The Retirement of Uniform Numbers Needs to Stop
Although I realize my position represents a very small percentage of the sporting population, I think it is about time this ridiculous practice of retiring former players uniform numbers should end immediately. It all started back in 1939 when an ill stricken Lou Gehrig addressed the New York crowd with his famous “Luckiest Man” speech. As a tribute to their great first baseman, the Yankees announced no other Bronx Bomber would ever wear his famous number 4. This started a trend that continues to this day – very, very frequently.
First let me say how I admire the Iron Horse, a spectacular ballplayer and good man. I am one of his biggest fans, and my viewpoint has absolutely nothing to do with him. I just feel there are other ways to honor players without having the number situation get out of hand. The biggest offenders of this, of course, are the New York Yankees. So many numbers have been retired they may soon need to go to triple digits. When Derek Jeter retires and New York retires his number 2 – as we all know they will – that will leave jersey number 6 as the only single digit available. I hope that number with eventually get retired (Joe Torre as manager?) just so others can see how ridiculous this has become.
The Yanks have had so many great players and they want to honor them, this I understand. But when you consider they already have monuments for Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, Berra, etc. – my question is – isn’t that enough of an honor? They have also made some rather questionable retirement decisions. Should Ron Guidry’s #49 or Don Mattingly’s #23 really be retired? No question these were a couple of great players, but certainly not on par with the giants of the game. Reggie Jackson has his #44 retired despite playing just 5 seasons in New York. Billy Martin has his #1 retired despite being fired as manager about 5 times.
When other teams see this, to feel important and to create some history with their franchise, they follow suit. San Diego retired #6 for Steve Garvey, but the club he spent the vast majority of his career with, the Los Angeles Dodgers, did not. How many people remember Garvey as a Padre? So using that logic, shouldn’t the Padres also retire #1 for Ozzie Smith? The White Sox must have felt guilty about trading the popular and productive Harold Baines so they retired his #3 while he was still an active player. In the case of a tragedy it’s a much more sensitive situation. For example, with the untimely death of the great Roberto Clemente perhaps the first thing that should have been done was to point out that obviously he was irreplaceable and he will forever be a giant of the game and inspiration to fans everywhere. As a show of respect in a case such as this, I suggest a waiting period. By this I mean have the Pittsburgh management announce that no Pirate can wear number 21 for the next 10 years or so – until the period of mourning has passed and the wounds have begun to heal. And since the Pirates do have a wonderful statue of Roberto at PNC Park his legacy will live on every single day.
Baseball is the biggest offender of this practice but college basketball is not far behind. In college basketball, you are very limited in the amount of numbers you can wear since you are not allowed to sport a digit above 5. So when schools like Duke and North Carolina hang all these jerseys from the rafters and no doubt will soon be adding more, I’m wondering how soon they will run out of numbers to issue. Perhaps they will need to go to using triple digits or negative numbers. I’ve always admired Indiana University because despite all the great players they have had in Bloomington, they have no retired numbers and no names on the back of their uniforms. Everyone who plays there is playing for the university, not to get their name in lights.
I suppose my viewpoint may seem a bit silly, but since we are talking about playing a game and the idea of using these numbers was simply meant to identify players, perhaps we can put the entire matter in its proper perspective. If, in the future, for example another St. Louis Cardinal were to don #17, it means no disrespect to Dizzy Dean, and it doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great player, it just means that years have passed and another major leaguer for the Cards is now wearing that number, that’s all.