Baseball's Best Retired Numbers: Nos. 1-9
I recently decided that I would start a tradition of getting my son a baseball jersey for each of his birthdays. Each year, he will get a player who wore the number that corresponds with his age.
My criteria is simple: The number must be retired, and the player must be one of the all-time greats of the options available.
I've mapped out the first nine birthdays, and I hope you enjoy. Just don't ruin the surprise for my son.
No. 1: Ozzie Smith
I'm not even going to bother to cite his career numbers. Ozzie Smith is the best No. 1 simply because of his defense and the pizazz with which he accomplished his job.
The emblematic flips onto the field and the constant smile combine to make him one of the most beloved players of all time.
OK, here's one stat: 13 straight Gold Gloves. Enough said.
No. 2: Charlie Gehringer
Gehringer played 19 seasons with the Tigers, finishing his career with a .320 average. He was also the 1937 MVP and had 2,839 hits.
No. 3: Harold Baines
While Babe Ruth was a larger than life figure and may be the obvious choice here, I prefer to go with the quiet, all business persona that is Harold Baines.
An All-Star for the first time in 1985, he made his final All-Star game appearance in 1999, proving his longevity and ability.
Baines had 2,866 career hits and 384 home runs, even though he only hit more than 25 in a season once in his career.
No. 4: Lou Gehrig
This was an easy one. Amazing, inspiring, and historic speech aside, the man could flat-out hit.
Gehrig had a .340 career batting average, knocked in 1,995 runs, and won two MVP awards (1927 and 1936).
Oh yeah, he also played in 2,130 consecutive games.
No. 5: George Brett
There are a lot of great No. 5s to choose from. Joe DiMaggio was the first to come to mind, but Johnny Bench, Brooks Robinson, and Hank Greenberg were all options.
Even though my Tigers won the 1984 World Series, the 1985 World Series was when I truly fell in love with baseball.
Sentimentality aside, Brett could do it all. In his MVP season in 1980, Brett batted .390, had 118 RBI, and even stole 15 bases.
No. 6: Al Kaline
Stan Musial was also in the running, but I chose Kaline not only because he was a great player, but because I grew up with him.
Well, sort of.
Kaline teamed with George Kell to provide television commentary for the Tigers when I was a kid. While he was by no means the greatest announcer, he certainly was serviceable and had one of those comforting voices.
Want some career numbers with that? OK.
Kaline finished in the top 10 of MVP voting nine times, won a batting title, and had 3,007 career hits. Kaline also had a .379 batting average for the Tigers when they won the 1968 Fall Classic.
No. 7: Craig Biggio
Here's what I love about Biggio. He played all over the place—catcher, outfield, and second base.
He played 20 seasons for the Astros and finished his career with 3,060 hits.
No. 8: Cal Ripken Jr.
I bet you saw this one coming with the Gehrig slide. Cal Ripken Jr. symbolizes what we all like to think we would be like if we were good enough to play in the majors: Just go play every single day.
That's what he did, and along the way he collected 3,184 hits, playing 21 seasons for the Orioles. Not only did he break what many thought was an unbreakable record, he shattered it, playing in 502 more games consecutively than Gehrig.
No. 9: Ted Williams
On my first trip to Fenway Park, I decided to take the tour. I was actually on the field at the exact moment Ted Williams passed away in 2002.
OK, I don't know that to be a 100 percent fact, but it is very possible, and I have a spiritual sense from that possibility.
There are no better biographies than stories about Williams, who cared about little else besides the "science" of baseball (and fishing).