Thursday, February 26, 2015
In this case, I am making an exception to the rule of club over country, and finding out, as best I can -- we're talking, literally, about a whole world of players, going back to 1928 when numbers first appeared on English football shirts -- who was the best player ever to wear the number.
Especially in the era before squad numbers were set (1993 in England), players would be shifted in position, and would wear the number assigned to that position. So many great players, even since 1993, have worn more than one number. Nevertheless, it's one number to a player here. So Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't get to wear 7 and 17. In fact, he doesn't get to wear either.
0 Alex Stepney of England. The Manchester United goalkeeping legend wore it with the Dallas Tornado in 1979 and '80.
00 Steve Zerhusen of America (Baltimore). Wore it for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1979 and '80.
1 Lev Yashin of Russia. The traditional goalkeeper's number goes to the man more often than any other called the best of all time. Starred in goal for Dynamo Moscow in both soccer and hockey for 20 years.
2 Cafu of Brazil. Starred at Right Back for São Paulo in Brazil, Real Zaragoza in Spain, and AS Roma and AC Milan in Italy, as well as Captaining Brazil to the 2002 World Cup.
3 Paolo Maldini of Italy. Wore it for AC Milan for 25 years.
4 Patrick Vieira of France. In 1998, won the League and the FA Cup -- The Double -- for Arsenal, and the World Cup for France. Won another Double in 2002. Was Captain of Arsenal's "Invincibles" in 2004. Nearly won another World Cup in 2006.
5 Franz Beckenbauer of Germany. Wore it in victorious Finals for 3 European Cups for Bayern Munich and a World Cup Final for West Germany.
6 Bobby Moore of England. Wore it in Finals in Wembley Stadium 3 straight years: The 1964 FA Cup and the 1965 European Cup Winners' Cup for West Ham United, and the 1966 World Cup for England.
7 Kenny Dalglish of Scotland. Those of you who are Manchester United fans will consider this blasphemy, but then, you also consider your Ferguson-era trophies to be fairly won. "King Kenny" is arguably the greatest player ever for 2 legendary British clubs: Glasgow's Celtic, and Liverpool.
8 Giuseppe Meazza of Italy. Starred for Internazionale Milano, and the stadium that "Inter" shares with AC Milan is named for him. Led Italy to victory in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups. Yes, Liverpool fans, Steven Gerrard was considered for this list. No, he was never going to be chosen for this number.
9 Bobby Charlton of England. Unlike such previous English legends wearing the number, like Dixie Dean of Everton and Jackie Milburn of Newcastle United, the Manchester United legend wore it in the television era, including the 1966 World Cup win.
10 Pelé of Brazil. Starred for Santos in his homeland in the 1960s, and in the mid-1970s dragged America kicking and screaming (for joy) into the soccer world with the New York Cosmos. The only man to play on 3 World Cup winners.
There are, of course, people who would have preferred that I select Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane or Lionel Messi. Zidane and Messi will show up on this list. If you still doubt that Pelé is the greatest player ever, or at least the greatest ever to wear Number 10, take a look at the photo above. It was taken at his farewell match at the Meadowlands in 1977. And the other man in that picture, Muhammad Ali, still Heavyweight Champion of the World at the time, and a man who liked to call himself "the Greatest of All Time," said after seeing the spectacle, "Now I understand: He is greater than me."
11 Garrincha of Brazil. The legend of Rio de Janeiro club Botafogo wore it while starring in the 1958 World Cup. Was even more amazing in the 1962 World Cup, wearing 7.
12 Júlio César of Brazil. Now wrapping up his career with Portuguese giants Benfica, the goalie starred for Rio de Janeiro's Flamengo and Milan's Inter, wearing 12 with the latter, and in the last World Cup for Brazil.
13 Eusebio of Portugal. The Benfica star wore it in the 1966 World Cup. Usually wore 10.
14 Thierry Henry of France. Wore it for his club teams, but wore 12 for his national team and in his brief 2012 loan return to Arsenal. No doubt, some of you think I've forgotten somebody. Rest assured, the man you're thinking of is on this list.
15 Lilian Thuram of France. Starred for AS Monaco (Monaco is an independent nation, but so small that it competes in France's Ligue 1), Parma and Juventus. World Cup winner 1998.
16 Martin Peters of England. At a time when England didn't allow numbers past 11 (and then 12, once substitutions were legalized in 1966), he wasn't intended to be a starter for England's World Cup team in 1966. He ended up not only playing in the Final, but scoring. Usually wore 10 for West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City.
17 Steven Gerrard of England. Wore it for Liverpool before switching to the more familiar 8. Usually wears 4 for England.
18 Lionel Messi of Argentina. The Barcelona star has long since switched to 10 for both club and country. Honorable mention to Doctor Sócrates, the Brazilian legend of the 1980s.
19 Wim Suurbier of the Netherlands. The Ajax legend wore it with the Los Angeles Aztecs in 1979 and '80.
20 Vavá of Brazil. Starred for Rio de Janeiro club Vasco da Gama and Spanish side Atlético Madrid. Scored the biggest goals in Brazil's 1958 World Cup win, and also played on the 1962 World Cup winners (having switched to 19).
21 Zinedine Zidane of France. Wore it at Juventus, 5 at Real Madrid, 10 for his country. A tough call over AC Milan and Juventus legend Andrea Pirlo.
22 Kaká of Brazil. Wore 8 at São Paulo and Real Madrid, 22 at AC Milan. Has worn 8 and 10 for Brazil, and now wears 10 for MLS expansion team Orlando City.
23 Sol Campbell of England. Famously made the switch across North London from Tottenham Hotspur (switching from 23 to the more common centreback number of 5 by the end of his tenure there) to Arsenal (taking 31 on his brief return to the club after playing at Portsmouth where he also wore 23). If you're expected to see Manchester United (7) legend David Beckham, who wore 23 for the Los Angeles Galaxy and AC Milan, he will show up later.
24 Tim Howard of America (North Brunswick, New Jersey). Always wears 1 for the national team, wore 14 at Manchester United, and has worn 24 for Liverpool-based Everton since 2006.
25 Gianfranco Zola of Italy. Starred for Napoli, Parma and Chelsea.
26 John Terry of England. Yes, he represents so much of what's wrong with the modern game (and wears 6 for his national team), but show me anyone else whose done more with 26 than Captain Cuckold has with Chelsea.
27 Nwankwo Kanu of Nigeria. Wore it at Portsmouth after wearing 14 at Ajax, 19 at Inter and 25 at Arsenal. Always wore 4 for his country.
28 Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. Wore it at Sporting Lisbon, but was given 7 upon his arrival at Manchester United, because manager Alex Ferguson wanted him to become the kind of legend who had worn it for the Salford club: George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham.
29 Rio Ferdinand of England. Wore it at Leeds United before getting poached by Manchester United and switching to 5.
30 Johan Cruijff of the Netherlands. Aside from Pelé and Maradona with 10, no footballer is more identified with a single number than Cruijff (whose name is frequently, but incorrectly, spelled "Cruyff") is with the 14 he wore in his best years at Ajax, in the NASL with the Los Angeles Aztecs and the Washington Diplomats, and with the Dutch national team. But he wore 9 at Barcelona, and wore 30 in 2 friendlies with the New York Cosmos in 1979.
True, he never played a competitive match in the number. But who else are you going to pick for 30 -- Obafemi Martins?
31 George Weah of Liberia. Normally a 9, wore 31 for Chelsea.
32 David Beckham of England. The Manchester United and Real Madrid legend wore it with AC Milan.
33 Alex of Brazil. Wears it for AC Milan, after also wearing it for Chelsea.
34 Nigel de Jong of the Netherlands. Wears it at AC Milan, after also wearing it at Manchester City. Usually wears 8 for his country, but has also worn 6 and 17 in international tournaments.
35 Viktor Genev of Bulgaria. Was a star by his home country's standards. Now plays in Scotland for St. Mirren.
36 Matteo Darmian of Italy. Wore it for Sicilian side Palermo.
37 Jari Litmanen of Finland. Wore it at Liverpool, after usually wearing 10 with clubs like Ajax and Barcelona.
38 Sinan Bolat of Turkey. Wears it for Istanbul giants Galatasaray.
39 Nicolas Anelka of France. Wore 9 at Arsenal, but whenever he wears out his welcome at a club (which is usually soon to happen), "Le Sulk" goes to one where 9 is occupied, so he takes 39. Has worn 8, 9 and 21 for France.
40 Henrique Hilário of Brazil. Wore it with Chelsea.
41 Cédric of Portugal. Wears it for Sporting Lisbon.
42 Yaya Toure of the Ivory Coast.
43 Julian Dicks of England.
44 Massimo Oddo of Italy. Wore it for AC Milan, although switched to 17 -- which is usually considered a bad-luck number in Italy.
45 Mario Balotelli of Italy. Has worn it for both Milan clubs, Manchester City, and now Liverpool, but usually wears 9 for his country.
46 Salvator Sirigu of Italy. Wore it for Palermo.
47 Andrea Consigli of Italy. Wears it for Sassuolo.
48 Salih Uçan of Turkey. Wears it for Istanbul giants Fenerbahçe, and also in his current loan spell at AS Roma.
49 Muhammed Demirci of Turkey. Wears it for Istanbul side Beşiktaş.
50 Michele Somma of Italy. Wears it for Empoli, on loan from AS Roma.
51 Mauricio Pinilla of Chile. Has worn in for several Italian clubs, currently Genoa (but on loan to Atalanta).
52 Emre Çolak of Turkey. Wears it for Istanbul giants Galatasaray.
53 Serdar Kesimal of Turkey. Wears it for Fenerbahçe.
54 Isaac Donkor of Ghana. Wears it for Inter.
55 Yuto Nagatomo of Japan. Wears it for Inter. Wears 5 for his country.
56 Nico Pulzetti of Italy. Plays for Bologna.
57 Cesc Fabregas of Spain. Wore it in his 1st season for Arsenal, 2003-04, before switching to 15 the next season and 4 in 2006-07. Kept it when he betrayed the club and went to Barcelona and now Chelsea.
58 Gedion Zelalem of America (born in Germany of Ethiopian parents, but grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and will play for the U.S. team). Wore it once for Arsenal, and has now switched to 35.
59 Couldn't find one worth posting.
60 Jeff Parke of America (the Philadelphia area). Wore it with the New York Red Bulls in 2008.
61 Konstantinos Kotsaris of Greece. Wears it for Athens giants Panathinaikos.
62 Couldn't find one worth posting.
63 Couldn't find one worth posting.
64 Couldn't find one worth posting.
65 Couldn't find one worth posting.
66 Giampiero Pinzi of Italy. Wears it for Udinese.
67 Eray İşcan of Turkey. Wears it for Galatasaray.
68 Andrea Fulignati of Italy. Wears it for Palermo.
69 Bixente Lizarazu of France. Wore it at Bayern Munich in 2005. No, it doesn't refer to anything naughty: He was born in 1969, stood 169 centimeters tall, and weighed 69 kilograms, so he considered it his lucky number.
70 Ainsley Maitland-Niles of England. Hasn't yet done much, for Arsenal or any other club, but he's played (and worn the number) in a UEFA Champions League match, which is more than I can say for the only other Number 70 I could find, Stefano Sorrentino of Italy, a backup goalie who wears it for Palermo.
71 Diego Serna of Colombia. Wore it with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls) in 2002.
72 Josip Iličić of Slovenia. Wore it for Palermo, and now wears it for Fiorentina.
73 Stefan O'Connor of England. Hasn't yet done much, for Arsenal or any other club, but he's played (and worn the number) in a UEFA Champions League match, which is more than I can say for any other Number 73 I could find.
74 Mohamed Salah of Egypt. Signed to Chelsea, but on loan to Fiorentina, with whom he wears it.
75 Couldn't find one worth posting.
76 Andriy Shevchenko of Ukraine. Wore the last 2 digits of his birth year at AC Milan because his usual 10 wasn't available. Wearing your birth year as a uniform number is going to become less common once we have players born in 2000 or later, and it won't be long now.
77 Gianluigi Buffon of Italy. One of the greatest goalies ever, wore it at Juventus in the 1999-2000 season.
78 Aurélien Collin of France. The MLS All-Star wore it for Sporting Kansas City, and will now wear it for expansion Orlando City.
79 Gianluca Pegolo of Italy. Wears it for Sassuolo.
80 Ronaldinho of Brazil. Wore his birth year at AC Milan because his usual 10 wasn't available.
81 Cristian Zaccardo of Italy. The AC Milan player wears his birth year, but wore 2 for his country.
82 Alexandre Geijo of Spain. Wears his birth year for Udinese.
83 Antonio Miranti of Italy. Wears his birth year for Parma.
84 Clint Mathis of America (the Atlanta area). Wore it with the Los Angeles Galaxy from 1998 to 2000, and again in 2010. Usually wore 13, including with the Red Bulls.
85 Diego Novaretti of Italy. Wears his birth year for Rome club SS Lazio.
86 Fabrizio Cacciatore of Italy. Wears his birth year for Genoa side Sampdoria.
87 Ervin Zukanović of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Plays for Chievo Verona, on loan from Belgian club KAA Gent. Wears his birth year.
88 Hernanes of Brazil. Wore 8 at São Paulo and Rome club Lazio, but wears 88 at Inter.
89 Guido Marilung of Italy. Plays for Cesena, on loan from Atalanta. Wears his birth year.
90 Duje Čop of Croatia. On loan from Dinamo Zagreb to Cagliari, where he wears his birth year.
91 Xherdan Shaqiri of Switzerland. Wears 11 for his country, and also wore it for Bayern. Now wears 91 for Inter.
92 Stephan El Shaarawy of Italy. The Egyptian-descended "Il Faraone" (The Pharoah) of AC Milan wears his birth year. Wears 14 for Italy.
93 Octávio of Brazil. The Botafogo prospect is on loan to Fiorentina this season, and wears his birth year.
94 Jimmy Medranda. Wears his birth year for Sporting Kansas City.
95 Alberto Grassi of Italy. Wears his birth year for Atalanta.
96 Andrea Palazzi of Italy. The Inter starlet wears his birth year.
97 Federico Bonazzoli of Italy. The Sampdoria player, currently on loan with Inter, also wears his birth year.
98 Hachim Mastour of Italy. The AC Milan starlet wears his birth year.
99 Ronaldo of Brazil (a.k.a. "The Real Ronaldo" or "Fat Ronaldo" since Cristiano became a star). Wore it at AC Milan because his usual 9 wasn't available.
There have been players who've worn triple-digit numbers, usually as a one-time-only publicity stunt. Mexico, in particular, has seen a few of these worn regularly, as they have no numerical restrictions.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
0 Neil Sheehy. Wore it with the 1988 Whalers.
00 John Davidson. Wore it only in the 1977-78 season, before switching back to the more traditional goaltender number of 30.
1 Terry Sawchuk. Ahead of Georges Vezina, Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall. There have been nongoalies who've worn it, but not many. The best was probably Hall of Fame 1930s defenseman Albert "Babe" Siebert.
2 Eddie Shore. Ahead of Doug Harvey and Viacheslav Fetisov.
3 Pierre Pilote. Ahead of Emile "Butch" Bouchard.
4 Bobby Orr. That's how great you have to be to take this number ahead of Red Kelly, Jean Beliveau and Scott Stevens.
5 Denis Potvin. Ahead of Dit Clapper, Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion and Nicklas Lidstrom.
6 Larry Aurie? Toe Blake wore it very well, but his 8 Stanley Cups as a head coach do him no good here.
7 Howie Morenz. Ahead of King Clancy, Ted Lindsay, Phil Esposito, Tim Horton and Rod Gilbert.
8 Teemu Selanne. Ahead of Igor Larionov and Alexander Ovechkin.
9 Gordie Howe. Ahead of Maurice Richard, Bobby Hull and many other greats.
10 Guy Lafleur. Ahead of Syl Apps, George Armstrong, Alex Delvecchio and Ron Francis.
11 Mark Messier
12 Yvan Cournoyer. Ahead of Sid Abel and Jarome Iginla.
13 Mats Sundin. Ahead of Pavel Datsyuk.
14 Dave Keon. If Brendan Shanahan had worn it most of his career, I might have put him here.
15 Milt Schmidt
16 Bobby Clarke. Although Henri Richard won a record 11 Stanley Cups, he never meant more to the Canadiens than Clarke meant to the Flyers. Also ahead of Brett Hull.
17 Jari Kurri
18 Serge Savard. Ahead of his cousin Denis Savard.
19 Steve Yzerman. Ahead of Bryan Trottier.
20 Luc Robitaille. I can't put Vladislav Tretiak here, since, unlike Fetisov and a few other Soviet stars, we have only a few games to go on. He may have been great in a few games against NHL-caliber competition, but he wasn't facing NHL-quality teams game in, game out, 70 or 80 games a year. Next-best is Ed Belfour, who wore it with the Stars, after wearing the more familiar goalie number 30 for the Blackhawks.
21 Stan Mikita. Ahead of Guy Carbonneau and Peter Forsberg.
22 Mike Bossy
23 Bob Gainey. Ahead of Bob Nystrom.
24 Chris Chelios. Wore it with the Canadiens at the beginning and the Red Wings at the end, around wearing 7 for the Blackhawks. Ahead of Bernie Federko.
25 Jacques Lemaire. And that's due to his scoring and assisting on 8 Cup winners with the Canadiens, not his coaching the Devils to the '95 Cup. Ahead of Joe Nieuwendyk and Dave Andreychuk.
26 Peter Stastny. Ahead of Mats Naslund and Patrik Elias.
27 Frank Mahovlich. Ahead of Darryl Sittler, Teppo Numminen and Scott Niedermayer. Way ahead of Ron Hextall.
28 Steve Larmer. Ahead of Brian Rafalski.
29 Ken Dryden
30 Martin Brodeur. Ahead of any other goalie who wore the number. Including Sawhcuk, who wore 30 with the Leafs behind the more senior Johnny Bower. Don't even think of putting Henrik Lundqvist here: He's, maybe, the 4th-best goalie just in Ranger history.
31 Billy Smith. Ahead of Grant Fuhr.
32 Claude Lemieux. Wore it with the Canadiens. Wore 22 the rest of his career. Ahead of Dale Hunter.
33 Patrick Roy
34 John Vanbiesbrouck. Ahead of Al Iafrate.
35 Mike Richter. Ahead of Tony Esposito.
36 Dmitri Yushkevich. Ahead of that cheap-ass punk Matthew Barnaby, who made Hunter look like a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
37 Eric Desjardins. Wore it with the Flyers, after wearing 28 with the Canadiens. Ahead of Olaf Kolzig.
38 Pavol Demitra
39 Dominik Hasek
40 Henrik Zetterberg
41 Jocelyn Thibault
42 Sergei Makarov. Along with Fetisov and Tretiak, the only player from the Soviet national teams I thought worthy of mentioning for their NHL achievements, and the only one to actually "win a number." (Number 89 on this list didn't have his best years in Russia.)
43 Martin Biron. As a rookie with the Sabres, was one of the few players ever to wear 00.
44 Stephane Richer. On merit, not just because his overtime goal past Vanbiesbrouck won the 1st live game I ever saw -- or because he was the only mentioned scorer in the Devils-Rangers game on the Seinfeld episode "The Face Painter." Next-best would be Rob Niedermayer. (Speaking of brothers: Although all 6 Sutter brothers were good, and Brian got his Number 11 retired by the Blues, I didn't think any of them was good enough to come in 1st with any number.
45 Arron Asham
46 Andrei Kostitsyn
47 Rich Pilon
48 Danny Briere. Ahead of Jean-Jacques "J.J." Daignault.
49 Brian Savage
50 Chris Mason. Anthony Brodeur is wearing it in the minors, so if he ever makes it to the Devils, expect him to wear that, instead of his father's 30, regardless of whether it's already retired by that point (as now seems likely).
51 Brian Campbell
52 Adam Foote
53 Derek Morris
54 Paul Ranger. Wore it for the Lightning. Meaning he was a Ranger wearing a blue shirt and didn't suck.
55 Larry Murphy
56 Sergei Zubov
57 Blake Comeau
58 Kris Letang
59 Ed Jovanovski. "Jovocop" wore it as a Panthers rookie before switching to his more familiar 55, but he can't take that away from Murphy.
60 Jose Theodore
61 Rick Nash
62 Paul Stastny. Started out wearing his father's 26, then reversed it.
63 Mike Ribeiro
64 Jamie McGinn
65 Mark Napier. Wore it with the Oilers and Sabres, after wearing 31 with the Cup-winning late Seventies Canadiens.
66 Mario Lemieux. Milan Novy of the 1982-83 Capitals was the only player to wear it in the NHL before him, and only 3 players have worn it after him.
67 Michael Frolik
68 Jaromir Jagr. Wore it in honor of the 1968 Prague Spring, Czechoslovakia's rebellion against Soviet rule, which didn't end well.
69 Melvin Angelstad. The only NHL player to wear it, with the '04 Capitals.
70 Oleg Tverdovsky. Wore 10 on the Devils' '03 Cup win, and wore 70 only in the '06 season, winning another Cup with the Hurricanes.
71 Evgeni Malkin. Ahead of Nick Foligno, who wears it to reverse his father Mike's 17.
72 John Tonelli. Wore it toward the end of his career, with the '92 Blackhawks, reversing the 27 he starred in for the Cup-winning early Eighties Islanders. Ahead of Mathieu Schneider, who wore 11 different numbers, including 27 with the Cup-winning '93 Canadiens, before reversing it with the Isles and Leafs.
73 Michael Ryder
74 Jay McKee. Ahead of T.J. Oshie, at least for the time being.
75 Walt Poddubny. The former Ranger star wore it with the '89 Nordiques.
76 Patrick "P.K." Subban
77 Ray Bourque. Famously accepted it after the Bruins retired 7 for Phil Esposito, who infamously asked for 7 when traded to the Rangers, but Rod Gilbert wouldn't give it up, so Phil took 77 there.
78 Marc Pouliot
79 Alexei Yashin. One of the great busts in NHL history, he never quite panned out while wearing 19 for the Senators. Switched to 79 upon reaching the Isles, because it was retired for Trottier.
80 Nik Antropov
81 Miroslav Satan. Had worn 18 in his native Czech Republic, and 32 with the Oilers, but reversed 18 to 81 with the Sabres. When 18 became available, he wore it, but went back to 81 with the Isles, Penguins and Bruins. In spite of his name -- pronounced Sha-TANN, not SAY-tin -- he not only never played for the Devils, but always seemed to play well against them.
82 Martin Straka
83 Ales Hemsky
84 Guillaume Latendresse. Arrived in the NHL with the '07 Canadiens, and his wearing of 84 made that the last unused uniform number in the league's history -- unless a team wants to one day use a triple-digit number. Reversed it to 48 with the Wild, and switched to 73 with the Senators.
85 Petr Klima
86 Wojtek Wolski. Today is the Pole's 29th birthday. He wore 8 with the Avalanche, but when it wasn't available with the Coyotes, he switched to honor the year of his birth, 1986. He last played with the Capitals in 2013, wearing 17.
87 Sidney Crosby. Wore it to match his birthdate: August 7, 1987, or 8/7/87.
88 Eric Lindros. Wore it in tribute to Number 99 and Number 66, but wasn't the 1st player to wear it in the NHL. Ken Hodge, who'd worn 8 with the Bruins, wore 88 with the '77 and '78 Rangers. Garry Howatt wore it with the expansion Devils of 1982-83. Rocky Trottier, Bryan's considerably less talented younger brother, wore it with the Devils the next season. Joe Sakic wore it as a rookie with the '89 Nordiques, before switching to 19. And Owen Nolan wore it with the Nords in '91. At any rate, Patrick Kane may go on to surpass him.
89 Alexander Mogilny. Wore it to celebrate the year he defected from the Soviet Union, 1989.
90 Joe Juneau
91 Sergei Fedorov
92 Jeff O'Neill
93 Doug Gilmour. Ahead of Petr Nedved.
94 Ryan Smyth
95 Aleksey Morozov
96 Tomas Holmstrom. Pavel Bure, usually 10, wore it for 3 seasons; Phil Housley wore it for 1 game for the Leafs (who'd retired his usual 6 for Ace Bailey).
97 Jeremy Roenick. Wore it with the Coyotes, Flyers and Kings, after wearing 27 with the Blackhawks. Went back to 27 to close his career with the Sharks.
98 Brian Lawton. The only player ever to wear it, with the North Stars, before switching to 8, which the Stars later retired for Bill Goldsworthy.
99 Wayne Gretzky. Believe it or not, he wasn't the 1st NHL player to wear it. Wilf Paiement wore it with the Leafs from 1979 to 1982. Rick Dudley wore it with the '81 Jets. But neither of them was the 1st to wear it in an NHL game, either. In fact, it goes back a lot further than you might think.
In the 1934-35 season, 3 brief callups to the Canadiens wore it: Joe Lamb, Des Roche and Leo Bourgeault. Apparently, it was a number given out in practice as an extra, but it got into games. Those '34-'35 Habs also had a 55, Jack McGill; a 64, Armand Mondou; a 75, Jack Portland; and an 88, Roger Jenkins. For those of you who are admirers of Patrick Roy, they also had a 33: Jack Riley, as seen in the photo above, with Lamb (who did score 3 goals that season) wearing 99. Bourgeault also wore 5, 11, 12 and 15 in his NHL career, all with the Habs. Portland also wore 3, 15 and 17. Mondou usually wore 5. Jenkins usually wore 8 with the Habs, and it was also one of the numbers he wore with the Hawks. Lamb wore 9 with the Wings (years before Gordie Howe did). McGill usually wore 11 with the Habs. Riley wore 11 with the Wings. Portland wore 11 with the Hawks. Riley usually wore 14 with the Habs. Roche also wore 75 with the Habs, and wore 14 with the Wings.
As with NFL officials and their excuse about eligible receivers, basketball players traditionally don't wear numbers beginning or ending in 6, 7, 8 or 9 because referees need to be able to use hand signals to say who committed a foul, and there's only 5 fingers on a hand. So, while this was never written into the rules, the number of players wearing numbers in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s was tiny until recent years.
0 Gilbert Arenas
00 Robert Parish
1 Oscar Robertson. Wore it with the Bucks, after wearing 14 with the Cincinnati Royals. Ahead of Nate "Tiny" Archibald (who wore it longer than 7 or 10), Tracy McGready and Chauncey Billups.
2 Moses Malone. Wore it with the 76ers, but wore 24 with most other teams.
3 Dwayne Wade. Ahead of Allen Iverson.
03 Frank "Pep" Saul. In the 1950s, including in their 1951 NBA Championship season, the Rochester Royals (the team now known as the Sacramento Kings) experimented with 2-digit uniform numbers starting with zero. Saul also wore 10, 18 and 33 in the NBA.
4 Dolph Schayes. Joe Dumars was a very good player, but his achievements as an executive don't help him here.
5 Bill Walton. Wore it with the Celtics, after wearing 32 everywhere else (Kevin McHale had it), and won a title, putting him ahead of Jason Kidd.
6 Bill Russell. No, LeBron James doesn't get to wear it. Not just because he's won 9 fewer titles, but because Russell was a better player. LeBron doesn't even get in line ahead of Julius "Dr. J" Erving, who wore it with the 76ers.
7 Pete Maravich. Wore it with the Jazz, after wearing 19 and 44 with the Hawks.
07 Paul Noel. Another '51 Royal.
8 Kobe Bryant. Wore it longer than he's worn 24, and won more titles with it.
9 Bob Pettit
09 Bobby Wanzer. Another '51 Royal.
10 Walt "Clyde" Frazier
11 Isiah Thomas
12 John Stockton
13 Wilt Chamberlain
14 Bob Cousy
15 Earl "the Pearl" Monroe. Wore it with the Knicks, after wearing 10 with the Bullets. Ahead of Hal Greer. And don't even think about putting Vince Carter here.
16 Bob Lanier
17 John Havlicek
18 Dave Cowens
19 Willis Reed
20 Gary Payton. Ahead of Maurice Lucas.
21 Tim Duncan. He has surpassed Bill Sharman.
22 Dave DeBusschere. No, not Elgin Baylor. The Lakers didn't win a title until he retired. Nor Clyde "the Glide" Drexler.
23 Michael Jordan. No, LeBron doesn't get this number, either.
24 Rick Barry. Ahead of Sam Jones and Bill Bradley.
25 Gus Johnson. No, not the broadcaster. Playing for the Bullets in the Sixties, this one was one of the first great dunkers. Ahead of K.C. Jones.
26 Buddy Jeannette. Player-coach of the 1948 NBA Champion Baltimore Bullets, who went out of business in 1954 and have no tangible connection to the team that played under the name from 1963 to 1973 and is now known as the Washington Wizards.
27 Jack Twyman
28 Wayne Embry
29 Paul Silas. Wore it with the Hawks and Suns. Better known for wearing 35 with the Celtics and SuperSonics.
30 George McGinnis
31 Reggie Miller
32 Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Shaquille O'Neal wore it with Orlando, but he's not ahead of this Magic. Nor is Dr. J, who wore it with the Nets.
33 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Ahead of Larry Bird.
34 Hakeem Olajuwon. Shaq wore it with L.A., but he's not ahead of Hakeem. Nor is Charles Barkley. Nor is Paul Pierce.
35 Reggie Lewis
36 Lloyd Neal
37 Derek Fisher. Wore it with the '12 Thunder.
38 Kwame Brown. Wore it with the '08 and '09 Pistons.
39 Greg Ostertag. Better known for wearing 00, wore it in his return to the Jazz in 2000 and '01.
40 Bill Laimbeer
41 Dirk Nowitzki. Has surpassed Wes Unseld.
42 James Worthy
43 Brad Daugherty
44 Jerry West. No, Celtic fans, you can't count Danny Ainge's achievements as an executive, because, if you did, you'd have to count West's, too.
45 A.C. Green. Rudy Tomjanovich was a very good player, but his coaching achievements don't count here.
46 Bo Outlaw. Wore it with the '05 Suns.
47 Andrei Kirilenko. His number, his initials and his nationality got him nicknamed "AK-47."
48 Nazr Mohammed. Currently wearing it with the Bulls.
49 Shandon Anderson
50 David Robinson
51 Michael Doleac
52 Buck Williams
53 Darryl Dawkins
54 Horace Grant
55 Dikembe Mutombo
56 Brandon Hunter. Wore it with the '04 Celtics.
57 Hilton Armstrong. Wore it with last year's Warriors.
58 Never worn
59 Never worn
60 Walt Kirk. Wore it with the 1949 Indianapolis Jets.
61 Bevo Nordmann. Wore it with the '62 Royals.
62 Bob Dille. Wore it in the NBA's 1st season, with the 1946-47 Detroit Falcons. Scot Pollard. Wore it with the 2004-06 Pacers.
63 Never worn
64 Never worn
65 George Ratkovicz. Wore it with the 1950 Syracuse Nationals.
66 Scot Pollard. Wore it with the 2008 NBA Champion Celtics. Also the only player besides Dille to wear 62 in a regular-season game.
67 Moe Becker. Another '47 Falcon.
68 Milt Schoon. Another '47 Falcon.
69 Never worn
70 Chuck Share. Wore it on the 1958 NBA Champion St. Louis Hawks.
71 Willie Naulls. Wore it with the 1963 San Francisco Warriors.
72 Jason Kapono. Wore it with the '10 and '11 76ers.
73 Dennis Rodman. He is the only player to wear the number, doing so briefly at the end of his career, with the '99 Lakers. Better-known for wearing 10 with the Pistons and 91 with the Bulls.
74 Never worn
75 Never worn
76 Shawn Bradley. Wore it because he was 7-foot-6. That he also played for the 76ers was probably the most interesting this about this incredibly pedestrian player. Manute Bol, who was also 7-foot-6, wore 10 and 11.
77 Gheorghe Muresan. Wore it with the Bullets and Nets because he was 7-foot-7, making him the tallest player in NBA history.
78 Never worn. Probably won't be, until some freak comes in at 7-foot-8, and then would only wear it if his team's owner had a sense of humor.
79 Never worn
80 Never worn
81 Never worn
82 Never worn
83 Craig Smith. Wore it with the '12 Trail Blazers.
84 Chris Webber. Wore it with the '07 Pistons, after usually wearing 4.
85 Baron Davis. Wore it with the '11 Cavaliers and the '12 Knicks. Usually wore 1.
86 Chris Johnson. Wore it with the '11 Celtics. Has usually worn 20.
87 Never worn
88 Antoine Walker. Wore it in his '05 return to the Celtics, after usually wearing 8.
89 Clyde Lovellette. Wore it with the '54 Minneapolis Lakers. Usually wore 4 or 34.
90 Drew Gooden. Now with the Wizards, and in his 11th season as the only player ever to wear the number,
91 Ron Artest/Metta World Peace. Wore it with the '05 Pacers. Rodman was better while wearing it, but he's also the only player ever to wear another number in an NBA game.
92 DeShawn Stevenson. Wore it with the 2011 NBA Champion Mavericks.
93 P.J. Brown. Wore it with the 2008 NBA Champion Celtics. Metta World Peace was better while wearing it, but he's also the best at another number.
94 Evan Fournier. Wore it with the '13 and '14 Nuggets.
95 Never worn
96 Don Ray. Wore it with the 1950 Tri-Cities Blackhawks, the team that became the Milwaukee Hawks in 1951, the St. Louis Hawks in 1955, and the Atlanta Hawks in 1958. Metta World Peace was better while wearing it, but he's also the best at another number.
97 Never worn
98 Jason Collins. The NBA's 1st openly gay player wore it with the '13 Celtics and Wizards and the '14 Nets, in memory of Matthew Shepard, murdered for being gay in 1998. Also worn by a '47 Falcon, Chet Abuchon.
99 George Mikan
No NBA player has ever worn a triple-digit number.
The NFL is the only league -- at least, the only one since soccer stopped forcing players to wear a number assigned to their position in the early 1990s -- to assign numbers to positions. Why? As this ESPN.com article explains, it's because the officials need to know who is an eligible receiver, and who is not. (Except college and even high school officials don't seem to have that problem. You would think pro officials would be even better.)
Players who had worn numbers not fitting that rule before it was put in place in 1973 were "grandfathered in," but that numerical scheme has remained in place, unaltered, with one exception: In 2004, it was decided that receivers could wear 10 through 19 as well as 80 through 89.
00 Jim Otto. It was a play on his name, which is pronounced AUGHT-oh, or zero-zero. Ken Burrough is the only other player to wear 00 in the NFL. Writer George Plimpton famously wore 0 in training camp, and even in an exhibition game, with the 1963 Lions (as told in his book Paper Lion, and in the film based on it, starring a pre-M*A*S*H Alan Alda), but, as far as I can tell, no player has ever worn 0 in a regular-season game. And, unless the rules change, no player will ever again wear zero or double-zero.
1 Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard. As you might guess from his full name, he was black, and was the 1st great black player in the NFL, before the color barrier fell in 1933. He was a back on both sides of the ball, and was player-coach of the 1st NFL Champions, the 1920 Akron Pros -- making him the 1st black head coach in North American major league sports, 46 years before Bill Russell, and 69 years before Art Shell was the next black head coach in the NFL. He gets this number, ahead of Warren Moon. Jim Thorpe also wore Number 1, and 2, and 31, but didn't wear any long enough to be considered the greatest at that number. Honestly, as great as he was -- clearly the greatest football and track performer of the 1910s, also a very good baseball player, and perhaps still the greatest all-around athlete this nation has ever produced -- by the time the NFL was founded in 1920, he was past his prime
2 Charley Trippi
3 Bronislau "Bronko" Nagurski
4 Brett Favre. Ahead of Twenties Cardinal great Ernie Nevers.
5 Paul Hornung. He's the greatest player who ever lived. Just ask him. Okay, he wasn't, but he was a college quarterback and a pro running back and kicker, for decades holding the NFL's single-season points-scoring record. He was one of the mainstays of the 1960s Packer dynasty. I love Donovan McNabb, but Hornung never threw up during an NFL Championship Game. (Yes, Bill Russell threw up before many an NBA game, but he won 11 more titles than McNabb. Hornung won 4 more.)
6 Benny Friedman. The Giants quarterback of the late Twenties and early Thirties didn't quite invent the position of quarterback as we understand it today -- that would be Number 33 below -- but he was the NFL's 1st great passer.
7 John Elway
8 Steve Young
9 Drew Brees. Ahead of Sonny Jurgensen.
10 Fran Tarkenton
11 Norm Van Brocklin. It's been over 50 years, but he's still the last man to quarterback the Eagles to an NFL Championship, and the only man to quarterback 2 different teams to titles. It's been over 60 years, but he still holds the record for passing yards in a game: 554, for the Rams, on the way to the '51 title.
12 Terry Bradshaw. Sorry, Joe Namath, but 4 rings beats 1, no matter how important that 1 was. Sorry, Randall Cunningham, I know it was much more Buddy Ryan's fault than yours that you didn't win one. Not sorry, Tom Brady, but the next Super Bowl you win without your team cheating will be your first.
13 Guy Chamberlin. Not the greatest Chamberl(a)in to wear Number 13 on a sports team in Philadelphia, but a genuine NFL star of the Twenties who won 5 NFL Championships, including as a player-coach with the 1st Philadelphia-based team to win it, the 1926 Frankford Yellow Jackets. Yes, he's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the College Football Hall of Fame, too, despite playing for Nebraska Wesleyan before transferring to Nebraska. This puts him ahead of the most overrated football player who ever lived, Dan Marino.
14 Don Hutson. A tough call ahead of Otto Graham, who got the Browns to their league's championship game all 10 years he played (1946-49 AAFC, 1950-55 NFL, winning in '46, '47, '48, '49, '50, '54 & '55). But Hutson practically invented the position of wide receiver. He lived long enough to say that Jerry Rice was better than he was, but that's what it took to surpass him as the greatest receiver ever.
15 Steve Van Buren. This was a close one: Bart Starr is the only quarterback to win 5 NFL Championships, but he was never the best quarterback in the game, due to Number 19. In contrast, Van Buren was, for several years, the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
16 Joe Montana
17 Richie Petitbon. A close call over Harold Carmichael.
18 Peyton Manning
19 Johnny Unitas
20 Barry Sanders
21 LaDainian Tomlinson. Ahead of Deion Sanders.
22 Emmitt Smith. Ahead of Bobby Layne.
23 Troy Vincent
24 Johnny McNally, a.k.a. Johnny Blood. A star with the early Packers, helped them win 4 titles between 1929 and 1936. Willie Wood, Willie Brown and Champ Bailey are the best 24s since. Darrelle Revis is not.
25 Tommy McDonald. The shortest player in the Hall of Fame, and the last man to play without a facemask (1966). And he didn't need stickum, unlike Fred Biletnikoff. Don Shula wore it as a player, and was a good defensive back. If I were including coaching achievements, I'd put him ahead of McDonald. But it doesn't work that way.
26 Rod Woodson. Ahead of Herb Adderley.
27 Ken Houston. Wore it in Washington, having worn 29 in Houston. Ahead of Steve Atwater.
28 Marshall Faulk. Those Rams won just 1 Super Bowl, so it's easy to forget just how great an all-around player Faulk was. Ahead of Darrell Green and Curtis Martin.
29 Eric Dickerson. It's been over 30 years, but he still holds the NFL record for rushing yards in a single season.
30 Terrell Davis. Ahead of Clarke Hinkle, the NFL's all-time leading rusher until surpassed by Van Buren.
31 Jim Taylor. Aside from John Riggins, no white man has rushed for more yards. And he's the only man who took a rushing title away from...
32 Jim Brown. A lot of great running backs have worn it, but in 1999, The Sporting News published its 100 Greatest Football Players, and Brown came out Number 1 among all players. You can make a case that Jerry Rice eventually put up career stats to surpass him, but, among running backs, Brown is still the greatest.
33 Sammy Baugh. The greatest all-around player ever might not be Brown: In 1943, Slingin' Sammy led the NFL in passing yards, interceptions (of other quarterbacks), and punting yardage. In his time, he was Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman and Marquette King, all at the same time. He's also the only rookie quarterback to lead his team to the NFL Championship, the '37 Redskins, and won another title in '42. He probably would've won them in '40 and '43, too, if the Bears hadn't been so dominant in that time. You can debate whether he was the 1st great quarterback (he preceded Sid Luckman, if not Benny Friedman), but his place in history is gigantic. He's also the only player whose number has been officially retired by the Redskins. (They've kept a few others out of circulation.)
34 Walter Payton
35 John Henry Johnson. A tough call, slightly ahead of Pete Pihos, Paul "Tank" Younger and Aeneas Williams.
36 Jerome Bettis. Marion Motley wore it late in his career, after the Browns did a major number shift.
37 Doak Walker. Ahead of Shaun Alexander. Rodney Harrison is ineligble, and you know why. You don't? Okay, here's why: He played for Bill Belichick's Patriots.
38 Arnie Herber
39 Larry Csonka. Ahead of Hugh McElhenny and Stephen Jackson.
40 Gale Sayers. Vince Lombardi wore it as a guard at Fordham, but I doubt he would have been a great NFL lineman if he hadn't gone straight into coaching. And even if he had, he wouldn't be ahead of Sayers. If you only know him from having seen Brian's Song, know this: Gale Sayers was Barry Sanders before Sanders was even born.
41 Eugene Robinson. Forget his pre-Super Bowl indiscretion: The man was a great player. Ahead of Keith Byars.
42 Sid Luckman. The 1st man to quarterback 4 NFL Championships gets in a bit ahead of Ronnie Lott, arguably the greatest defensive back ever; and Charley Taylor, the former all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, who toiled for an inconsistent Redskins team in the Sixties and Seventies and never won anything.
43 Troy Polamalu. He has surpassed Larry Brown, who starred alongside Charley Taylor on those Redskin teams despite being mostly deaf.
44 John Riggins
45 Emlen Tunnell. The former all-time leader in interceptions was the 1st black man elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
46 Todd Christensen
47 Mel Blount. Until Number 55 on this list came along, he had the best name of any defensive player ever: He could have been nicknamed "The Blount Instrument."
48 Stephen Davis? President Gerald Ford was an All-America center at Michigan -- playing both sides -- but he only wore it in college, so that doesn't count.
49 Bobby Mitchell. Paul Brown's distraction for Jim Brown on the late Fifties Browns, he then became the 1st black player on the Redskins, and helped lift them from league doormat status in the Sixties. A close 2nd is Tom Landry, and that's got nothing to do with his coaching. While still playing for the Giants, he became the 1st true defensive coordinator in the NFL, helping to invent 2-platoon football, and became the 1st great defensive back who wasn't also playing offensive back (either quarterback or running back). He could have been elected to the Hall of Fame as a player, if what he had done as a coach wasn't forefront in people's minds.
50 Mike Singletary. Like Number 92 on this list, he was an ordained minister, and was the 1st man to have the nickname "The Minister of Defense." Like hockey legend Maurice Richard, he could scare you with his eyes alone.
51 Dick Butkus
52 Ray Lewis. Surpassing Mike Webster.
53 Mick Tinglehoff. Slightly ahead of Jeff Bostic and Harry Carson. Bill Romanowski can kiss my ass.
54 Randy White. Ahead of Brian Urlacher.
55 Junior Seau. What a great name for a defensive player: It's pronounced "Say ow." What a tragic story.
56 Lawrence Taylor
57 Dwight Stephenson
58 Jack Lambert, who lined up for the Seventies Steel Curtain next to...
59 Jack Ham
60 Chuck Bednarik. Had Otto Graham worn a single number throughout his career, I'd put him at that number; but he didn't wear 60 long enough to be ahead of Bednarik, and he didn't wear 14 long enough to be ahead of Hutson.
61 Bill George
62 Jim Langer
63 Willie Lanier. A close call ahead of Gene Upshaw and Dermontti Dawson.
64 Jerry Kramer. Ahead of Randall McDaniel, and 49ers legends Dave Wilcox and Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds.
65 Elvin Bethea. Chuck Noll wore it, and was a very good guard, but his coaching triumphs don't count for anything here.
66 Ray Nitschke. Ahead of Joe Jacoby: He might have been the best member of the Eighties Redskins' "Hogs," but Nitschke was one of the best linebackers ever. If he'd played for the Giants, people would still be saying he was better than LT.
67 Bob Kuechenberg
68 Russ Grimm. Ahead of L.C. Greenwood.
69 Jared Allen. He has surpassed Tim Krumrie.
70 Sam Huff. He was the 1st truly great linebacker, following the early Fifties switch to 2-platoon football, getting it done for the Giants before LT was even born.
71 Alex Karras
72 Ed "Too Tall" Jones. Don't tell me about how versatile William "the Refrigerator" Perry was.
73 Leo Nomellini. Ahead of John Hannah.
74 Merlin Olsen. Ahead of Bob Lilly.
75 Mean Joe Greene. Ahead of Deacon Jones.
76 Marion Motley
77 Red Grange. Uniform numbers were first developed in football, and the 77 that the Galloping Ghost brought from the University of Illinois to the Bears was the 1st great uniform number in sports. The best 77 since has been Jim Parker.
78 Anthony Munoz. Slightly ahead of Art Shell, and that's got nothing to do with Shell's role as the 1st modern black head coach: He was nearly as good an offensive tackle as Munoz. Also close behind is Bobby Bell.
79 Roosevelt Brown
80 Jerry Rice
81 Dick "Night Train" Lane. Before Lott was considered, by many, the greatest defensive back ever, it was hard to question that it was Lane. I'd love to have seen him cover another great 81, Terrell Owens.
82 Raymond Berry
83 Ted Hendricks. The Baltimore Colts and the Oakland Raiders had very different reputations. Somehow, "the Mad Stork" -- one of the greatest nicknames in any sport -- fit in well with both franchises.
84 Randy Moss. This is a reluctant pick, but, like Ray Lewis and LT, you have to put your opinion of his character aside, and give credit where it is due.
85 Jack Youngblood
86 Buck Buchanan. Ahead of Hines Ward.
87 Willie Davis. Don't even think of putting Rob Gronkowski here until he plays on a team that wins a title without cheating. Davis did it 5 times.
88 Lynn Swann. Ahead of Alan Page: 4 rings beats none. Also ahead of John Mackey, who practically invented the position of tight end, along with...
89 Mike Ditka, and that's got nothing to do with his coaching. He was elected to the Hall of Fame as a player, you know. Ahead of Gino Marchetti.
90 Julius Peppers. Ahead of Neil Smith.
91 Kevin Greene. Ahead of Leslie O'Neal.
92 Reggie White
93 John Randle
94 Charles Haley. DeMarcus Ware has not surpassed him.
95 Richard Dent
96 Cortez Kennedy. A close call over Clyde Simmons.
97 Bryant Young
98 Jessie Armstead
99 Warren Sapp. A close call over Forties Cardinal Marshall "Biggie" Goldberg.
There has never been an NFL player wearing a triple-digit number.
Monday, February 23, 2015
It reminds me of a list that Rick Reilly made in Sports Illustrated in 1989, calling it "The Heavenly Hundred." He stretched things a bit, giving Number 1 to Jack Nicklaus, since the leader of the Masters "wears" it; 1A to Secretariat, his number in the 1973 Preakness; 41 to Roger Bannister, the number he was wearing when he became the first man to break the 4-minute mile; and said, "This space available" for 93, as it was before Doug Gilmour became a big star.
He also gave 18 to Jackie Robinson, as he wore it as a basketball player at UCLA. Jackie's number on their football team was 28, which Reilly gave to 1950s Detroit Lion Yale Lary. 42? He gave that to Sid Luckman, who, to be fair, was a very important football player; along with Sammy Baugh, 1 of the NFL's 1st 2 great quarterbacks.
I'll do these for the other major sports as well.
These are my picks for baseball. Yankees in bold.
0 Al Oliver, because the zero reminded him of an O. Previously, usually wore 16. Also wearing it, because either their first or last names began with an O, were Oscar Gamble, Oddibe McDowell, Junior Ortiz, Rey Ordonez, Adam Ottavino and Omar Quintanilla.
00 Jeffrey Leonard. Usually wore 30. Other notable players who wore it have been Bobo Newsom (1940s Senators), John Mayberry ('68 Astros), Don Baylor ('88 A's), Jack Clark ('90 Padres), and Jose Canseco ('98 Jays).
1 Richie Ashburn. Don't tell me Ozzie Smith: With a few exceptions, he couldn't hit well enough for his glove to cancel out his bad bat. Also ahead of Earle Combs, Pepper Martin, Frank Crosetti, Bobby Doerr, Pee Wee Reese, George "Snuffy" Stirnweiss, Billy Meyer, Fred Hutchinson, Billy Martin, Bobby Richardson, Bobby Murcer (the 1st time around), Lou Whitaker, Mookie Wilson and Tony Fernandez.
2 Derek Jeter. Ahead of his fellow University of Michigan man Charlie Gehringer. Also ahead of Red Rolfe, Red Schoendienst, Nellie Fox, Zoilo Versalles, Sandy Alomar Sr., Tommmy Lasorda and Bobby Murcer (the 2nd time around).
3 Babe Ruth. Ahead of Bill Terry, Frankie Frisch, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Earl Averill, George Selkirk, Billy Cox, Willie Davis, Harmon Killebrew, Dick McAuliffe, Joe Schultz, Bud Harrelson, Phil Garner, Dale Murphy, Harold Baines, Alan Trammell, Rafael Santana and Ned Yost.
4 Lou Gehrig. Ahead of Rogers Hornsby, Mel Ott, Luke Appling, Joe Cronin, Ernie Lombardi, Marty Marion, Ralph Kiner, Duke Snider, Jackie Jensen, Bob Allison, Ron Swoboda, Lenny Dykstra, Yadier Molina, David Bell, Alex Gordon, and the incredibly underrated Paul Molitor. Buck Leonard wore it in he Negro Leagues, but we never got to see him play regularly against major league-caliber pitching -- the best Negro Leaguers could certainly have played in the majors, but the average player might not have -- so we can only guess about him.
5 Joe DiMaggio. Ahead of Bob Meusel, Hank Greenberg, Lou Boudreau, Brooks Robinson, Jim Northrup, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Davey Johnson, Don Mincher, Bill Madlock, Jeff Bagwell, Albert Pujols, Nomar Garciaparra and Pat Burrell. Don't even think about putting David Wright here.
6 Stan Musial. Ahead of Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon, Johnny Pesky, Stan Hack, Carl Furillo, Al Kaline, Rocky Colavito, Clete Boyer, Johnny Callison, Tony Oliva, Al Weis, Sal Bando, Roy White, Steve Garvey, Willie Wilson, Wally Backman, Ryan Howard, and Joe Torre as Yankee manager.
7 Mickey Mantle. Ahead of Al Simmons, Joe Medwick, Pete Reiser, Al Rosen, Dick Stuart, Kevin Mitchell, Craig Biggio, Pedro Feliz and Matt Holliday. Don't even think about putting Jose Reyes here. Cal Ripken Sr. wore it as Oriole manager.
8 Yogi Berra. Ahead of Bill Dickey, Dick Sisler, George "Shotgun" Shuba, John Roseboro, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan, Reggie Smith, Bob Boone, Gary Carter, Cal Ripken, Gary Gaetti, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence.
9 Ted Williams. Ahead of Gabby Hartnett, Charlie Keller, Enos Slaughter (as a Cardinal), George McQuinn, Hank Bauer, Minnie Minoso, Wes Westrum, Bill Mazeroski, Roger Maris, Joe Torre as a Cardinal and a Met, Graig Nettles, Manny Trillo, Dane Iorg, Matt Williams, Gene Larkin, John Olerud, and Reggie Jackson in his Oakland days. Roy Hobbs is fictional, and would have had to go a long way to surpass Ted -- whom Robert Redford honored in The Natural by wearing 9.
09 Benito Santiago. Wore it because he didn't like the backstrap of his catcher's chest protector mostly covering his 9.
10 Lefty Grove. Ahead of Lloyd Waner, Phil Rizzuto, Davey Williams, Tony Kubek, Earl Battey, Ron Santo, Sparky Anderson as Reds manager, Chris Chambliss, Larry Bowa, Ron Cey, Dick Howser, Tony La Russa, Tom Kelly, Pat Borders, Larry Wayne Jones Jr., Coco Crisp and Travis Ishikawa. Gary Sheffield is ineligible, and you know why -- and wouldn't be ahead of Grove, anyway. And, for impact on a single team, wouldn't be ahead of any of the others, either.
11 Carl Hubbell. A tough call ahead of Paul Waner and Luis Aparicio. Also ahead of Waite Hoyt, Lefty Gomez, Ray Boone, Joe Page, Johnny Sain as a Yankee, Gus Triandos, Bill Freehan, Wayne Garrett, Manny Mota, Jim Fregosi, Hal McRae, Sparky Anderson as Tigers manager, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, Bill Mueller and Jimmy Rollins\.
12 Wade Boggs. Another tough call, since he wore 26 with the Red Sox a lot longer than he wore 12 with the Yankees and Devil Rays. Ahead of Gil McDougald, Tommy Davis, Bill White, Dusty Baker, Ron Darling, Roberto Alomar, Jeff Kent, Steve Finley, A.J. Pierzynski and Mark Bellhorn.
13 Omar Vizquel. Another tough call, but the only other options are Dave Concepcion and Billy Wagner. And maybe Ozzie Guillen. Ralph Branca? Considering what happened to him, not really an option. Alex Rodriguez? Ineligible, and you know why.
14 Ernie Banks. Ahead of Gil Hodges, Larry Doby, Gene Woodling, Bill "Moose" Skowron, Ken Boyer, Jim Bunning, Pete Rose, the older Vida Blue, Lou Piniella, Jim Rice, Mike Scioscia, Kent Hrbek and Paul Konerko.
15 Jim Edmonds. As a Cardinal. Wore 25 with the Angels. Ahead of Red Ruffing, Johnny Mize (with the Giants, where he had his best seasons), Tommy Henrich, Sandy Amoros, Tim McCarver, Dick Allen, Joe Torre as a Braves player, Jerry Grote, George Foster, Thurman Munson, Davey Lopes, Darrell Porter, Rusty Kuntz, Sandy Alomar Jr., Bob Brenly, Bruce Bochy, Tim Salmon, Kevin Millar, Dustin Pedroia, and Carlos Beltran with most of his teams.
16 Whitey Ford. Ahead of Herb Pennock, Ted Lyons, Hal Newhouser, Hank Thompson, Ron Perranoski, Claude Raymond, Frank Viola, Garrett Anderson, Reggie Sanders, and Dwight Gooden as a Met. (Doc may have been a better pitcher at peak level, but, come October, you'd be a fool to take him over the Chairman of the Board.) Also ahead of Hideo Nomo: It's "best," not "most important."
17 Dizzy Dean. Ahead of Vic Raschi, Carl Erskine, Enos Slaugher (as a Yankee), Camilo Pascual, Mike Shannon, Denny McLain, Mike Andrews, Mickey Rivers, Keith Hernandez, Mark Grace, Chris Sabo, Darin Erstad, Lance Berkman and Todd Helton.
18 Johnny Damon. Ahead of Mel Harder, Don Larsen, Ted Kluszewski, Gene Tenace, Omar Moreno, Darryl Strawberry (as a Met), Mariano Duncan (as a Yankee), Scott Brosius and Matt Cain.
19 Bob Feller. Ahead of Johnny Murphy, Alvin Dark, Jim Gilliam, Bob Turley, Billy Pierce, Dave McNally, Bert Campaneris, Greg Luzinski, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Bob Ojeda, Francisco Cabrera, Jeff Conine, Jay Buhner, Aaron Boone, Josh Beckett and Joey Votto. That's a lot of hits and a lot of wins to be ahead of, but Feller was the greatest pitcher of his generation.
20 Frank Robinson. Ahead of Mike Schmidt, who grew up as a Reds fan in Dayton, Ohio, and wore 20 in Frank's honor -- as far as I know, the first player ever to get his number retired after wearing it in honor of someone else who had it retired. Also ahead of Pie Traynor, Monte Irvin, Lou Brock, Tommie Agee, Don Sutton, Bucky Dent, Frank White, Howard Johnson and Jorge Posada. Way ahead of Kevin Youkilis. Josh Gibson wore it in the Negro Leagues. Luis Gonzalez is ineligible, and you know why.
21 Roberto Clemente. A tough call ahead of Warren Spahn. Roger Clemens could also be considered -- by the strictest of definitions, he is eligible -- but why would you want to list him here? Sammy Sosa is ineligible, and you know why -- and wouldn't be ahead of those 3, anyway. Also ahead of Bob Lemon, Curt Flood, Cleon Jones, Tommy Harper, Bake McBride, Willie Hernandez, Roger Clemens as a Red Sock and a Blue Jay, and Paul O'Neill.
22 Jim Palmer. Ahead of Allie Reynolds, Don Mueller, Donn Clendenon, Jack Clark, Ray Knight, Will Clark, Billy Hatcher, Jimmy Key, Al Leiter as a Met, Roger Clemens as a Yankee and an Astro, Scott Podsednik, Jacoby Ellsbury as a Yankee, and, so far, Robinson Cano as a Mariner and Clayton Kershaw.
23 Ryne Sandberg. Ahead of Bobby Thomson, Tommy Byrne, Jim Lemon, Ralph Terry, Dick Williams, Willie Horton, Kirk Gibson, Don Mattingly. Mark Gubicza, David Justice as a Brave, Tino Martinez as a Mariner, Jermaine Dye and David Freese.
24 Willie Mays. Ahead of Early Wynn, Billy Johnson, Walter Alston, Jimmy Wynn, Tony Perez, Mike Torre, Rick Dempsey, Whitey Herzog, Tom Brunansky, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., Tino Martinez as a Yankee, Robinson Cano as a Yankee, and Miguel Cabrera. Manny Ramirez is ineligible, and you know why -- and wouldn't be ahead of Mays, anyway.
25 Tommy John. I have a place on this list for Jim Thome. Ahead of Whitey Lockman, Gus Bell, Joe Pepitone, Norm Cash, Bruce Kison, Jose Cruz Sr., Buddy Bell, Don Baylor, George Hendrick, Andruw Jones, Joe Girardi as a Yankee player, Troy Glaus, Mike Lowell and Mark Teixeira. Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds are ineligible, and you know why. Ty Cobb played before uniform numbers were worn, and wore it in an old-timers' game, but that doesn't count. Had he worn it as a manager or a coach, then it would count. Buck O'Neil wore it in the Negro Leagues. As for Tony Conigliaro, we'll just never know, but I find it hard to imagine that he could have hit more home runs than Thome, even with the Green Monster.
26 Billy Williams. Ahead of Hank Borowy, Dusty Rhodes, Gates Brown, Boog Powell, Joe Rudi, Dave Kingman, Joe Altobelli, Steve Farr, Johnny Oates, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, and Chase Utley. Although the Angels retired it for him as their "26th Man," team owner Gene Autry never actually wore the number.
27 Juan Marichal. Ahead of Carlton Fisk in Boston, Catfish Hunter in Oakland, Kent Tekulve, Lonnie Smith, Jose Rijo, Fred McGriff, Danny Jackson, Geoff Blum, Scott Rolen, Joe Girardi as Yankee manager (in 2009), and, so far, Mike Trout.
28 Walter Johnson. Played before uniform numbers were worn, but wore it as Washington Senators manager in 1932. Ahead of Bert Blyleven; Bert may have struck out more batters than the Big Train, and shouldn't have had to wait to get into the Hall of Fame as long as he did, but he wasn't a better pitcher. Also ahead of Preacher Roe, Vada Pinson, Mike Marshall, Sparky Lyle, Randy Myers, David Justice as a Yankee, Jayson Werth and Buster Posey.
29 Rod Carew. Ahead of Wally Post, Mickey Lolich, Catfish Hunter as a Yankee, Ken Singleton, Dan Quisenberry, Joe Carter, Fred McGriff, John Smoltz, Brett Boone and Keith Foulke. I once saw footage of Cy Young wearing it in an old-timers' game, but that doesn't count. It was the number most commonly worn by Satchel Paige, at least in the major leagues, but by the time he got there, while still very good -- he helped the Indians win the '48 Series and went 12-10 at age 45 for the awful '52 Browns -- he wasn't what he was in the Negro Leagues, where he wore several numbers.
30 Nolan Ryan, as an Angel. He wore 34 as an Astro and a Ranger, but was better as an Angel. Ahead of Gene Bearden, Eddie Lopat, Bobby Schantz, Maury Wills, Orlando Cepeda, Mel Stottlemyre as a Yankee pitcher and Met pitching coach, Ken Griffey Sr. Willie Randolph, Garry Maddox, Tim Raines, John Tudor and Greg Counsell.
31 Greg Maddux. Baseball's winningest living pitcher. Ahead of Bucky Walters, Jim Perry, Ferguson Jenkins, Ed Figueroa, Dave Winfield, Tim Raines as a Yankee, Dave Roberts, Jon Lester, and the still eligible for the moment Mike Piazza. Also ahead of John Franco, who switched numbers to let Piazza have 31 when he got to the Mets.
32 Sandy Koufax. Ahead of Elston Howard, Jim Umbricht, Steve Carlton, Tom Browning, Alex Fernandez, Derek Lowe and Josh Hamilton. Also ahead of Eddie Collins, who played before uniform numbers were worn, but wore it as an A's coach.
33 Honus Wagner. Wore it as a Pirates coach. Ahead of Johnny Sain (as a Brave), Lew Burdette, Bob Cerv, Jim "Mudcat" Grant, Frank Howard, Eddie Murray, Mike Scott, David Wells, Larry Walker, Jason Varitek, and Cliff Lee. Jose Canseco is ineligible, and you know why -- and wouldn't be ahead of Wagner or Murray anyway.
34 Rollie Fingers. Ahead of Fernando Valenzuela, Dave Stewart, Kirby Puckett, Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett. David Ortiz is ineligible, and you know why, and wouldn't be ahead of Rollie, anyway. What about Bryce Harper, is he a serious challenger yet? That's a clown question, bro.
35 Phil Niekro. (Yes, bold. He did pitch for the Yankees in the 1984 and '85 seasons.) Ahead of Jim Konstanty, Sal Maglie, Mike Cuellar, Manny Sanguillen, the younger Vida Blue, Don Gullett, Randy Jones, Bob Welch, Frank Thomas, John Wetteland, Mike Mussina and Justin Verlander.
36 Robin Roberts. Up there with Lyons, Marichal and Blyleven as a criminally underrated pitcher. Ahead of Don Newcombe. Gaylord Perry, Jim Kaat, Steve Hovley, Jerry Koosman, Joe Niekro, David Cone as a Yankee and Edinson Volquez.
37 Casey Stengel. If you have to select a player, there aren't many to choose from. Do you want to go with Kenny Rogers? I don't. How about Dan Plesac? How about the still mostly-unproven Stephen Strasburg? Your best bet may just be Keith Hernandez as a Cardinal. There's also Norm Charlton and Charlie Liebrandt. And... Holy cow, oh my goodness, I don't believe it, I don't believe it, Rick Camp! Rick Camp!
38 Curt Schilling. I don't want to give it to him, but who else could I give it to? Eric Gagne is ineligible, and you know why, and wouldn't be ahead of Schilling anyway. Nor would Roger Craig Larry Christenson or Rick Aguilera. And it's way too soon to put Brian Wilson here. So, until evidence comes forward that Schilling cheated, he gets the nod. Ray Dandridge wore it in the Negro Leagues.
39 Roy Campanella. Not much competition, except for Dave Parker. An intriguing pair, whose careers can be divided into threes. Due to the color ban, Campy didn't reach the majors until he was 27; due to his car crash, he last played at 36; so he probably missed 5 or 6 years at the beginning, and maybe as many at the end. As for Parker, he got off to a great start, then tailed off due to his drug habit, but had some very good seasons after he kicked it. Campy is in the Hall; had the Cobra not used cocaine and kept up his pace, he'd be in it, too. Speaking of guys who snorted away their chance at the Hall of Fame, Darryl Strawberry wore 39 as a Yankee.
40 Troy Percival. It's easy to forget how good a reliever he was. Ahead of Danny Murtaugh, Don Wilson, Rick Sutcliffe, Bud Black, Dave Henerson (as a Red Sock), and Mike Timlin (as a Blue Jay). Madison Bumgarner may be on his way to taking this number, but he's not there yet.
41 Tom Seaver. Ahead of Eddie Mathews, Clem Labine, Darrell Evans, Jeff Reardon and Pat Hentgen. Charlie Manuel, of course, is better known as a manager.
42 Mariano Rivera. If it's "most important," it's Jackie Robinson. The only player who can touch Jackie for importance, unless you want to go back to the founders of the game, is Babe Ruth. But it's not "most important," it's "best"; while Jackie was one of the best players of his time, and 1 of the top 5 or 6 2nd basemen ever, Mo was the best relief pitcher ever. Also worth mentioning is Bruce Sutter; aside from Jackie and Mo, he's the only player to have the number retired by any team. They're also ahead of Jerry Coleman, baseball insider-book pioneer Jim Brosnan, and Dave Henderson with Oakland.
43 Tris Speaker. Wore it as a coach with the late 1940s Indians, and his 3,514 hits, including a record 792 doubles, and his recognition as the best-fielding center fielder ever before DiMaggio, puts him ahead of Dennis Eckersley, who nonetheless must be recognized as a very good starting pitcher who became one of the best relievers ever -- maybe the best until Rivera. Also ahead of Johnny Antoneli and Mark Wohlers. Cito Gaston, of course, is better known as a manager.
44 Hank Aaron. Ahead of his fellow Mobile, Alabama native Willie McCovey, and Reggie Jackson, who wore it as a Yankee and an Angel in tribute to Hank. (He couldn't keep wearing 9 because Graig Nettles had it, and couldn't have his 2nd choice, Jackie Robinson's 42, because a Yankee coach had it.) Also ahead of Phil Cavaretta, Dick Ruthven, Chili Davis (with most of his teams), Eric Davis and Adam Dunn.
45 Bob Gibson. Ahead of Pedro Martinez, who tried to be Bob Gibson (especially with the headhunting), but never could be (Gibson sometimes got better after 100 pitches). Also ahead of Johnny Podres, Tug McGraw, Jim Beattie, John Candelaria, Chili Davis (as a Yankee) and John Franco (after Piazza came to the Mets, Franco switched to the number of his idol, McGraw).
46 Andy Pettitte. Ahead of Jim Maloney, Mike Flanagan, Lee Smith (as a Cub), Jacoby Ellsbury (as a Red Sock) and Craig Kimbrel.
47 Tom Glavine. Ahead of Jay Hook, Jack Morris, Jesse Orosco, Steve Bedrosian, Lee Smith (as a Cardinal) and Johnny Cueto. Terry Francona wore it as Red Sox manager, and Cal Ripken Sr. wore is as an Oriole coach.
48 Torii Hunter. Ahead of Ralph Garr, Don Stanhouse and Pablo Sandoval. It's a bit odd that this number is usually considered a pitcher's number, yet all of these except Stanhouse are hitters. But then, this is the man known as "Stan the Man Unusual."
49 Hoyt Wilhelm. It pains me to not put Ron Guidry here, but Louisiana Lightning can't match the old knuckleballer's career. Also ahead of Larry Dierker, Rob Dibble and Tim Wakefield.
50 J.R. Richard. A tough choice, considering he had only half a career. But Richard was the closest thing we've had to Bob Gibson since Gibson -- even closer than Clemens, Pedro and the next man on this list. Jimmie Reese had it retired by the Angels for his services as a coach, but that hardly puts him on top. Also ahead of Pete Vuckovich, Kent Mercker, Mike Timlin (as a Red Sock), Jamie Moyer, and a pair of Mets who wore it because they're from Hawaii, the 50th State: Sid Fernandez and Benny Agbayani.
51 Randy Johnson. Ahead of Larry Sherry, Willie McGee, Bernie Williams, Trevor Hoffman, Ichiro Suzuki and Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz.
52 CC Sabathia. Ahead of Mike Boddicker. Now, we get into territory where there the choices are few and far between
53 Don Drysdale. Ahead of Dick Tracewski, Ken Holtzman, Bobby Abreu and John Farrell. Melky Cabrera is ineligible, and you know why -- and wouldn't be ahead of Big D, anyway.
54 Rich "Goose" Gossage. It's hard to believe that the Goose played 23 seasons, for so many teams, and yet never once wore another number. Ahead of Brad Lidge.
55 Orel Hershiser. Ahead of Hideki Matsui (again, it's "best," not "most important") and Tim Lincecum (unless "The Freak" has a career renaissance after age 30).
56 Mark Buehrle. For overall impact, it's Jim Bouton, due to writing Ball Four. But Bouton's chance at keeping this one beyond the 2005 World Series ended when he blew out his elbow and became a knuckleballing reliever. Or else he almost certainly never would have written the book. Whereas, even now, Buehrle can smoke 'em inside.
57 Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez. Ahead of Johnny Vander Meer, Steve Howe and Darryl Kile. Also ahead of Johan Santana. Sorry/not sorry, Met fans, but as crazy as K-Rod drove you, in Anaheim, he was one of the top relievers in the game, and holds the record for most saves in a season. And that tops everything Santana did with the Twins, and his 1-hitter for you. (Don't tell me it was a no-hitter: Beltran's drive was a fair ball, and you damn well know it.)
58 Jonathan Papelbon. The bum.
59 Jim Thome. Wore it in his rookie season with the Indians. Afterward, usually wore 25. If you want a player who wore 59 regularly, there's 1990s reliever Todd Jones.
60 Dick Allen. Wore it in his last season, with the A's. Previously, usually wore 15. The player who wore it the longest? Scott Schoenweiss.
61 Livan Hernandez.
62 Joba Chamberlain.
63 Ryan Madson.
64 Dwight Gooden. Only wore it in his first spring training with the Mets. The player who's worn it the most is Michael Bowden.
65 Phil Hughes. Another place where he finishes ahead of The Great Johan Santana, who wore it early in his career.
66 Don Zimmer. Usually wore 23 when he played. By the time he was coaching with the expansion Colorado Rockies, he began increasing his number by 1 every season, to match the number of years in which he'd been employed in professional baseball. When he died, still a special assistant to the Rays, he was wearing 66, and they've now retired it. If you must have a player, there's Juan Guzman. Remember? The 1992 and '93 World Champion Blue Jays? Yasiel Puig has a ways to go to match him.
67 Francisco Cordova. You might remember him pitching the 1st 9 innings of a 10-inning no-hitter for the '97 Pirates. Ahead of Brandon Workman.
68 Dellin Betances.
69 Alan Mills. A 1990 Yankee call-up. The only player to wear it in more than one season was Bronson Arroyo, and he's ineligible, and you know why.
70 Joe Maddon.
71 Scott Linebrink, with the 2008-10 White Sox.
72 Carlton Fisk, with the White Sox. Ahead of Xander Bogaerts.
73 Tony Phillips. A decent player who wore several numbers (was at his best while wearing 2 with the Bash Brothers A's), and wore 73 with the '97 Angels and White Sox. The only player who wore it for more than 3 seasons was Ricardo Rincon.
74 Ugueth Urbina. He may be the O.J. Simpson of baseball -- with considerably less talent -- but who else wore this number as well? Only 4 other players have ever worn it, and only 1 of those, Kenly Jansen, wore it for more than 1 season.
75 Barry Zito.
76 Mike Koplove, '05 Diamondbacks.
77 Joe Medwick. Wore it when he was acquired by the Dodgers in 1940 and '41, as Pete Reiser was already wearing 7. Ivan Rodriguez (also usually a 7) wore it with the '09 Astros, but he's ineligible, and you know why.
78 Blaine Boyer, '06 Braves.
79 Jose Abreu, with last year's White Sox.
80 Never worn. Mascots and batboys sometimes wear uniform numbers with the last 2 digits of the year on them, but that doesn't count.
81 Eddie Guardado, with the '06 and '07 Reds. Usually wore 18.
82 Johnny Lazor, 1943 Red Sox.
83 Justin Turner. Eric Gagne wore it with the most cheat-ridden team in history, the '07 Red Sox, and he was 1 of only 2 members of that team to show up in the Mitchell Report, so he's ineligible.
84 Prince Fielder, with last year's Rangers. Previously wore 28.
85 Lastings Milledge, with the '09 Nationals and Pirates. Wore 44 with the Mets.
86 Never worn.
87 Dan Otero, with the 2012 World Champion Giants.
88 Rene Gonzalez. Not really a better player than Albert Belle, who wore it with the Orioles at the end of his career, 10 years after Gonzalez wore it with them. But Belle is ineligible, and you know why.
89 Never worn.
90 Never worn.
91 Alfredo Aceves, with several teams, including the 2009 World Champion Yankees.
92 Never worn.
93 Never worn.
94 Jose Mesa, who reversed his usual 49 while with the '07 Tigers. The only other player who's ever worn it is Felix Heredia, who wore it with the '01 Cubs. You might remember his horrible relief pitching with the Yankees, a substitution who served up "meatballs," which led me to nickname him "the Meatball Sub." And I still say his name sounds like an embarrassing skin condition. Buck O'Neil wore it as a publicity stunt in an "independent" minor-league game, because that was his age (and drew a walk... and died within weeks, so maybe even that overexerted him), but it wasn't in the majors, so it doesn't count.
95 Takahito Nomura, '02 Brewers.
96 Bill Voiselle. The pitcher wore it in honor of his hometown, Ninety-Six, South Carolina. (The photo of him, at the top of this post, comes from the town's official website.) He won 21 games for the '44 Giants, and when the '48 Braves won the Pennant, Boston Post sportswriter Gerald Hern coined the phrase "Spahn and Sain and two days of rain" -- later altered to be, "Spain and Sain and pray for rain." But Voiselle and Vern Bickford (who wore 24) won 24 games between them, as many as Johnny Sain (who wore 33), and both had a better ERA that year than Warren Spahn (who wore 21). (In 1999, to reflect the Red Sox rotation, Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe suggested, "Pedro and Lowe and three days of snow.")
97 Joe Beimel, with several teams, including last year's Mariners.
98 Onelki Garcia, '13 Dodgers.
99 So Taguchi. Mitch Williams, who dumped 28 in honor of 99 because he was compared to Charlie Sheen's 99-wearing Ricky Vaughn in Major League, and was even given the character's "Wild Thing" nickname, is better known for wearing it, But Taguchi wore it on 2 World Championship teams, the '06 Cardinals and the '08 Phillies. That's right: Unlike "Mitchie-Poo" (Harry Kalas' nickname for him), Taguchi wore it on a Phillies team that won the Series. This number has actually been worn by 14 different major leaguers, including Yankees Charlie Keller (who usually wore 9, but wore 99 in a brief 1952 comeback) and Brian Bruney (2009 World Champions). Turk Wendell wore it with the Mets from 1997 to 2001, and ex-Met Todd Hundley wore it with the '01 Cubs, in honor of his father Randy Hundley, who wore 9 as a Cubs catcher. And, of course, Manny Ramirez wore it in his "Mannywood" tenure in L.A., but, as I've said, he's not eligible.
In spite of the jokes about what might happen if the Yankees retire any more numbers, there has never been a triple-digit uniform number in Major League Baseball.
Friday, February 20, 2015
This week, with the announcement that the Yankees are retiring the numbers of Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams, and honoring each of them plus Willie Randolph with Plaques in Monument Park, certain individuals -- I will not name and shame, but they know who they are -- have suggested that the Yankees are "devaluing their legacy."
The following is about Monument Park -- not retired numbers. In my opinion, that should be a different debate.
Here are the honorees in Monument Park -- not counting Mel Allen, Bob Sheppard, and non-Yankee honorees, like Jackie Robinson, Nelson Mandela, the 9/11 victims and rescuers, and the Popes who delivered Mass at the old Yankee Stadium -- by era. The "dates" of the dynasties are subjective, and I know I had them a little different in a recent post:
Pre-Dynasty, 1903-19, none. Notably not honored: Hall-of-Famers Clark Griffith, Willie Keeler and Jack Chesbro.
1st Dynasty, 1920-35, 5: Jacob Ruppert, Ed Barrow, Miller Huggins, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig. Notably not honored: Hall-of-Famers Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri.
2nd Dynasty, 1936-48, 6: Joe McCarthy, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Phil Rizzuto. (You'll notice I'm not carrying over: One dynasty per player.) Notably not honored: Hall-of-Famer Joe Gordon, Tommy Henrich.
3rd Dynasty, 1949-64, 7: Casey Stengel, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Allie Reynolds, Elston Howard, Roger Maris. The most notable omissions would be Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter, both of whom finished their careers by helping the Yankees win titles, and would not have been elected to the Hall of Fame without them, but who had their best years elsewhere, so they really shouldn't get Plaques. However, if Reynolds got a Plaque, then cases could also be made for Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat.
Interregnum, 1965-75, none. The most notable omissions would be Bobby Murcer and Mel Stottlemyre, although Murcer did return and help the Yankees win the 1981 Pennant, so perhaps he belongs with the 4th Dynasty.
4th Dynasty, 1976-81, 7: George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Willie Randolph. Notably not honored: Hall-of-Famers Catfish Hunter and Dave Winfield, plus pivotal Seventies Yankees Sparky Lyle, Graig Nettles and Lou Piniella. The astute among you will notice that those are the as-yet-unhonored Yankees who've gotten YES Network Yankeeographies.
Interregnum, 1982-95, 1: Don Mattingly.
5th Dynasty, 1996-2003, 8: Joe Torre, Derek Jeter (not yet honored, but who's kidding who), Mariano Rivera (ditto), Andy Pettitte, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada. Notably not honored: David Cone, Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina and, uh, Roger Clemens.
So that's 34 honorees, with Allen and Sheppard making 36. Counting only players, it's 28. The Yankees have played in 112 seasons (1903 to 2014). So that's honoring a player once every 4 years.
But legacy isn't just length of service, it's achievement, so let's look at it this way:
1st Dynasty: 7 postseason appearances, 3 players: 2.333 per appearance. A number probably kept low due to the fact that most potential honorees died before the baseball nostalgia wave picked up in the 1970s, and didn't live long enough to give interviews for Major League Baseball Productions.
2nd Dynasty: 8 appearances, 5 players: 1.6 per appearance.
3rd Dynasty: 12 appearances, 6 players: 2.0 per appearance.
4th Dynasty: 5 appearances, 5 players: 1.0 per appearance.
5th Dynasty: 8 appearances, 7 players: 1.25 per appearance.
So, if you think about it, the recent honorees haven't really thrown the ratios out of whack.
How do other teams handle it? Remember, I'm counting only players, not managers or nonuniformed personnel, and (for some teams, I'll have to, or their history will look like a bigger joke than it might already be) I'm counting all postseason appearances, not just Pennants or World Championships.
I will, however, only include those postseason appearances for whom there is, already, at least 1 nominee; but I'll also include players who are in a team's honoree section that didn't reach the postseason. In other words: If a team honors a player from their founding days, when they were far from a title, that counts in the total; if they honor a player from a team that just missed the postseason, that counts; but if they won a Pennant in, say, 2008 (just 7 years ago), but have not yet honored anyone from that team, it doesn't count. Also, if a team's only honor is retired numbers, then I won't count postseason appearances in the Pre-Uniform Number Era, 1876 to 1930. (Some teams, including the Phillies, have made allowances for this; then again, the Phillies have an honor other than retired numbers.)
You'll notice I haven't included anyone from the Yankees' 2004-12 period: Despite 8 postseason appearances in those 9 seasons, no one who played exclusively in that period has yet been honored.
Rank, Team Name, Postseason Appearances, Honorees, Honorees per Appearance.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks, Retired Numbers: 1, 3, 3.00
2. Colorado Rockies, Retired Numbers:1, 3, 3.00
3. Oakland Athletics, Retired Numbers: 5, 10, 2.00
4. Atlanta Braves Museum and Hall of Fame: 10, 19, 1.90
5. Los Angeles Dodgers, Retired Numbers: 5, 8, 1.60
6. Chicago Cubs, Retired Numbers: 6, 9, 1.50
7. New York Yankees, Monument Park: 28, 40, 1.43
8. St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum: 20, 26, 1.30
9. Pittsburgh Pirates, Retired Numbers: 7, 8, 1.14
10. Houston Astros, Retired Numbers: 9, 9, 1.00
11. Detroit Tigers, Retired Numbers and Honored Names: 11, 10, 0.92
12. Toronto Blue Jays, Level of Excellence: 6, 5, 0.83
13. San Diego Padres Hall of Fame and/or Retired Numbers: 6, 5, 0.83
14. Chicago White Sox, Retired Numbers: 10, 7, 0.70
15. Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame: 6, 4, 0.67
16. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Angels Hall of Fame: 4, 7, 0.57
17. Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame: 18, 10, 0.56
18. Milwaukee Brewers, Retired Numbers: 4, 2, 0.50
19. Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame: 17, 7, 0.41
20. New York Mets Hall of Fame: 17, 6, 0.35
21. Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame: 22, 66, 0.33
22. Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame: 34, 9, 0.26
23. Cleveland Indians, Heritage Park: 40, 10, 0.25
24. Texas Rangers Hall of Fame: 12, 3, 0.25
25. Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame: 10, 47, 0.21
26. Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame: 68, 14, 0.21
27. San Francisco Giants Wall of Fame: 48, 8, 0.17
28. Tampa Bay Rays, Retired Number: 1, 0, 0.00 (no honorees yet from their 2008-13 era)
29. Washington Nationals: No honorees as yet, despite reaching 2 postseasons
30. Miami Marlins: No honorees as yet, despite winning 2 World Series
By this measure, the Yankees have done considerably less devaluing than some teams, including rather accomplished ones like Boston and San Francisco. Indeed, now that the Mets have decided that, having passed the half-century mark, they're no longer an expansion team, and should honor their history, they could be accused of going overboard with it.
The Cubs used to have a Walk of Fame outside Wrigley Field, but it's gone now, and I don't have a list of the honorees, including pre-number players, so I can't add those to the totals.
The Mets haven't yet honored anyone from their 7th postseason team, the 2006 NL East Champions. The Dodgers haven't yet honored a single player who was with them after 1980, although Fernando Valenzuela's Number 34 hasn't been reissued since he left.
Note that some teams, even by Yankee standards, have gone bonkers with their honors: Cincinnati, 68; San Francisco, 48; Baltimore, 47;Cleveland 40; Philadelphia, 34; and our arch-rivals from the chowdahed North, 66. And that's only counting players, not managers, executives, owners, scouts, broadcasters, groundskeepers, clubhouse guys, trainers. (The Yankees introduce Gene Monahan on Old-Timers' Day, but he doesn't have a Plaque.)
Now, let's compare the Yankees with the other teams in the New York Tri-State Area. Again, this only counts postseason berths with a participating player already honored:
1. New York Rangers, Retired Numbers: 8, 48, 6.00
2. New Jersey Devils, Retired Numbers: 3, 16, 5.33
3. New York Knicks, Retired Numbers: 8, 37, 4.63
4. Brooklyn Nets, Retired Numbers: 7, 23, 3.29
5. New York Islanders Hall of Fame: 11, 17, 1.55
6. New York Yankees, Monument Park: 28, 40, 1.43
7. New York Giants Ring of Honor: 28, 30, 1.07
8. New York Jets Ring of Honor: 13, 11, 0.85
9. New York Mets Hall of Fame: 17, 6, 0.35
Of course, it's worth nothing that it's a lot easier to make the Playoffs in those other sports. Historically, MLB had just 2 out of 16 make it, then 2 out of 20, before it became 4 out of 24, then 4 out of 26, then 8 out of 28, 8 out of 30, and now 10 out of 30. The NFL allows 12 out of 32. The NBA once allowed 8 out of 9, then 16 out of 22, and now 16 out of 30. The NHL once allowed 4 out of 6, and 16 out of 21, and now 16 out of 30.
But looking at that list, it's clear to see that both basketball teams, and 2 of the hockey teams, have underserved their history a bit. While both football teams have gone a little too far, and the Mets a lot too far.
Okay, so what about retired numbers? Some teams have done it for legends who come to a team to finish their career, like the Milwaukee Brewers did for Hank Aaron. The Yankees haven't done that. Some teams do it for players who died before they could become stars, like the Houston Astros did for Jim Umbricht. The Yankees haven't done that, but, then again, they haven't had to: The only men who died while active Yankee players have been Thurman Munson, whose Number 15 was retired but was already a star; and Cory Lidle, who, while a decent pitcher at times, was never a star.
And when you consider that some numbers have had several players who could be considered, it does get a bit ridiculous:
1 Billy Martin, but also Hall-of-Famer Earle Combs, and a genuine Yankee Legend, Bobby Murcer, in his first go-round with the team. (He wore 2 in his 2nd, because Billy was managing.)
6 Joe Torre, but also Hall-of-Famers Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon.
9 Roger Maris, but also All-Stars Charlie Keller, George McQuinn, Hank Bauer and Graig Nettles.
15 Thurman Munson, but also Hall-of-Famer Red Ruffing, and All-Stars Tommy Henrich, Joe Collins and Tom Tresh.
20 Jorge Posada, but also Bucky Dent, who, due to a few days in October 1978, is arguably a bigger legend.
Retiring Babe Ruth's 3, Lou Gehrig's 4, Joe DiMaggio's 5 and Mickey Mantle's 7 was easy. So was Mariano Rivera's 42, and so, once they get around to actually doing it, will be Derek Jeter's 2. Casey Stengel's 37 and Joe Torre's 6 can be justified, for the way they managed. (Neither Miller Huggins nor Joe McCarthy ever wore a number, though McCarthy was managing in the major leagues as late as 1950.) Whitey Ford was the greatest pitcher -- or, if you consider Mariano, perhaps "only" the greatest starting pitcher -- in Yankee history, so a case can be made for his 16. And, as great as Bill Dickey was, he never really stuck in the public consciousness as much as Yogi Berra (because Dickey played in the radio era, not the TV era), so 8 could be retired for Yogi only.
That's 10 numbers -- still more than any other team. But Martin's 1, Maris' 9, Phil Rizzuto's 10, Thurman Munson's 15, Jorge Posada's 20, Don Mattingly's 23, Elston Howard's 32, Reggie Jackson's 44, Andy Pettitte's 46, Ron Guidry's 49 and Bernie Williams' 51. probably shouldn't be (or shouldn't have been) retired. A case can be made that, when Yogi (who's 89 years old) and Whitey (86) die, Reggie will be the earliest living Yankee Legend; but with Jeter and Rivera having achieved what they've achieved, Reggie will never be the greatest living Yankee, no matter how much of a hero he was, and remains, to me, a 1970s boy.
Why not Rizzuto's 10? No one ever served the Yankee family longer -- unless there's an usher or a vendor whose name isn't known to the general public and has been at it since before The War. The Scooter was beloved, in theory, by every generation of Yankee Fans, except for the ones now coming up as kids, who didn't get to see him after his last Old-Timers' Day appearance in 2004. A person who became a New York Highlanders fan in the founding era (1903-12), and was old enough to be a grandfather and take his grandson to a game, making him at least 45 in that 1st season, could, conceivably, have been in his late 80s in 1941, when DiMaggio had his hitting streak and Rizzuto was a rookie. So we're talking about Rizzuto having appeared at the original Yankee Stadium for people born before the Civil War, before the dawn of openly professional baseball, and for people born at the close of the 20th Century, for whom the Cold War (if not the 9/11 attacks) was a fact of history rather than a memory. That's, to borrow a word from the Mets, amazing.
But Rizzuto's greatest legacy is as a broadcaster. My generation never saw him play. My parents were born when he was a young player, and even someone born in 1947, the year baseball was integrated, didn't get to see him play at his best. So even when his number was retired and his Plaque was dedicated in 1985 (I was there), a majority of the people in The Stadium and watching on WPIX-Channel 11 didn't know him as the little guy who laid down great bunts and turned nifty double plays, but as the old guy who said, "Holy cow!" and talked about restaurants he liked and announced birthdays and anniversaries and get-well wishes. We knew him as a guy in a powder-blue suit, not a Pinstriped baseball uniform. So a case can be made that his Number 10 shouldn't have been retired.
Yes, the Phillies retired Richie Ashburn's 1, and the Cubs retired Ron Santo's 23. But Met fans love Keith Hernandez, Boston fans love Jerry Remy, Cleveland fans loved Herb Score, Cincinnati fans loved Joe Nuxhall, Pittsburgh fans love Steve Blass, St. Louis fans love Mike Shannon, and San Francisco fans love Mike Krukow. Those were star players and beloved broadcasters, and their numbers haven't been retired.
So, yes, a case can be made that some retired numbers should be restored to availability. But every single honoree in Monument Park can be justified.
After all, the YES Network has done Moments of Glory profiles for Chris Chambliss, Bucky Dent, Jim Abbott and Aaron Boone, and Yankeeography installments for perfect game pitchers Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone; but we haven't retired numbers for them or put them in Monument Park.
The Yankees, "devaluing their legacy"? As the Scooter would say, anybody who thinks that is a huckleberry!