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Numbers and Names

Quick. What Yankees slugger wore uniform number “7”? What uniform number did Hank Aaron wear? What Brooklyn Dodgers infielder wore number “42”? Baseball fans as well as many casual baseball observers know the answers to these questions (Mickey Mantle, number “44,” and Jackie Robinson) because baseball numbers have taken on a special significance in the game. Indeed, short of being named to the Hall of Fame, having one’s uniform number retired may be the greatest honor a ballplayer can receive.

Reading Red Roses Dabble with Digits on Their Duds

While rumor has it that uniform numbers were first used in the 19th century, the earliest verified instance in which a team experimented with numbering its players occurred in 1907. Early that season, Alfred Lawson, manager of the Reading (Pennsylvania) Red Roses of the Atlantic League, decided to number his club’s uniforms. He did so in an effort to help fans identify the players. The plan was a sound one, but it is unknown if the club ever took the field with numbered jerseys.

 

 

 

Now Batting, Number “12.” José Mendez, Number “12.”

The earliest photographic evidence of the use of uniform numbers comes from a 1909 Chicago Daily News picture of pitching great José Mendez. A legendary Cuban ballplayer, Mendez was a member of the inaugural class of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939 and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. In the photograph, Mendez is seen in his Cuban Stars uniform with a number “12” on his left sleeve.

At left: José Mendez of the Cuban Stars, 1909 (Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-007852. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.)

 

Indians Introduce Integers

Inspired by hockey’s and football’s use of uniform numbers, the Cleveland Indians became the first big league club to experiment with numbered uniforms when they took the field at League Park in Cleveland, on June 26, 1916, donning large numerals on their left sleeves. The experiment lasted just a few weeks that season and, after a brief trial the following year, was abandoned altogether. The numbers and corresponding names were listed in the club’s scorecards, and so, perhaps, this date also marked the first time a ballpark vendor called out: “Programs, get your programs. You can’t tell the players without a program.”

 

 

 

Cardinal Numbers

In 1923, acting on the suggestion of St. Louis sportswriter John Sheridan, St. Louis Cardinals manager Branch Rickey added uniform numbers to the sleeves of his players. As Rickey reminisced in 1962, “Ridicule followed throughout the country, presswise and otherwise. More particularly, the players were subjected to field criticism from the stands and especially from opposing players.… The effect upon the team was bad and ‘busted up’ the team morale or spirit completely. They really didn’t want to show themselves on the field. Because of the continuing embarrassment to the players, the numbers were removed.” Other clubs experimenting with uniform numbers on their sleeves that same year were the Indianapolis ABC’s of the Negro National League and the San Antonio Bears of the Texas League.

At left: Ray Blades of the St. Louis Cardinals, 1923

 

Indians Introduce Integers … Again

Not only were the Cleveland Indians the first big league club to wear uniform numbers, they were the first to wear numbers on the back of their jerseys. The practice has often been credited as originating with the New York Yankees in 1929, as the reigning World Champions were scheduled to open the season donning uniforms with the new numbering style. However, rain cancelled the Yankees’ April 16 home opener, while the Indians were blessed with clear skies that same day. By, the mid-1930s, every major league had adopted uniform numbers, though it was not until 1937 that the Philadelphia Athletics donned numbers on their home, as well as road, uniforms.

Numbers on Front

While uniform numbers first appeared on jersey sleeves and are most commonly seen on the back of jerseys, they have appeared on other parts of the uniform as well. In 1951, the Springfield Cubs of the International League were the first club to wear numbers on the front of their jerseys, a practice that was adopted by the Brooklyn Dodgers the following year. Today nearly every major league club uses jersey-front numbers on their home or road uniform. In 1940, the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League wore numbers on their uniform pants, but the style did not appear in the major leagues until the Astros wore numbers on the front left hip of their pants from 1975 through 1978.

Names on Back

Bill Veeck, the brash baseball executive whose “innovations” included the use of a moving outfield wall in Milwaukee and a 3’7” midget in St. Louis, introduced player names to the back of his Chicago White Sox jerseys in spring training of 1960. The concept, brought about by the popularity of baseball on television, caught on, and today every major league club has adopted the practice with one notable exception. Despite being the second big league club to adopt uniform numbers, the tradition-minded New York Yankees have yet to don a uniform (home or road) adorned with player names.

 

 

What’s in a Name?

Johnny Neves of the Northern League Fargo-Moorhead Twins wore uniform number “7” backwards on the back of his 1951 jersey. After all, his name spelled backwards is “seveN.”

Bill Voiselle wore his home town of Ninety-Six, South Carolina, on the back of his jersey, “96,” while with the Braves and Cubs from 1947 through 1950.

Carlos May, born May 17, 1948, is the only big leaguer to wear his birthday on his back: “May 17.”

At left: Johnny Neves of the Fargo-Moorhead Twins (Northern League) as seen in The Sporting News of May 16, 1951

 

Retired “4”-Ever

On June 19, 1939, Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a progressive and fatal motor-neuron disease. A few weeks later, on Independence Day, the New York Yankees staged “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day.” It was at that special event that the “Iron Horse” uttered the now infamous words, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Half a year later, Yankees President Ed Barrow announced that the club had retired Gehrig’s uniform number “4,” ensuring that no member of the Yankees family would ever again wear the honored number. Since that time, well over 100 major league uniform numbers have been retired.

No Number? No Problem.

Numberless uniforms have been worn at least three times since the full-time adoption of uniform numbers in the big leagues. On September 4, 1961, White Sox pitcher Joe Horlen made his big league debut in Minnesota. A last-minute call-up, Horlen was forced to wear a uniform with no number, the only road jersey the club had available. For the same reason, Eric Davis wore a numberless jersey when he made his major league debut with Cincinnati as a pinch-hitter on May 19, 1984. And on September 27, 1999, Detroit Tigers center fielder Gabe Kapler took the field donning a numberless uniform. That day, the Tigers played their last game at historic Tiger Stadium and, in honor of great Tigers of the past, members of the starting lineup wore the uniform numbers of corresponding members of an All-Time Detroit Tigers team voted on by the fans. Since Kapler played center field, he was to wear Ty Cobb's uniform number. But since Cobb never wore a number, Kapler's back was blank.

There’s Only One Jackie and Never Another “42”

On April 15, 1997, exactly 50 years after Jackie Robinson broke the major league color line, Acting Commissioner Bud Selig announced that never again would Robinson’s uniform number “42” be worn by a major or minor league player. The only exception to the mandate was that players who were already wearing the number would be allowed to keep it until the end of their careers.

The following is a list of retired uniform numbers for each current major league team (last updated August 2014):
American League


Baltimore Orioles (6)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
4 Earl Weaver September 19, 1982
5 Brooks Robinson April 14, 1978
8 Cal Ripken Jr. October 6, 2001
20 Frank Robinson December 23, 1971 (ceremony held March 10, 1972)
22 Jim Palmer September 1, 1985
33 Eddie Murray March 2, 1989 (ceremony held June 7, 1998)


Boston Red Sox (7)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
1 Bobby Doerr May 21, 1988
4 Joe Cronin May 29, 1984
6 Johnny Pesky September 28, 2008
8 Carl Yastrzemski August 6, 1989
9 Ted Williams May 29, 1984
14 Jim Rice July 28, 2009
27 Carlton Fisk September 4, 2000


Chicago White Sox (9)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
2 Nellie Fox May 1, 1976
3 Harold Baines August 20, 1989
4 Luke Appling November 2, 1950?; retired again on June 7, 1975
9 Minnie Minoso May 8, 1983
11 Luis Aparicio August 14, 1984
16 Ted Lyons July 25, 1987
19 Billy Pierce July 25, 1987
35 Frank Thomas August 29, 2010
72 Carlton Fisk September 14, 1997


Cleveland Indians (6)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
3 Earl Averill June 8, 1975
5 Lou Boudreau July 9, 1970
14 Larry Doby July 3, 1994
18 Mel Harder July 28, 1990
19 Bob Feller December 28, 1956
21 Bob Lemon June 20, 1998


Detroit Tigers (6)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
2 Charlie Gehringer June 12, 1983
5 Hank Greenberg June 12, 1983
6 Al Kaline August 17, 1980
11 Sparky Anderson June 26, 2011
16 Hal Newhouser July 27, 1997
23 Willie Horton July 15, 2000


Kansas City Royals (3)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
5 George Brett May 14, 1994
10 Dick Howser July 3, 1987
20 Frank White July 2, 1995


Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (5)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
11 Jim Fregosi August 1, 1998
26 Gene Autry October 3, 1982
29 Rod Carew August 12, 1986
30 Nolan Ryan June 16, 1992
50 Jimmie Reese August 2, 1995


Minnesota Twins (7)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
3 Harmon Killebrew May 4, 1975
6 Tony Oliva July 14, 1991
10 Tom Kelly September 8, 2012
14 Kent Hrbek August 13, 1995
28 Bert Blyleven July 16, 2011
29 Rod Carew July 19, 1987
34 Kirby Puckett May 25, 1997


New York Yankees (16)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
1 Billy Martin August 10, 1986
3 Babe Ruth June 13, 1948
4 Lou Gehrig January 6, 1940
5 Joe DiMaggio April 18, 1952
7 Mickey Mantle June 8, 1969
8 Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey July 22, 1972
9 Roger Maris July 21, 1984
10 Phil Rizzuto August 4, 1985
15 Thurman Munson August 3, 1979
16 Whitey Ford August 3, 1974
23 Don Mattingly August 31, 1997
32 Elston Howard July 21, 1984
37 Casey Stengel August 8, 1970
42 Mariano Rivera September 22, 2013
44 Reggie Jackson August 14, 1993
49 Ron Guidry August 23, 2003


Oakland Athletics (5)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
9 Reggie Jackson May 22, 2004
24 Rickey Henderson August 1, 2009
27 Catfish Hunter June 9, 1991
34 Rollie Fingers July 5, 1993
43 Dennis Eckersley August 13, 2005


Seattle Mariners (0)


Tampa Bay Rays (1)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
12 Wade Boggs April 7, 2000


Texas Rangers (2)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
26 Johnny Oates August 6, 2005
34 Nolan Ryan September 15, 1996


Toronto Blue Jays (1)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
12 Roberto Alomar July 31, 2011
National League


Arizona Diamondbacks (1)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
20 Luis Gonzalez August 7, 2010


Atlanta Braves (10)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
3 Dale Murphy June 13, 1994
6 Bobby Cox August 12, 2011
10 Chipper Jones June 28, 2013
21 Warren Spahn December 11, 1965
29 John Smoltz June 8, 2012
31 Greg Maddux July 17, 2009
35 Phil Niekro August 6, 1984
41 Eddie Mathews July 26, 1969
44 Hank Aaron April 15, 1977
47 Tom Glavine August 6, 2010


Chicago Cubs (5)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
10 Ron Santo September 28, 2003
14 Ernie Banks August 22, 1982
23 Ryne Sandberg August 28, 2005
26 Billy Williams August 13, 1987
31 Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux May 3, 2009


Cincinnati Reds (9)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
1 Fred Hutchinson January 13, 1965?
5 Johnny Bench August 11, 1984
8 Joe Morgan June 6, 1998
10 Sparky Anderson May 28, 2005
11 Barry Larkin August 25, 2012
13 Dave Concepcion August 25, 2007
18 Ted Kluszewski July 18, 1998
20 Frank Robinson May 22, 1998
24 Tony Perez May 27, 2000


Colorado Rockies (1)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
17 Todd Helton August 17, 2014


Houston Astros (9)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
5 Jeff Bagwell August 26, 2007
7 Craig Biggio August 17, 2008
24 Jimmy Wynn June 25, 2005
25 Jose Cruz October 3, 1992
32 Jim Umbricht April 16, 1964
33 Mike Scott October 3, 1992
34 Nolan Ryan September 29, 1996
40 Don Wilson April 13, 1975?
49 Larry Dierker May 19, 1992


Los Angeles Dodgers (10)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
1 Pee Wee Reese July 1, 1984
2 Tommy Lasorda August 15, 1997
4 Duke Snider July 6, 1980
19 Jim Gilliam October 11, 1978
20 Don Sutton August 14, 1998
24 Walt Alston June 5, 1977
32 Sandy Koufax June 4, 1972
39 Roy Campanella June 4, 1972
42 Jackie Robinson June 4, 1972
53 Don Drysdale July 1, 1984


Miami Marlins (1)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
5 Carl Barger April 5, 1993


Milwaukee Brewers (4)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
4 Paul Molitor June 11, 1999
19 Robin Yount May 29, 1994
34 Rollie Fingers August 9, 1992
44 Hank Aaron October 3, 1976


New York Mets (3)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
14 Gil Hodges June 9, 1973
37 Casey Stengel September 2, 1965
41 Tom Seaver July 24, 1988


Philadelphia Phillies (5)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
1 Richie Ashburn August 24, 1979?
14 Jim Bunning April 6, 2001
20 Mike Schmidt May 26, 1990
32 Steve Carlton July 29, 1989
36 Robin Roberts March 21, 1962


Pittsburgh Pirates (9)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
1 Billy Meyer 1954?
4 Ralph Kiner September 19, 1987
8 Willie Stargell September 6, 1982
9 Bill Mazeroski August 7, 1987
11 Paul Waner July 21, 2007
20 Pie Traynor April 18, 1972
21 Roberto Clemente April 6, 1973
33 Honus Wagner February 16, 1952
40 Danny Murtaugh April 7, 1977


St. Louis Cardinals (12)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
1 Ozzie Smith September 28, 1996
2 Red Schoendienst May 11, 1996
6 Stan Musial September 29, 1963
9 Enos Slaughter September 6, 1996
10 Tony La Russa May 11, 2012
14 Ken Boyer May 20, 1984
17 Dizzy Dean September 22, 1974
20 Lou Brock September 9, 1979
24 Whitey Herzog July 31, 2010
42 Bruce Sutter September 17, 2006
45 Bob Gibson September 1, 1975
85 August Busch Jr. March 28, 1984?


San Diego Padres (5)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
6 Steve Garvey April 16, 1988
19 Tony Gwynn September 4, 2004
31 Dave Winfield August 20, 2000
35 Randy Jones May 9, 1997
51 Trevor Hoffman August 21, 2011


San Francisco Giants (9)

Number Person(s) Date number was retired
3 Bill Terry unknown
4 Mel Ott July 17, 1948
11 Carl Hubbell unknown
20 Monte Irvin June 26, 2010
24 Willie Mays May 12, 1972
27 Juan Marichal July 10, 1983
30 Orlando Cepeda July 11, 1999
36 Gaylord Perry July 23, 2005
44 Willie McCovey September 21, 1980


Washington Nationals (0)

Though the Washington Nationals were formerly the Montreal Expos, they have chosen not to recognize these previously retired uniform numbers:
Number Person(s) Date number was retired
8 Gary Carter July 31, 1993
10 Rusty Staub May 15, 1993
10 Andre Dawson July 6, 1997
30 Tim Raines June 19, 2004

 

 


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