By DAVID MILLER News Sports Writer
EDITOR’S NOTE— This first appeared on Sept. 2, 2015.
Flicking through stories from The Associated Press, I came across this piece that talked about the numbers famous athletes wore on their uniforms.
For example, Babe Ruth wore No. 3 and Lou Gehrig wore No. 4, making those numbers famous just because of the guys who wore them.
It took me back to my own days as a high school basketbal player and the process of handing out numbers in those long ago times.
It was my freshman year and the time came to pass out jerseys. I had friends who were clamoring for this number or that. There was one who insisted on getting No. 54. That had been the number that he, and his older brother before him, had worn on the football field. The trouble was, No. 54 and No. 55 were the two largest jerseys in our high school’s uniform closet. The player who wanted that special number was better suited for a much smaller jersey.
There was another who wanted No. 9, but the reason for that choice now escapes me. He too was not accommodated.
There was a lot of additional fuss and feathers connected with that jersey handout. I was secretly hoping for No. 13, because that was the number Wilt Chamberlain wore. Being just a mere freshan I wasn’t about to say anything out loud. I was just hoping they would have enough jerseys to give me one.
When I did get that coveted piece of clothing I was awarded No. 9, the one that my friend had requested. It didn’t fit well at all, I remember the uniform gaped mightily around the arm holes. But then I wasn’t easy to fit. The number was faded in a couple of spots. It looked like someone’s Mom had spilled a little bleach or something on it. But hey, it was a jersey and it was mine —at least for one season.
The next year our school had gotten new basketball uniforms and there was noNo. 9. It was nice to have brand new outfits to wear—they were pretty snazzy in fact. But there also was something sad about giving up ol’ No. 9. I had gotten used to the ill-fit and the bleach spots and had grown fond of it. For the rest of my high school career I was No. 31. It never was the same.
Thinking about uniform numbers got me to wondering how many numbers of famous baseball players have been retired. I know the Yankees have a bunch, so I thought it would be interesting to do some research.
As I expected, with 20 retired numbers, the Yankees did have the most. Besides Ruth’s No. 3 and Gehrig’s No. 4, are Billy Martin (1), Derek Jeter (2), Joe DiMaggio (5), Joe Torre (6), Mickey Mantle (7), Yogi Berra (8), Bill Dickey (also 8), Roger Maris (9), Phil Rizzuto (10), Thurman Munson (15),Whitey Ford (16), Don Mattingly (23), Elston Howard (32), Casey Stengel (37), Mariano Rivera, (42), Reggie Jackson (44), Ron Guidry, (49) and Bernie Williams (51).
There are 170º retired numbers in Major League Baseball, so I didn’t think it would be productive to list them all here.
But how about the St. Louis Cardinals? There are a lot of Cardinal fans in our area. Here’s the Cardinals’ retired numbers: (1) Ozzie Smith; (2) Red Schoendienst; (6) Stan Musial; (9) Enos Slaughter; (10) Tony La Russa; (14) Ken Boyer; (17) Dizzy Dean; (20) Lou Brock; (24) Whitey Herzog; (42) Bruce Sutter; (45) Bob Gibson; (85) August Busch Jr.
Busch was not a player. He was the team’s owner for many years. The number 85 was retired on Busch’s 85th birthday in 1984.
I have always been partial to the Kansas City Royals. The retired numbers for that franchise are only three: (5) George Brett; (10) Dick Howser and (20) Frank White.
Several years ago every team in Major League Baseball retired the No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson and his courageous effort in helping break the racial barriers in baseball.
There are some players who have hadtheir numbers retired by two or three teams.
Nolan Ryan had the honor three times: Los Angeles Angels (30), Houston Astros and Texas Rangers (34).
Others who have had their numbers retired twice include Casey Stengel, Yankees (37) and Mets (37); Henry Aaron, Braves (44), Brewers (44); Sparky Anderson, Detroit Tigers (11), Cincinnati Reds (10); Rollie Fingers, Oakland (34), Milwaukee (34); Reggie Jackson, Oakland (9), Yankees (44); Greg Maddux Chicago Cubs (31), Atlanta Braves (31); Rod Carew, Minnesota (29), Los Angeles Angels (29), Carlton Fisk, Boston Red Sox (27), Chicago White Sox (72); and Frank Robinson, Cincinnati (20) and Baltimore (20).
Retiring numbers isn’t just a Major League Baseball phenomenon. You go into most college field houses, and there will be some jerseys hanging from the rafters, jerseys of players whose numbers have been honored.
I like to think that since no one wears No. 9 at my old high school that I’ve joined the club. But I guess you could say everyone’s number at my old high school has been retired since the school no longer exists.
Something else I read got my memory working overtime. Did you ever chase foul balls at baseball games when you were younger? I did. Where I lived, a youngster retrieving
a baseball would get a free piece of bubble gum. There was one year that the prize was a nickel pack of baseball cards. I’d run a mile for some of those cards.
Anyway I am a faithful reader of John Hall’s KOM League Flash Report that he sends out regularly through e-mail. Hall is the ultimate authority on the old Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League of which Ponca City was a member back in the late 1940s. A piece that he wrote made its way recently into the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise. I won’t reproduce it all here, but will mention a segment that really interested me.
In it Hall mentioned that back when he served as bat boy in the KOM, a baseball was a valuable commodity. To prove his point, he quoted a story that appeared after a1948 game between Iola and the Topeka Owls.
The segment: “The first baseball game of the season cost the Iola team $22 in lost balls, Earl Sifers president of the team, said today. He listed the expense as $18 in balls and $4 for hire of retrievers.
“Last night the retrievers had a particularly bad time. One of them, a 12-year-old boy, was attacked with a knife by one boy who was after one of the balls, DeLane Patrick, grounds caretaker, said.
“The hired retriever eluded the knife, got to his assailant and gave him a good ‘working over,’ Patrick said. About 11 p.m. last night an Iola mother visited police headquarters to complain that her son had been beaten by the same ball chaser, an altercation arising over a foul ball from the Indian park. The complaint resulted in warnings to both sides.
The ball team is reported to have lost hundreds of dollars worth of balls last year to persons picking them up when they fell outside the park.
Some of the ball hustlers have had balls taken from them by larger boys, club directors say.
“Sifers declared today the situation is getting more serious and different action may have to be taken. Officials say many youngsters have considered the ball theft a sport to be followed regularly. It is petty larceny, however, they point out, and they believe parents are liable to prosecution for thefts by the boys. The team makes a regular practice of giving youngsters balls that have served their time in league play.”
This discussion was especially interesting to me. I had an acquaintance who shagged a baseball and was on his way to the concession stand to get rewarded with a pack of baseball cards. On the way, he encountered a larger youngster from another town who was able to strong arm the ball away from him. The larger youngster from another town ran off never to be seen again. My friends and I were scandalized. We would never think of taking a ball away from the ballpark. It just wasn’t done. It was a different era.