Worst Retired Numbers in Sports

K BFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2011

Worst Retired Numbers in Sports

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    To get your number retired for a franchise can arguably be the greatest honor an athlete can receive.

    Just behind getting a statue erected in your honor, having your number retired gives you a permanent namesake.

    You will forever be talked about whenever the team is mentioned. You are one of the greatest to ever put on that team's jersey. 

    You were so great, in fact, that no other man should be able to wear the jersey.

    Some teams have taken that honor and almost made a mockery of the lore and tradition that is having your name permanently etched in stone (or cloth, rather) by giving it to just about anyone for any reason.

    These are the 25 worst retired numbers in professional sports.

No. 25: Wayne Gretzky, the Entire NHL

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    Retired Number: No. 99

    I get it.

    Wayne Gretzky was the Great One and did incredibly substantial things for the entire league as its all-time greatest player.

    But I still can't get past how the entire NHL decided his No. 99 should be retired.

    He didn't break a color barrier like Jackie Robinson or anything to that degree.

    He was just really really good.

    It's just kind of lame. But I guess since no one else wore it before, why the hell not, right?

No. 24: Reggie Jackson, New York Yankees

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    Retired Number: No. 44

    Reggie Jackson was an absolute force with the Oakland A's, compiling 1,151 hits, 254 home runs and 733 RBI in nine seasons.

    He also won two World Series and an AL MVP in 1973.

    Jackson may have earned his nickname Mr. October with the Yankees, but his numbers might not deserve his number being retired. 

    He did have incredible stats in the playoffs, but in the five regular seasons with the Yankees, Jackson only hit a pedestrian .281.

    The Yankees retired his number in 1993.

    The A's didn't retire his number until 2004.

No. 23: Rick Ley, Hartford Whalers

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    Retired Number: No. 2

    The retirement of Ley's No. 2 must not have been too respected, because it was put back into circulation after the move to Raleigh.

    But then, in a very awkward move, the Hurricanes decided to retire No. 2 again for Glen Wesley.

    I can see the argument about how moving to a new city makes it okay, but Gordie Howe and John McKenzie's numbers are still respected. 

No. 22: Willie Horton, Detroit Tigers

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    Retired Number: No. 23

    Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Hal Newhouser and Willie Horton.

    What do these men have in common?

    They are in the Hall of Fame—with the exception of Horton.

    Horton was loved by the city of Detroit, but his numbers might not be worthy of getting his number retired.

    Old Gary Sheffield got to wear Alan Trammell's No. 3, and Mickey Lolich, who has more strikeouts than any other left-hander who has played in the AL, has yet to have his number retired.

No. 21: Rusty Staub, Montreal Expos

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    Retired Number: No. 10

    Staub played for five different teams through 1963-1985.

    For three-and-a-half of those 23 seasons, he played for the Expos, where he hit a solid .295.

    Of course he was a beloved player, but how many of those are there?

    Damn you Canada. How dare you soil the tradition that is the retiring of numbers?!

    Maybe we are seeing a trend here.

    If you retire a number that is undeserving, your franchise folds and you must move to a new city (like the Seattle SuperSonics).

No. 20: Steve Garvey, San Diego Padres

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    Retired Number: No. 6

    In 16 seasons for the Dodgers, Steve Garvey hit .301, appeared in eight All-Star games, won the MVP in 1974 and won four Gold Gloves.

    His number is not retired in Los Angeles.

    However, hitting .294 one of three years you play with a club is good enough.

    That is what the Padres did with Garvey.

No. 19: Jimmie Reese, Anaheim Angels

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    Retired Number: No. 50

    Reese only played three seasons in the MLB.

    He was also a conditioning coach for the Angels.

    With those two facts staring you in the face, I don't know how you don't retire someone's number.

No. 18: Randy Jones, San Diego Padres

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    Retired Number: No. 35

    Jones does have a Cy Young to his name, but how many other players have one that don't have their number retired?

    Also, in his career he had a losing record, going 100-123 overall.

    The Padres retired the number of a guy who is the only Cy Young winner with an overall losing record.

No. 17: Roger Maris, New York Yankees

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    Retired Number: No. 9

    Maris did have his magical season of 61 home runs.

    But other than two strong years for the Yankees in 1960 and 1961, he only wore the pinstripes for seven seasons.

    For those seasons, he batted only .265.

    If you aren't in the Hall of Fame, your number shouldn't be retired.

No. 16: Ray Bourque, Colorado Avalanche

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    Retired Number: No. 77

    Bourque is considered one of the greatest defenders of all-time.

    He is first in all-time points scored by a defenseman with 1,579, as well as goals with 410.

    But most of those accomplishments were with the Boston Bruins.

    Bourque only played a year and a half with the Avalanche.

    He was a big reason why they won the Stanley Cup in 2001. He was declared co-captain in 2001 and scored the game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

    But retiring a man's number when he only played there a year and a half seems a bit much. 

No. 15: Tom Brookshier, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Retired Number: No. 40

    Brookshier's number retirement probably has a lot to do with the fact that he missed two seasons proudly serving for our Air Force, as well as his large role in broadcasting, as he and Pat Summerall became the most popular duo calling football games for CBS in the 1970s.

    But as I have made it perfectly clear, I think number retirement should be based solely what you did on the field.

    Brookshier did go to the Pro Bowl in 1959 and 1960, but do two Pro Bowl selections deserve a number retired?

No. 14: Brad Davis, Dallas Mavericks

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    Retired Number: No. 15

    Davis only averaged 4.9 assists per game in his career.

    The highest he averaged was 7.2 during the 1982-1983 season.

    Point guards during that time period were on the court mainly as distributors, and 4.9 is what you have to offer?

    Carmelo Anthony averaged 4.8 assists per game this year. Just let that sink in. 

    Well, what about points?

    8.2 points per game.


    0.8 per game.

    At least Rolando Blackman was a four-time All-Star.

No. 13: Yvon Labre, Washington Capitals

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    Retired Number: No. 7

    “Labre wouldn’t quit. There may be those with more talent, but few with as big a heart.” (Russ White, Washington Star)

    “He threw every ounce of his heart into clearing creases and engaging in fights.” (legendsofhockey.net)

    “The guts of a burglar, the heart of an elephant.” (Robert Fachet, Washington Post)

    These quotes are part of an argument by this guy on why Labre's number should be retired. They are beautiful quotes, and the idea is poetic. But c'mon. 

    I tried my best playing and put up pedestrian numbers. Should the team I played for retire my number?

    I think Bill Simmons said it best when he talked about Labre.

    When talking about retired numbers on the Capitals, the rafter includes greats like Rod Langway and "some guy named Yvon Labre, who was apparently the team chef back in 1978.”

    To answer the question I posted earlier:

    Yes, it should retire my number.

No. 12: Steve Nelson, New England Patriots

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    Retired Number: No. 57

    Nelson played 14 seasons in the NFL, all of them with the New England Patriots.

    He was selected to the Pro Bowl three times: 1980, 1984 and 1985.

    He was also a member of the 1985 team that made it to Super Bowl XX, where it was destroyed by the Chicago Bears.

    All good but not mind-blowing accomplishments by any means.

No. 11: Don Mattingly, New York Yankees

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    Retired Number: No. 23

    Mattingly only won one MVP for a team that won zero World Series.

    The Yankees were pretty mediocre his entire time there.

    With all the great players that have put on the pinstripes, does someone with that kind of career really deserve his number retired?

No. 10: Buddy Young, Indianapolis Colts

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    Retired Number: No. 22

    During the span of his 10-year career, the "Bronze Bullet" averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 28 yards per kickoff return.

    But he could catch too.

    He averaged 15 yards a reception.

    These are all solid stats, but are they retiring your number good?

    Also, he only played for the Baltimore Colts for three years, from 1953-1955.

    As much as it pains me to pick on a former Illini, Buddy Young's No. 22 doesn't deserve to be waving next to Johnny Unitas' No. 19.

No. 9: Wade Boggs, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

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    Number Retired: No. 12

    Boggs played his last two years in Tampa Bay and recorded his 3,000th hit as a Devil Ray. 

    (It was a home run, by the way, and he is the only player to do that.)

    Is getting your 3,000th hit with a franchise really a good enough reason to have your number retired by that same franchise?

    They already have a yellow seat in honor of his home run ball.

    Is it just because he is from Tampa?

    Listen, I understand you guys want to hang a jersey in the rafters. But you've only been around since 1998. Be patient, my children.

No. 8: Vinnie Johnson, Detroit Pistons

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    Retired Number: No. 15

    If you go to Wikipedia, the first sentence describing Vinnie Johnson mentions that he was "a key player as a sixth man for the Detroit Pistons during the team's NBA championships of 1989 and 1990."

    Aren't numbers supposed to be retired for players so amazing and spectacular that you can't even begin to think about replacing them?

    Johnson wasn't good enough to start for the team on a regular basis, let alone have his numbers hang from the rafters.

    No one in Detroit will be able to wear the No. 15 because it is impossible to average 12 points per game, apparently.

    Hell, retire Mark Aguirre's number. He started slightly less than half the games during the 1989-1990 championship seasons.

No. 7: Nate McMillan, Seattle SuperSonics

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    Retired Number: No. 10

    Player A: 5.9 points, 6.1 assists and 1.9 steal in 12 seasons.

    Player B: 16.3 points, 6.7 assists and 1.8 steals in 18 seasons.

    One of these players' numbers is not retired. 

    Can you guess the player?

    Player B is Gary Payton.

    Although it can be definitely argued that Payton's numbers aren't outstanding, he was the face of the franchise during its successful run in the '90s.

    I know this. He was much better than Nate McMillan, a tough bench player.

No. 6: New Orleans Hornets, Pete Maravich

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    Retired Number: No. 7

    I know what you're thinking.

    Pete Maravich was one of the most beloved (although overrated) NBA players of all time.

    He is a five-time All-Star and made the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

    When you think of the NBA, Pete Maravich is one of those players most people think about immediately.

    So what is the problem with the New Orleans Hornets retiring Pistol Pete's No. 7?

    Because he played for the Jazz, that's why.

No. 5: Michael Jordan, Miami Heat

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    Retired Number: No. 23

    Here we go again with the retiring numbers of players on another team.

    This is even more outrageous than Pete Maravich, because at least the Pistol played basketball at LSU.

    I suppose I can understand this (not really) if everyone in the league collectively agrees that Michael Jordan was so good for everyone that they decided the No. 23 should be retired for every team.

    But for Pat Riley and the Heat to individually decide that Michael Jordan was so good that their franchise should retire his number because he was so good makes little sense and reeks of unnecessary brown-nosing.

    He did nothing but punish the Heat during his playing days.

    Jordan is so incredible that he can probably see into the future, which means he already knew what would happen with the Big Three in Miami, so he made sure that they got received all the punishment he could dish out during his playing career.

    These futuristic powers did not translate into a GM career, however.

No. 4: August Busch Jr., St. Louis Cardinals

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    Retired Number: No. 85

    Yet again, another number for someone who wasn't a player.

    Can't we just let the athletes have the numbers?

    You already have your prestigious beer company that everyone is aware of, not to mention the fact that your last name is the name of the the St. Louis Cardinals stadium itself.

    But to have your number retired when you haven't played a professional game of baseball in your entire life?

No. 3: Gene Autry, Anaheim Angels

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    Retired Number: No. 26

    At least he wrote giddy songs like "Frosty the Snowman," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Here Comes Santa Claus."

    Maybe he wouldn't write such chipper Christmas songs if he had to deal with the weather.

    Just like Busch, I don't understand how a number can be retired if you never actually wore one.

    What is wrong with a statue?

No. 2: Carl Barger, Florida Marlins

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    Retired Number: No. 5

    Who can forget the number of things Carl Barger did for the Florida Marlins?

    Pretty much everyone. He isn't even a player.

    Barger was the first president of the Florida Marlins in 1991.

    The Marlins retired the No. 5 because Barger's favorite baseball player was Joe DiMaggio.

    Blueprint for getting your number retired if you don't play professional baseball:

    1) Get rich

    2) Become president

    3) Get anything you want

    Also, if you don't have a picture of yourself on the Internet, you shouldn't have your number retired.

No. 1: Any Number That Is Retired to Honor the Fans

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    This is the lamest gift a franchise could bestow upon its fans.

    Who in their right mind looks up into the rafters and sees a No. 6 (for sixth man) or 12 (you know, for football) or any other lame number retired for fans and sheds a tear because they are so honored?

    I know something these franchises could do to really show their support for their beloved fans. 

    Lower the prices for tickets and their substandard food.


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