Constable: Chicago sports jersey debate is Justin time
With Labor Day over, Chicago sports fans can turn their attention to fall. The White Sox are gearing up for the MLB playoffs. The Cubs are about to pull the plug on a shocking season and go into hibernation. And the Bears are ready to start the NFL season Sunday night. But do fans have the jerseys they need?
No. 1 on the list would be the No. 1 jersey of first-round draft choice and current backup quarterback Justin Fields, who is expected to make Bears fans forget about, oh, I don't know, Sid Luckman. According to NFLshop.com, Justin Fields is the top-selling jersey in the league. He hasn't thrown a regular-season pass yet, but Bears fans have a history of putting their money on hope over experience.
The NFL player with the second-most popular jersey is Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who at 44 is twice as old as Fields, has completed 10,598 more passes, thrown for 581 more touchdowns and has seven more Super Bowl rings.
It was only three years ago that linebacker Khalil Mack's No. 52 Bears uniform was the top-selling jersey ahead of Brady's New England Patriots jersey. Mack is still sharing key hanging space with Fields at Dick's Sporting Goods in Schaumburg and Naperville.
Of course, a top-selling jersey is no predictor of greatness. Former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, recently dropped as Uber Eats spokesman for his anti-mask views, had the top-selling jersey in the NFL when he was traded to the Bears in 2009. After he started playing for the Bears, Cutler's jersey slipped in the rankings.
The last Bears rookie quarterback to crack the top 10 in jersey sales was Mitch Trubisky, whose No. 10 was a fan favorite at Soldier Field. Those have not aged well, as Trubisky never lived up to the hype the team created by trading four draft picks to move up one spot in the draft to select him as the second player taken.
But some long-gone Bears players are still selling jerseys at suburban Dick's stores. Hall-of-Famers Walter Payton, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers and Mike Ditka have their jerseys on display with Fields and Mack. And the No. 9 of Jim McMahon, the only Bears quarterback to win a Super Bowl, still can be found in some stores.
While the White Sox don't have a player among the best-selling jerseys in MLB, fans can find jerseys for shortstop Tim Anderson, slugger Eloy Jiménez, outfielder Luis Robert, catcher Yasmani Grandal, second-baseman Yoán Moncada, pitchers Carlos Rodon and Dallas Keuchel, and even former phenom Yermin Mercedes, who now plays in Triple-A for the Charlotte Knights, along with former Cubs penultimate Game 7 World Series pitcher Carl Edwards Jr.
As for the Cubs, who traded away World Series heroes Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez this summer, catcher Willson Contreras's No. 40 might be the only jersey fans recognize. The 225-pound Contreras is hitting his weight but, because of injuries, doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify in league statistics. The team's only player with enough at-bats to qualify is the recently red-hot Ian Happ, who hiked his average nine points above his weight of 205 while leading the Cubs to a late-season, seven-game winning streak and charge toward mediocrity. That doesn't sell jerseys.
"Right now, all the premier jerseys we have are Bryant, Rizzo and Báez," says Tyler Jones, a manager at Wrigleyville Sports, across the street from Wrigley Field. But fans do have a choice.
"We customize jerseys, so we have made a Steele jersey and a couple of Wisdoms," Jones says, referring to 26-year-old rookie pitcher Justin Steele, who had a 3-0 lead Monday, until he didn't, and 30-year-old rookie Patrick Wisdom, whose 25 home runs lead the team. Rizzo's replacement, Frank "The Tank" Schwindel, might sell a No. 18 jersey or two.
Many suburban stores don't even have a rack of Cubs jerseys, although one of the mannequins still sports a Javy Báez No. 9 jersey.
A survey of ESPN baseball analysts picked the White Sox to make the World Series, so practical fans might want to see who the postseason Sox heroes are before buying jerseys in November. The Bears' odds of making it to the Super Bowl are 50-1. Fans wanting to sport the jersey of a Super Bowl-winning Bears quarterback can either buy a 1986 McMahon jersey or invest in the futures market with a Fields jersey.