Don’t use that number: MLB’s retired jerseys

by Patrick Donnelly
SportsData LLC

The Yankees have done it 16 times. The Mariners and Rockies have never done it. And the Twins will be doing it for the seventh time in September when they honor former manager Tom Kelly by retiring his No. 10 jersey in a ceremony at Target Field.

For more than 70 years, MLB teams have paid tribute to the legends of their sport by retiring numbers, ensuring that the all-time greats of the game will be forever remembered for their contributions to baseball. The practice began, naturally, with the New York Yankees, who retired No. 4 in honor of Lou Gehrig in 1940, one year after their star first baseman was forced to retire due to the effects of ALS, the disease that would come to bear his name.

Since then, some 166 more former players, managers, coaches and even owners have been honored with retired numbers. MLB has mandated a league-wide retirement of one number: former Dodger Jackie Robinson broke the sport’s color barrier in 1947, and on the 50th anniversary of his debut, his No. 42 was forever put on the shelf for all 30 teams.

Other noteworthy facts and anecdotes:

  • The Cardinals’ Bruce Sutter is the only other No. 42 to have been retired, although the Yankees likely will follow suit to honor reliever Mariano Rivera, who was allowed to continue wearing No. 42 due to the league’s grandfather clause.
  • Nolan Ryan is the only player to have his number retired by three franchises – the Angels (30), Astros (34) and Rangers (34).
  • The Miami Marlins currently have no retired numbers – but No. 5 used to be retired to honor Carl Barger, the team’s first president. Barger died before the Marlins played their first game, so the franchise retired the number of his favorite ballplayer as a kid, Joe DiMaggio. However, when the team moved into its new stadium this year, No. 5 went back into circulation and was claimed by outfielder Logan Morrison. Barger is now commemorated with a plaque at the stadium.
  • The White Sox temporarily unretired Luis Aparicio‘s No. 11 when veteran shortstop Omar Vizquel joined the team in 2010 and asked to wear it to honor Aparicio, one of his heroes as a youth. Aparicio approved of the move and Vizquel wore No. 11 for his two seasons in Chicago.
  • The Reds temporarily retired the No. 5 jersey of catcher Willard Hershberger, who in 1940 became the first and still only player to commit suicide during a season. However, two years later they unretired the number, and in 1967 it was issued to Johnny Bench, who went on to a Hall of Fame career and earned No. 5 a second, permanent retirement.
  • The No. 20 has been retired more than any other — by nine teams for eight different players (Frank Robinson was honored by the Reds and Orioles). No. 4 and No. 5 have been retired by eight teams apiece.
  • The Angels retired No. 26 to recognize former owner Gene Autry as the team’s “26th man,” while the Cardinals retired No. 85 for team executive August Busch, who was 85 years old when the number was retired in 1984.
  • The Indians officially “retired” No. 455 to commemorate the record number of consecutive sell-outs at Jacobs Field, but it’s not like they were going to put that number on a player’s jersey so we’re not including it in our totals.

Copyright 2012 by SportsData