Numbers have always been fascinating to me. I guess that’s why I chose banking as my primary profession until I retired from it in 2001. Through the analysis of numbers and ratios, bankers make lending decisions, or at least they did before this current wave of bank failures due to bad lending decisions. I don’t know what they’re thinking now.
But even as a kid, I enjoyed numbers, particularly as they related to sports. I knew how to figure batting averages and earned run averages before I knew how to do long division. I could quote you, song and verse, the statistics of all the great players of my childhood, no matter which sport they played.
But I have also enjoyed associating the numbers on the back of the jerseys with the players. I can recall, to this day, most of the numbers that those same great athletes wore. I guess it is a form of association that we match the number with the player who wore it. You say #15 and I think- Bart Starr. #6 belongs to Stan Musial. See what I mean?
You may not know that numbers were not worn on baseball jerseys until 1929 when the New York Yankees became the first team to do so. Numbers were assigned then according to where you batted in the lineup. That’s why Babe Ruth wore #3 (he batted third) and Lou Gehrig wore #4 (he batted fourth). I don’t know what they did if the manager decided to switch the batting order around. The rest of baseball followed the lead of the Yankees and by 1932 all major league uniforms sported numbers.
So, why do players choose the numbers they wear? Is it superstition or does it have something to do with them personally? Let’s take a look at some of these stories. I think you’ll find some of these humorous and others interesting. For a trivia nut like myself, it makes for great information.
0: Al Oliver and Rey Ordonez wear #0 because their last name starts with “O.”
00: Jim Otto, the former great Oakland Raider wore it because it sounded like his name. (ought o)
5: George Brett did it in honor of his hero Brooks Robinson.
You’ll have to use your imagination for this one, a backwards 7. Johnny Neves wore this because his name is “seven” backwards.
7: Chris Redman due to his birthdate of 7/7/77.
9: Drew Brees gives a salute to his childhood hero, Ted Williams.
11: Jimmy Rollins claims the two vertical stripes makes him look taller.
18: Peyton Manning wears this number as a tribute to his older brother, Cooper who did not get to fulfill his athletic dreams because he contracted spinal stenosis.
21: Sammy Sosa, Ruben Sierra, and Carlos Delgado wear it to honor Roberto Clemente.
23: 23 is roughly half of 45. So, Michael Jordan chose it because he thought he was half the player his older brother Larry, who wore #45 was.
28: This is the only number that has actually been sold to allow someone to wear it. When Mitch Williams joined the Phillies he wanted #28 because that was the number he had worn as a Chicago Cub but John Kruk already wore #28.
Kruk sold the number to Williams for two cases of beer.
35: Hall of Fame goalie Tony Esposito just wanted to be different since most other goalies wore single digit numbers.
40: Joe Forte. Say his last name and it becomes obvious.
43: Brad Daughtery in honor of Richard Petty.
44: Pete Maravich. Who wore #23 at LSU, changed to #44 as an Atlanta Hawk because that was his scoring average in college.
49: Tim Wakefield. That’s the same number worn by fellow knuckleballers Charlie Hough and Tom Candiotti.
51: Bernie Williams, in honor of Puerto Rico, his native land and the unofficial 51st state.
Don Zimmer increases his number by one each year to represent the number of years he has been in baseball. He’s up to #59.
66: Mario Lemieux wore it as an upside-down tribute to Wayne Gretzky.
72: Carlton Fisk as a Chicago White Sox. 72 is the reverse of 27 which he wore as a Boston Red Sox.
76- 7’6” Shawn Bradley thought the number fit his height and he was also a Philadelphia 76er.
87: Current hockey phenom Sidney Crosby wears it because he was born on 8/7/87.
99-: Wayne Gretzky wore this number as a tribute to his idol, Gordie Howe who had worn #9.
For the record and if anybody cares, I always wore #13 once I got to the high school level because I wanted to prove the number wasn’t unlucky as most superstitious people believed. Since I have so many great memories from those days, I would say that it worked for me.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be naming the Greatest Athlete Who Wore (#). We’ll start at #1 and go all the way to #99 and I plan to cover about ten numbers per week. Some of these are more difficult since several great athletes wore the same number but I’ll list all their names so you can decide whom you’d pick. Start thinking about your list.
Bet you can’t guess who I will pick for #34. No, it ain’t Charles Barkley! Stay safe and let the world see your best side.
Randy Blalock is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.