You Were Good for the Other MLB Team, but Why's Your Number Retired Here?

Zeke Fuhrman@@mellamoelzekeAnalyst IIIAugust 17, 2009

I have mixed emotions about retiring numbers.

In some aspects, it's great to honor your best players by putting their names on banners and plaques, solidifying their legacy. It's great to take your kids to a ballgame and have them ask, "Who is that?" while pointing to one of the names on the wall.

What better way to honor your legends than allowing them to be the last person to wear their number, to forever be known as No. "insert number here?"

Retiring numbers is not only a great way to honor players on the field, but also a great way to honor players' achievements off the field.

Take the NFL's Arizona Cardinals. The Cards retired Pat Tillman's No. 40 after he was killed in Afghanistan. Buffalo Bills fans have also petitioned for the retiring of No. 61, the number worn by Bob Kalsu, the only active NFL player to die in Vietnam.

On the other hand, retiring numbers can be more burdensome than fun, and teams are more closely choosing which players' numbers they honor. The Boston Red Sox now have a requirement of 10 years of service in Beantown and a Hall of Fame nod.

It gets complicated because some players have their numbers retired by multiple teams, and teams want to enunciate the values of the "There is no 'I' in team" rule by praising certain players. 

Although there are no NFL players to have their numbers retired by two franchises, MLB has numerous players whose numbers are retired by more than one franchise: Rod Carew, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Reggie Jackson, and Nolan Ryan.

There should be a rule stating that only one franchise may retire a uniform number, with few exceptions.

Take Rollie Fingers, for instance.

Fingers had a remarkable career. He was one of the first closers in the game and amassed an ERA of 2.90 over a 17-year career. His career was so great that two of the franchises he played for, the Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland Athletics, retired his number.

The problem? After beginning his career as a starter, Fingers slowly moved into the closer role, where he recorded 122 saves in six years in Oakland. Rollie logged nine seasons as an Athletic, posting a win-loss record of 67-61, recording an ERA of 2.91 in over 1,000 innings pitched, and saving 136 games on three World Championship teams.

Fingers then went to the San Diego Padres in 1977, where he would pitch for four seasons. He would go 34-40 with an ERA of 3.12 and 108 saves. Fingers led the league in saves in 1977 and '78, when he recorded 35 and 37 saves.

He then signed with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981. Fingers went 6-3 with a 1.04 ERA and led the league again with 28 saves. He would win the AL MVP and Cy Young Award, despite only pitching 78 innings and appearing in only 47 games.

Fingers would finish his Brewers career 13-17 with a 2.54 ERA (259 IP) and 97 saves in four seasons and retired the all-time leader in saves with 341.

However, Brewers management felt that one good season was good enough for his number to be retired, so his No. 34 is on banners in Oakland and Milwaukee.

Fingers is wearing an A's cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Rod Carew is another case of wrongful retiring.

Carew is arguably the best second baseman in the modern era. He won seven batting titles with the Minnesota Twins and won the 1977 AL MVP, where he notably hit .388, the closest anyone had come to .400 since Ted Williams accomplished the feat in 1941 (George Brett would hit .390 in 1980).

Carew recorded 2,085 hits and a .334 average during his 12 years in Minnesota.

In 1979, Carew would sign with the California Angels. During his seven seasons in California, Carew would record 968 hits and hit .314. He recorded his 3,000th hit in 1983 against the Minnesota Twins.

If players get their numbers retired for recording their 3,000th hit, the Twins should retire Paul Molitor's No. 4 (15 years in Milwaukee vs. three in Minnesota) and Dave Winfield's No. 32 (two years in Minnesota during a 22-year career)

Carew's No. 29 is retired by both the Twins and the Angels, although he is wearing a Twins cap in the Hall.

Catcher Carlton Fisk is an unusual case. Fisk spent the first 11 years of his career with the Boston Red Sox (.284, 1,097 hits, 162 home runs, 568 RBI, 1972 Rookie of the Year, seven All-Star games) and the last 13 years of his career with the Chicago White Sox (.257, 1,259 hits, 214 home runs, 762 RBI, four All-Star games).

Had it not been for the two extra years in Chicago, Fisk's stats would be almost identical, if they are not already.

When Fisk joined the ChiSox in 1981, his No. 27 was being worn by pitcher Ken Kravec. Fisk flip-flopped his old number and thus wore the unusual baseball number of 72 on his jersey.

Although Kravec was traded just 10 days later, Fisk retained the number 72 throughout his career with the White Sox.

Although Fisk's No. 72 was retired in Chicago in 1997 and his No. 27 was retired in Boston in 2000, Fisk chose to wear a Boston cap in the Hall of Fame. 

Hurler Nolan Ryan is the only player to have his number retired by three teams. Although he played nine seasons in Houston (106-94, 3.13 ERA, 1,866 K, two All-Star games), his greatest statistical tenure was in California. (138-121, 3.07 ERA, 2,416 K, five All-Star games). Ryan would finish his career with a five-year stop with the Texas Rangers (51-39, 3.23 ERA, 939 K, one All-Star game)

His No. 30 was retired by the California Angels in 1992, and his No. 34 was retired by the Rangers and Astros in 1996.

Ryan won the 1969 World Series with the New York Mets...the one team that hasn't retired his number (29-38, 3.53 ERA, 493 K in five seasons)

The New York Yankees are number-retiring fiends. The Yanks have retired 15 numbers for 16 players (No. 8 has been retired twice for Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra) and have retired all numbers between one and 10, with the exception of two and six. No. 2 will be retired for current Yankee captain Derek Jeter, and No. 6 will be retired for former Yankee skipper Joe Torre.

Other notable numbers the Yankees will consider retiring will be Jorge Posada's No. 20, Roger Clemens' No. 22, Alex Rodriguez' No. 13, Mike Mussina's No. 35, Mariano Rivera's No. 42 (already retired once for Jackie Robinson), etc....

There is one number hanging in the rafters of New Yankee Stadium that I don't think should be there.

No. 44, Reggie Jackson.

Before coming to the Yankees in 1977, Jackson had spent nine seasons with the Athletics and one season in Baltimore, wearing No. 9. During his tenure with the A's, Jackson would record 1,151 hits, 254 home runs, and 733 RBI to go along with two World Series titles and the 1973 AL MVP.

When Jackson signed with the Yankees, his No. 9 was being worn by Graig Nettles. Jackson would request No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, but newly hired pitching coach Art Fowler was wearing it. So Jackson requested No. 44 in honor of the recently retired home run king, Hank Aaron. 

It would be during his time in New York that Jackson would solidify his self-proclaimed title of "Mr. October."

During his five seasons as a Yankee, Jackson would hit .281 with 661 hits, 144 home runs, and 461 RBI (during 1981, his last season as a Yankee, he hit .237 in 334 at-bats).

But during the postseason, Jackson hit .327 with 12 home runs and 29 RBI, with a .346 average, seven home runs, and 16 RBI in the two World Series he would win with the Yankees.

In the 1977 Series, Jackson had nine hits. Five of them were home runs. Four home runs in four consecutive at-bats. Three home runs in one game.

Jackson would win his second World Series MVP (his first was in 1973 as an Athletic).

The Yankees would retire his No. 44 in 1993, the same year he was elected into the Hall of Fame, with an "A" on his cap.

The Athletics didn't retire his No. 9 until 2004.

The more I write about Wade Boggs, the harder it is for me to like him. A five-time batting champion in the 1980s, all seasons where he hit .357 or higher, Boggs' Red Sox tenure included 2,098 hits and a .338 batting average.

Desperate for a ring, Boggs fled to the New York Yankees in 1993, where he would win two Gold Gloves in 1994 and 1995, as well as his elusive championship in 1996.

You would think that one of these teams would retire Boggs' number.

The team that did?

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Boggs played for the Devil Rays from 1998-99, where he amassed a whopping 210 hits with nine home runs, 81 RBI, and a .289 batting average, numbers worthy of being hoisted to the rafters.

There are a few exceptions to my one-team rule.

One of my exceptions is Hank Aaron. Aaron played for the Milwaukee Braves from 1954-1966, when the franchise moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta. Aaron stayed in Atlanta with the Braves franchise until 1974, whereupon he returned to the new Milwaukee Brewers, who had formed in 1969. Aaron's No. 44 is retired in Atlanta and in Milwaukee.

I'm okay with that.

The other exception would be a league-wide retirement, such as Jackie Robinson's No. 42. Robinson was a great player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the legacy he left and the doors he opened changed baseball so greatly that commissioner Bud Selig declared a league-wide retirement of Robinson's No. 42 in 1997.

Many fans and players have petitioned to have Roberto Clemente's No. 21 retired in the same way as Robinson's, citing that Clemente opened the door for Latin Americans the same way Robinson did for African-Americans.

I'm okay with that too.


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