Sunday, January 25, 2009

All-Time Jersey Numbers

Reading through a new batch of preview guides that I got on eBay this week, I came across an interesting article. In the article "By the Numbers" in the 1993 Street & Smith's preview guide, Rich Gagnon of the Oakland Tribune tries to find "the best players ever to wear" each uniform number. While the premise of the article is interesting enough, what really piqued my interest in it was just how different this list looks in 1993 than it does today. Much of the list, and maybe even most of the list, has stayed the same in the last 16 years, but there are plenty of spots on the list that have changed. For example, it's pretty clear with today's perspective that Willie McGee will not go down in history as the greatest player ever to wear #51 - that number forever belongs to the Big Unit.

I figured, then, that it might be fun to go through the list that was provided in the Street & Smith's and then make changes as necessary. I have to say up front, though, that I am not the perfect guy to do this. I do not have a perfect memory when it comes to players' jersey numbers, and so it's easy for me to forget someone or remember their number wrong. Also, though I have a good respect for baseball history, there are many great pre-war players that I just don't know enough about to fairly judge. I'll have to ask anyone visiting the site to make any suggestions or comments about the my list... chances are, you know more about this than I do.

For reference, there's a pretty similar list written by USA Today's Steve Gardner (written in 2001). The "list of retired numbers" found on Wikipedia is also helpful.

Here's the list of players that was included in the original 1993 article. Players listed in parentheses are named as "runner-ups" in the same article. If I have any comments or a different suggestion than the one from 1993, you'll see those [in bold with my new choice italicized].

0 - Al Oliver
00 - Jeffrey Leonard [the author was really stretching if he felt he needed to put Jeffrey Leonard in here... in my opinion, there should be no '00' representative]
1 - Ozzie Smith
2 - Charlie Gehringer (Leo Durocher, Nellie Fox, Billy Herman, Red Schoendienst) [by now, I think it has to be Derek Jeter]
3 - Babe Ruth (Earl Averill, Harold Baines, Jim Bottomley, Mickey Cochrane, Kiki Cuyler, Jimmie Foxx, Frankie Frisch, Harmon Killebrew, Heinie Manush, Dale Murphy, Sam Rice, Bill Terry, Alan Trammell)
4 - Lou Gehrig (Appling, Cronin, Goslin, Kiner, Molitor, Mel Ott, Duke Snider, Earl Weaver)
5 - Joe DiMaggio (Bench, Boudreau, Brett, Greenberg, Brooks Robinson) [it stays DiMaggio for now, but time may soon make it Albert Pujols... Jeff Bagwell deserves a small mention too]
6 - Stan Musial (Garvey, Kaline)
7 - Mickey Mantle (Belanger)
8 - Carl Yastrzemski (Yogi, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Cal, Stargell) [there are a lot of fantastic names there, but I think #8 belongs to Cal Ripken, Jr. now... and I'm not just saying that because he's my favorite player of all time]
9 - Ted Williams (Maris, Minnie Minoso, Graig Nettles, Enos Slaughter)
10 - Lefty Grove (Johnny Mize, Rizzuto, Santo) [it seems like there should be someone else there from recent days, but all I can think of is Sheffield, and he doesn't count]
11 - Carl Hubbell (Sparky Anderson, Lefty Gomez, Luis Aparicio) [does Barry Larkin overtake Carl Hubbell?]
12 - Bill White (Dusty Baker) [Future HOFer Roberto Alomar... Jeff Kent also wore #12, but, even if they're both HOFers, I think it belongs to Robbie... you'll probably see a post about each of those guys in the next couple of weeks]
13 - Dave Concepcion (Ralph Branca, Lance Parrish) [Alex Rodriguez... he started out #3, but he's been #13 long enough to go here, right?]
14 - Pete Rose (Ernie Banks, Vida Blue, Gil Hodges, Jim Rice)
15 - Thurman Munson (George Foster, Red Ruffing) [it really feels like someone else should be here, but I can't seem to find anyone... I don't think Ben Sheets quite fits the bill]
16 - Whitey Ford (Gooden)
17 - Dizzy Dean (Cool Papa Bell, Denny Mclain) [can we include Mark Grace? I'm gonna go with Cool Papa Bell as my choice]
18 - Red Faber (Mel Harder, Ted Kluszewski, Don Larsen, Eppa Rixey) [Strawberry? nah, I don't think so]
19 - Bob Feller (Gwynn, Yount, Righetti, Waite Hoyt) [as much as the Brewer fan in me wants to put Robin Yount here, it has to be... Tony Gwynn]
20 - Frank Robinson (Lou Brock, Josh Gibson, Schmidt, Sutton)
21 - Roberto Clemente (Clemens, Spahn) [Roger Clemens might've overtaken Clemente, but his number-hopping and attitude problems have prevented that]
22 - Jim Palmer (Jack Clark, Will Clark)
23 - Ryne Sandberg (Mattingly, Luis Tiant, Bobby Thomson)
24 - Willie Mays (Dwight Evans, Walter Alston, Tony Perez)
25 - Tommy John (Bobby Bonds, Norm Cash) [wow, Tommy John... obviously, it's Barry Bonds]
26 - Satchel Paige (Boggs, Billy Williams) [is Wade Boggs remembered as #26 or #12? Either way, I think Paige is appropriate]
27 - Juan Marichal (Catfish Hunter, Kent Tekulve) [Vlad Guerrero? I don't think he's usurped Marichal just yet]
28 - Bert Blyleven (Preacher Roe)
29 - Rod Carew (Lolich, Quisenberry) [I love that Quisenberry is included here... Smoltz should be included to, but I don't know if he overtakes Carew]
30 - Nolan Ryan (Cepeda, Griffey Sr, Willie Randolph) [personally, I think of Ryan as #34, but I understand keeping him at #30... is Ken Griffey, Jr. #24 or #30 for this list?]
31 - Ferguson Jenkins (Winfield only) [Greg Maddux, far and away. Mike Piazza is a good runner-up]
32 - Sandy Koufax (Steve Carlton, Elston Howard)
33 - Honus Wagner (Lew Burdette, Frank Howard, Eddie Murray) [Jose Canseco... just kidding]
34 - Rollie Fingers (Puckett, Dave Stewart, Fernando)
35 - Rickey Henderson (Phil Niekro, Bob Welch) [Rickey is forever #24 to me, so he can't be here... is Mike Mussina great enough to be included? in my book, yes - unless someone can give me a better choice]
36 - Gaylord Perry (Jim Kaat, Johnny Mize, Robin Roberts) [seems like an underwhelming choice, but who else?]
37 - Casey Stengel (Dave Stieb)
38 - Ray Dandridge [does Curt Schilling bypass the Negro League HOFer? I'll let others make the call...]
39 - Roy Campanella (Dave Parker)
40 - Frank Tanana (Danny Murtaugh, Don Wilson) [really? Frank Tanana?]
41 - Tom Seaver (Darrell Evans, Eddie Mathews, Jeff Reardon)
42 - Jackie Robinson (Bruce Sutter)
43 - Dennis Eckersley
44 - Hank Aaron (Reggie Jackson, Mccovey)
45 - Bob Gibson (Tug Mcgraw) [aren't Bob Gibson and Pedro Martinez the same person? Fitting that they wear the same number... who should be the guy here, though?]
46 - Lee Smith (Mike Flanagan) [is Andy Pettite the better answer here, or do we think that only because he's a Yankee?]
47 - Jack Morris [I really, really want to put Jesse Orosco here, but it obviously belongs to Tom Glavine]
48 - Rick Reuschel [umm...]
49 - Hoyt Wilhelm (Ron Guidry)
50 - JR Richard
51 - Willie Mcgee [Randy Johnson, no doubt]
52 - Mike Boddicker [we should probably just drop this from the list]
53 - Don Drysdale
54 - Goose Gossage
55 - Orel Hershiser [how quickly before Tim Lincecum takes over this spot? two more years?]
65 - Bill McKechnie [I'm taking their word for this]
72 - Carlton Fisk
96 - Bill Voiselle [taking their word here, too]

So that's it... Like I said, I may not be the best person to trust this list to, but I figured I'd give it a start. I'd love to hear some suggestions, especially for those few in the teens and the mid-20s, where it seems like there should be some better names.

Time will tell if we'll be adding "#57 - Johan Santana" to the list, or a few other names. And, who knows, maybe in 15 years time someone will see my revised version of the list and think "wow, it's pretty weird not seeing Rickie Weeks at #23." Okay, maybe they won't be saying that about Rickie, but you get the point...


Paul said...

A couple notes:

#5: Bagwell does not deserve to be in the discussion if the discussion includes Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Bench, George Brett and Albert Pujols.

#21: Clemente is a way better choice than Clemens, considering the character issue. (Wow, I never noticed how similar their names are.)

#42: Yes, Jackie Robinson is the greatest to wear the number, but don't forget to mention Mariano Rivera.

#46: There's no way Pettite is better than Jenkins.

#50: Sid Fernandez wore this number as a tribute to his home state (the 50th) and should be listed.

#51: Randy Johnson is the man for this number, but Ichiro! must get strong consideration, too.

#55: Are you kidding about Lincecum? He has a long way to go before he can be considered above Hershiser. Orel won 204 games and if he hadn't tore his rotator cuff in 1990 probably would have ended up in the Hall of Fame.

#75: Barry Zito

#99: Manny Ramirez.

lar said...

#5. Bagwell doesn't belong in that discussion, true. I did say "small mention" though, and not "belongs in the discussion"... I was trying to make that distinction too, even if it wasn't clear

#42. You're right... I definitely should have mention Mariano here

#46. Jenkins? I think you got #31 and #46 mixed up, Paul. There's no way Pettite is better than Jenkins, but Maddux is.

#51. Yeah, I dropped the ball on Ichiro. What are the M's going to do when they need to retire some numbers? (The Cubs have to consider retiring #31 for Jenkins and Maddux this year, apparently)

#55. I was kidding about Lincecum and Hershiser. I recognize how good Orel was for those 7-10 years, and how good he could have been. I really, really like Lincecum, though, and I think he could be one of the best pitchers of the next 15 years. My comment was more a compliment to Lincecum's talent (as in, "this kid could have three Cy Youngs in three years") than it was an insult to Hershiser's career.

Paul said...

Sorry, for #46 I meant there's no way Pettite was better than Lee Smith. I've been mixing up Fergie Jenkins and Lee Smith in my mind since I was a kid. I think it started because their 1982 fleer cards were so similar (of course, who could forget that it was Smith's card that had the error - reversed Cubs logo - on the back):

Anonymous said...

Chipper Jones is the #10 that you aren't thinking of...

Any baseball fan from Mobile to Knoxville, and Mrytle Beach to Pearl will immediately think of Chipper Jones when they think of #10. Even the casual ones.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

I agree with Anon. Chipper could be there. And didn't Albert Belle wear 88? Does that count?

lar said...

Chipper is almost definitely the guy I was thinking of. I guess the question is, does he supplant Lefty Grove yet? I don't know if he's a *guaranteed* Hall of Famer yet, and it'd seem like you'd need to be a HOFer to pass a HOFer.

Which kind of reminds me of Jim Edmonds... Chipper is obviously a better HOF candidate than Edmonds, but I think Edmonds will have his supporters (flashy defense, good bat, long-time Card)... I'm pretty certain Edmonds was the #15 I was thinking of... is he a better representative than Thurman Munson? Munson's not in the Hall, but is Edmonds "immortal" enough to pass him? If Frank Tanana is on the list, then probably...

tHeMARksMiTh said...

First, I would be extremely disappointed if Chipper didn't get in the Hall. He is my favorite player, but the man has done about as much as possible (except stay extremely healthy). A couple more good years gets him to 450 HR, and add on his .310/.408/.548 career line with a 145 OPS+, he should be in there.

But does he beat out Grove? I don't know. I think Chipper wins, but I'm willing to say I could be wrong.

As for Edmonds, he's pretty comparable to Duke Snider. Add in the eight Gold Gloves, and it would be difficult to keep him out.

Does he beat out Munson, maybe. Both were excellent defenders and good hitters at offensively-challenged positions, but Edmonds was the better hitter.

The Common Man said...

Good list. Here's my two cents:

#2 I am depressed to realize that the case between Gehringer and Jeter is as close as it is. Their OPS+ are similar, and Jeter gets extra props for playing a slightly tougher position (even if he doesn't do so terribly well). Then again, Jeter may be in a decline phase here, and could fall off more.

#5 Unseating Joe D? Perish the thought.

#10 Grove is still one of the 2-3 best LHP of all time. Chipper's great and all, but I can't see him supplanting that.

#33 This is kind of a cheat. If memory serves, Honus didn't wear a number, and the Pirates gave him this one much later because they thought they had to retire something.

lar said...

Thanks for pointing that out about Wagner. I knew it felt weird seeing #33 associated with him, but I couldn't figure why. That makes sense.

So, in light of that, I have to say that #33 belongs to Eddie Murray. Larry Walker was good and all, but there's no way he's up to Murray's level.

As for JoeD... if Pujols ends up as the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, as we all seem to want to anoint him as, I think he has every right to supplant JoeD. (Plus, the fewer Yankees on the list, the better...)

Ian said...

I realize this is an old post, but I thought I'd add a comment in case someone wanted to revisit it.

The newer list you linked mentioned Todd Helton at #17. I'd say he belongs in the discussion.

He may not be the best, but I'm surprised Vada Pinson didn't get a mention at #28.

I think the story behind #33 for Honus Wagner was that he wore it as a Pirates coach.

Frank Thomas has to edge out both Rickey and Mussina for #35.

Where's the ultimate showdown between Livan Hernandez and Chan Ho Park for #61?