years. It’s always been there.”

Drew Smyly – 11

The lefty had a list to choose from when he rejoined the Cubs ahead of the 2022 season and chose one that had at least some meaning.

“I didn’t, like, seek it out, but I did choose it,” Smyly said. “This is the first time I’ve worn 11, so it wasn’t a monumental number for me or anything. I think they gave me a list of 6-7 numbers and I just thought this was best. My daughter was born on the 11th, so 11 sounds cool. I was 33 for a long time and then switched over to 11 so I guess I like the double. It was like 11 or 49 and I was like, I’ll just take 11.”

Hayden Wesneski – 19

Wesneski, like many new players, got a list of available numbers when he was first called up last season.

“It was any number from like 75 to 19,” Wesneski said. “I was like, you know what? I’ll take 19, like it’s respectable.

“I thought 19 wasn’t too bad and I plan on keeping it unless someone else wants to take it from you that has been around longer. I don’t see a whole lot of people fighting for 19. I’m gonna try to keep it if I can.”

Michael Fulmer – 32

His whole career, Fulmer had almost always worn the same number. When he was traded to Minnesota last season, he donned a new number, 52 — “and it felt weird.” After he signed with the Cubs, he had one question.

“I asked if 32 was available,” the veteran reliever said. “The only significance it has to me is that that was the number that was given to me when I got called up. They said 32 was available so went ahead and took it.”

Brad Boxberger – 25

Some players really don’t put much thought in the number.

“I’m not a number guy. I don’t care at all. It’s just a number,” Boxberger said. “It was what was available. I’ve never had it before in my career. It was one of the ones that was available, and I was like, all right, I’ll roll with that one. No significant meaning or anything.”

Julian Merryweather – 66

Merryweather, like Boxberger, didn’t put much thought into his choice, either.

“They were like, here you want 66? I was like, sure,” Merryweather said. “Not a big numbers guy. Pocket 6s, we’ll take it.”

Keegan Thompson – 71

For Thompson, he was assigned his number — and it stuck.

“It was actually given to me my first spring,” Thompson said. “I just kinda kept it. It’s different but I kinda like it. I was 7 in college. I kinda like 71. I don’t think anyone’s gonna try to take it from me. It’s different.”

Adbert Alzolay – 73

Alzolay’s first choice —29 — wasn’t available when he was first called up, so the team assigned him 73.

“I picked this number because it was the one, they gave me when I debuted in the big leagues,” Alzolay said. “And honestly that day was super special, and I decided to keep that number.”

Michael Rucker – 59

Rucker arrived at Nationals Park on the trade deadline in 2021 and saw a locker with a jersey with his last name and 59 below it.

“There’s absolutely no backstory to it,” Rucker said with a laugh. “It’s something that I’ve embraced and like. I think if I were to choose it would either be 36, which was my brother’s number and I had that for a little bit growing up. Or 27 was my number in college. Both of those numbers are taken.”

Mark Leiter Jr. – 38

Leiter Jr. decided after last season that he wanted to change from 62, a number he didn’t choose. His first choice was 31, but since it’s retired with the Cubs (for Greg Maddux and Fergie Jenkins), he picked from a list of numbers.

“It was just the number my dad wore a lot throughout his career,” Leiter Jr. said of 31. “I got a chance to wear it in Philly and a number that I was a lot in the minor leagues.”

Position Players

Tucker Barnhart – 18

Barnhart’s first choice was available — but he still decided against picking 9.

“I wanted to go single digits but there weren’t really any available and I didn’t want to run out 9 just with Javy [Báez] for sure,” Barnhart said of his former teammate in Detroit. “It wasn’t right for me to wear that. I loved playing with Javy. He did so much for the city of Chicago. I didn’t think it would’ve been the right thing to do to even ask for it, to be honest.”

Instead, he opted to double it — 18.

“I’ve always been like a teens guy. I wore 16 in Cincinnati for my whole career, I wore 15 in Detroit. 18 kinda made sense,” Barnhart said. “My wife’s big into signs and she reads all that [stuff]. She said in some cultures, No. 18 means good luck and new beginnings and stuff. Which I found that out after the fact. I didn’t really have the biggest choice. I didn’t want to go above 20 but here we are.”

Luis Torrens — 22

Torrens opted for familiarity in his number.

“22 is a number that I’ve had since Seattle,” he said. “I like the number. It was available and I took it.”

Trey Mancini – 36

For most of his career, Mancini has worn 16. But he knew that number belonged to a teammate — Patrick Wisdom.

“Obviously, Patrick’s been here for a while and I honestly am not the biggest number person,” Mancini said. “I’m not that superstitious when it comes to my number. I did not want to come in and even offer anything — that’s his number.”

So, he chose a number that meant something to him and his wife, Sara, who played soccer collegiately at American University.

“I chose 36 cause I was number 3 growing up a lot. My wife was number 6 all the time,” Mancini said. “I told her the choices, we were like ‘Wow, that’s slim pickings.’ We put together the 3 and 6 like it would be cool since I was 3 in college and growing up a lot and she was 6 in soccer, so just combined them.”

Seiya Suzuki – 27

Even before Suzuki officially suited up for the Cubs for the first time, he explained why he chose uniform number 27.

“Mike Trout, I love you,” Suzuki said in English during his introductory press conference last spring. (Trout wears uniform number 27 as well.)

Eric Hosmer – 51

Hosmer and his brother Mike grew up as big fans of Bernie Williams. So much so, that Mike would wear 51 when he played Little League. That played a role in picking a number when Hosmer’s two previous numbers, 30 and 35, were taken.

“I just kinda wanted to mix it up,” Hosmer said. “It’s a number I haven’t worn in the big leagues before, so I thought it’d be pretty cool for me and my brother to share that. Take me back to Little League a little bit.”

Nico Hoerner – 2

Hoerner didn’t put a ton of stock into picking his number when he was called up in 2019.

“I’ve had a bunch of different numbers in my career but it was cool to have a single digit number open when I was called up,” Hoerner said. “It was a pretty quick process.”

Nick Madrigal — 1

At Oregon State, Madrigal donned 3 since it was his mom’s favorite number. When he arrived in the big leagues with the White Sox, he knew he couldn’t pick that number since it’s retired for Harold Baines, so he picked 1. Then, he was traded in 2021 to the Cubs.

“It was kinda funny, right when I got traded over, I was just thinking, ‘oh what number could I wear? Oh, maybe I could go back to No. 3 from college,’” Madrigal said. “And I looked at the roster and I saw Rossy was No. 3. I knew there was no chance I’d ever get that.”

Did he try and get the number from his manager?

“No way,” Madrigal said. “He’s a legend in a Cubs uniform. I would never do that. No. 1 I felt comfortable with from my time with the White Sox. I just wanted a single digit, preferably a lower one. It worked out.”

Patrick Wisdom – 16

Wisdom was first called up to the Cubs in 2020 and donned 59 in his two games. When he was called back up in 2021, he asked head clubhouse manager Danny Mueller and director of team travel and clubhouse operations Vijay Tekchandani for a list of numbers that were available.

“Honestly, it was just one of the lower ones that were available when I was called up,” Wisdom said. “They gave me a list and I chose it.”

Hoerner Mancini Madrigal Wisdom Celebration Uniform

Ian Happ — 8

Growing up, Happ wore 1 in high school and 5 in college. When he made his big-league debut both were taken (1 by third base coach Gary Jones and 5 by Albert Almora Jr.).

“I had worn 8 as a kid and it was like the only single digit available, so it was like going back to being 10 years old,” Happ said. “I wore 8 when I was like 7, 8. 9, 10, 11 – those years.”

Why the low number?

“I’ve always worn single digits and I have a really short last name, so it looks good on the back of the uni,” Happ said. “I had a good buddy of mine — I was young for my grade, so I always had to play younger when I was growing up. So, when we were playing travel ball together, I let him wear 8 and I wore 15. So, it was cool to go back to it. It was the first number I ever had.”

Cody Bellinger – 24

Bellinger’s 35 became almost iconic in Los Angeles.

But his favorite player growing up — Manny Ramírez — made the number 24 iconic in Boston.

“I just loved the baggy jersey, the swag he had, so the option was here, and I just wanted to roll with it,” Bellinger said. “It’s fun to pick 24 this year.”

Miles Mastrobuoni – 20

Like others, the Cubs’ utility man didn’t have much thought in his number choice.

“Kinda just what was available,” Mastrobuoni said. “Not too set on a number. It was just a number that was open, and I was like, yeah, let’s go with it. I’ve never worn 20. Hoping to make it a good one.”

Nelson Velázquez — 4

Velázquez wanted to go low — hence why he picked 4.

“I honestly don’t like to have a big number on my back,” Velázquez said. “Simply, it was a number that was the lowest available and that’s the one I decided to take.”

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