The really strange thing about this whole pandemic is that my teams are winning. The last few days, I’ve seen the Cubs, Sox, Pacers, Trailblazers, and Timbers all claim multiple victories. This tells me that life is no longer normal. In the real world, I consistently pick the wrong teams to root for on game day. Could this mean that I.U. will start claiming BIG 10 wins and that the Bears and Colts will play once again in the Super Bowl? It all now seems possible.
The Sox have won 6 straight road games, a feat last equaled in April 2017. Unfortunately in the process, Oregon State alum Nick Madrigal injured his shoulder during a slide. Tim Anderson is also on the disabled list. The Cubs have won five straight and the Trailblazers are making a playoff move with a promising start in the Disney bubble. IU alum Victor Oladipo is beginning to show his old form for the Pacers in their third straight win. These are all signs of the Apocalypse!
Can you imagine an NBA championship between the Pacers and Trailblazers, or a Cubs vs. White Sox World Series? I’m beginning to like these shortened seasons with each game having more significance and no fan interference. T.J. Warren of the Pacers just tied Jermaine O’Neil’s franchise record for the most in a three-game span. These things just don’t happen under normal circumstances. It takes a pandemic to bring out the best in my teams.
Will the magic last? I have my doubts. The Cubs don’t have a closer. Craig Kimbrel failed to preserve a three-run cushion last night and had to be benched by new manager David Ross once again. The Cubbies could easily return to last year’s mediocrity after a 9-2 start. At least they’re staying healthy, unlike the rival St. Louis Cardinals who can’t seem to stay out of the way of the virus. The White Sox are helping the Cubs with a chance to take a 3-game sweep from the Brewers. The Cubs are returning the favor by pounding the Royals. I like this Chicago tag-team approach.
The Portland Timbers are in the soccer final four with a match against Philadelphia tonight that could send them into the finals of the MLS is Back tournament. The bubble approach in sports seems to be working much better than the home fields used in baseball. We’re all hoping that sports can survive outside the bubble, especially football fans that are holding their breath for a chance to start the season.
The Indy 500 will now be held later this month without fans. New track owner Roger Penske reversed his plan to drop the flag in front of a full house. Instead, it will be strictly a television event that will undoubtedly continue in all sports into 2021. Buying a ticket to any event will be a rarity, having a devastating affect on the business. I’m just glad to be a fan and not an owner. Many tough financial decisions have been made this year, with no end in sight. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the rare winning moments of my favorite teams. Fly the W.
It’s finally here – Opening Day. I last wrote about it (See Post #1306) almost three months ago, wondering if it would ever happen? There was originally talks of an Arizona bubble where all the teams would stay and play in one place. Instead, the stadiums are open to the players but not the public. I watched a few of the Summer Camp games these past few weeks in empty venues, just glad to have something live on TV. There’s no “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the only option is to tune in. I may resort back to childhood and listen on the radio. With a few sound effects, it will seem no different than 1955.
The defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals will play the Yankees tonight on the east coast, while the Dodgers meet the Giants in the west. That’s pretty good social distancing. Tomorrow the Cubs start their 60-game journey against the Brewers at empty Wrigley Field. With half a season, every game is worth twice as much! I got in the spirit earlier this week with a trip to my baseball card guy’s house. A couple of items were added to my Sherm Lollar collection, speaking of 1955 baseball. Plus, some catching equipment from that era. Above all, it was good to talk with another avid baseball fan – it’s great to see anyone – period – in these troubled times.
I’ll soon be living next to a Spring Training venue in Florida, as I think back to the cancellation of the March games in Phoenix. I did get a credit for my tickets to those games. I also received autographed cards from Topps for Kris Bryant (Cubs) and Luis Robert (White Sox) after being shorted on my Opening Day lineup purchase. All in all, it was a rough start to the season, but all is now right. We’ll finally hear the words “Play Ball,” following a four month delay in the action. It’s the first season to ever start in July. I’ll tune in for the first pitch. Hooray – it’s Opening Day!
Auto Racing and golf were the first professional sports to come back after the pandemic. Fans can at least watch from home now. U.S. soccer is off and running in Orlando. The Portland Timbers won last night against the LA Galaxy. Soon, the Trailblazers will take the court in the Disney bubble, similar to the soccer model. There’s proven success to this “play-and stay-in-one-place” structure with the completion of The Basketball Tournament tonight in Columbus, Ohio. I was not aware that the non-overtime format was designed by Ball State, Indiana professor, Nick Elam. It assigns a target score in the final quarter that determines the winner rather than wear down players with extra time on the clock. Also, on the Hoosier stage, former IU players, Mo Creek and Remy Abell played starring roles.
I like the controlled environments that have been established for the restart of soccer and basketball. It limits exposure to the bug via outside exposure and travel. I’m not sure that baseball will see similar success by utilizing home fields and regional travel schedules. However, life can’t continue to be contained in a bubble. We need to experiment with other formats, otherwise football will never get underway. There will actually be some fans in the stands around Wrigley Field, as across-the-street rooftop seats are apparently being sold for $350.
Football does have the advantage of protective gear like plastic face guards and gloves to limit exposure on the field. If this is effective, expect other sports to adapt at least long pants and sleeves in the future. There will be many new innovations. Travel to and from the parks will still be an issue, although professional teams have private planes and limos. This is not the case for high school and college players. To be determined!
Every sport is now a safety experiment. Fans will have to wait until the results are compiled. Getting near the players and field are not in the near future. They will retreat to the locker rooms before and after games. Athletes will be kept isolated and this will affect their popularity. Autographs will be hard to get and personal appearances will be prohibited. A 2020 player autograph will be extremely rare and valuable. For example, I just received a Topps Now baseball card signed by Kris Bryant of the Cubs. This will become a prized item in my collection.
The original plan was to get to Spring Training and the Cubs vs. Sox game. It was a Friday the 13th in Phoenix when this game was cancelled, as the dreaded bug made its debut. I did get a credit for the tickets, but it has turned out to be a four-month holding pattern. The Chicago crosstown rivalry is scheduled to restart this Sunday in a Summer Camp exhibition game at Wrigley. The condensed 60-game season officially begins next Thursday with the Nats vs. Yankees on ESPN. The NBA restarts the week after. It means more sports on TV – LIVE!
ESPN stirred some memories last night with the airing of “Long Gone Summer,” the 1998 home run battle between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire. It was the quest to top Roger Maris’ 61 home-run season in 1961. The record had stood for 28 years, once Maris had “outdone” The Babe. I was part of a Cubs season ticket group of nine owners that conducted a draft at the beginning of the season to determine who would get which tickets for what games. I happened to pick 9/13/1998 and set-aside four of what turned out to be the most precious tickets I’ve ever purchased.
On that day my 77-year old father, my 24-year old son, and my best friend all joined me at Wrigley Field. They were special seats in a row by themselves near the Cubs’ dugout, guarded at each end by two elderly female ushers. One I remember for sure was named Louise. Their job was to keep people from walking in front of us, thinking that our wide space was an aisle. The 9 special seats were actually added in the middle of what was once an aisle way when the Ryne Sandburg record contract in the early 1992 spurred the team to add revenue by expanding seating capacity. This was allegedly how they paid a portion of his 4-year $27.4 million deal. Nonetheless, we always called them the “Ryne Sandburg” seats and oddly met him down in that area when he accidentally kicked-over my friend’s beer earlier that year on Opening Day. (See Post #283). Louise would occasionally allow celebrities coming off the field to pass in front of us. This is why the beer incident occurred.
Fast forward to September 13th, as the baseball season was coming to an end. Before the game started we had lunch at the Stadium Club, a perk for VIP Season Ticket Holders. They actually served the same hot dogs as the concession stands but on Cubs china at three times the cost. I remember thinking, “wouldn’t it be something if Sammy hit numbers 61 and 62 today.” McGuire had already topped the Maris record at Busch Stadium 5 days before. Sosa had hit his 60th the day before, setting up the historical drama we were about to witness. Wrigley Field was abuzz as we took our seats, spotting Ryne Sandburg and his family a couple of rows in front of us. The 61st came in the 5th inning, lifting us out of our seats. The Cubs were up 8-3 on the Brewers. Sam-mee, Sam-mee! The fans littered the field and caused a long delay.
Sosa struck out in the 7th and came to bat for the final time in the bottom of the ninth down by 2. 480-feet later, he had tied McGuire at 62. There were hugs all around, as we watched the commotion. To make the day even better, Mark Grace homered in the bottom of the 10th for the “W.” Three generations of family and a best friend make the game even more memorable. “Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Holy Cow!”
Nine years later, my wife bought a commemorative brick following a 12-3 victory over the Cardinals. She was at that game with me along with my son and 9-month old grandson. It’s too bad my dad couldn’t be with us to make it four generations. Instead, the brick reads “3 Generations – Mike, Adam, Gavyn.” Dad died in 2014 at 93, just missing the 2016 World Series run. My wife and I were there, thinking of him. So many great memories of Wrigley Field, but none can top Sosa vs. McGuire.
It was alarming to see a Facebook post yesterday with the headline, “Today is the first Memorial Day without a Major League Baseball game since 1880.” A 140-year old tradition wiped out by virus. Even World Wars couldn’t stop baseball! I read the article by Jean Chery. When it does come back, there will be a Universal designated hitter, not just in the American League. This means another strike against the traditionalists, who believe the game should never change. Well, it at least has to adapt – that’s what asterisk (*) is for! If baseball does have an opening day in 2020, it will mean many an asterisk next to shorted season statistics. It might also mean no fans in the stands or restricted crowds and no hot dog vendors. Peanuts may be allowed in sealed packages as will Cracker Jack, but Popcorn will be Out!
Will others now have to wear masks, instead of just catchers and umpires? Coaches will certainly have to if they intend to “get in the faces” of umpires. At least, we won’t be able to read lips. Will players have to practice social distancing on the base paths? These are all questions that are currently being tossed-around the horn, even in jest. The players are ready, as are the TV crews. “Play Ball!” We should at least be watching the game at home where we can eat all the hot dogs we want. Then, once everybody gets warmed-up, we can start to think about fans at the ball parks. Play it Safe!
I missed my last five baseball games due to a rain-out, a funeral, and the Spring Training virus. It’s been over a year since I’ve been to Wrigley Field and nearly two years since I saw at Cub’s W there. It will soon be time for the All-Star Game. Will we still not see a pitch by then? The fans are getting restless and the economy is suffering. I’ve been doing some collecting to keep my love of the game alive. It’s good that the magazines and sports channels have focused on the history of the game these past few months. Even Armando Gallarraga has been in the headlines, still fighting for his perfect game from ten years ago. Historians are having a field day, while signs remain posted at the gates, “No Baseball Allowed.”
It’s the official Memorial Day holiday, yet it feels rather uneventful. For many, it’s a day off of work. Unfortunately, too many are spending it unemployed or unhealthy in these pandemic times. I want to especially take the time to remember those who lost their lives defending our freedom, including my own grandparents and fathers. Thank you just isn’t enough. The sun should be shining in their honor, but instead it’s gray and overcast. Traditional picnics will be indoors at safe social distances. Parades have been cancelled, other events delayed.
My wife is certainly in the patriotic spirit, with table decorations, flowers, and flags to mark the occasion. Tally is wearing her “red, white, blue, and cute” collar to show-off her new haircut. I just finished my run with little else planned for the day. I’m grateful to be alive and well, but anxious to travel again. Regrettably, it will be some time before I’m “Back Home Again in Indiana.”
It just doesn’t seem like Memorial Weekend without the Indy 500, even though I’m thousands of miles away from any action. They did come to Portland last year, so I scored some complimentary seats. It was nowhere near the same! All that frantic scrambling I did through the years to get tickets for friends, family, and clients is just a distant memory. Then, there were house guests that just wouldn’t go away because of race delays as long as a week. Early mornings fighting traffic were always a hassle. A run-away dog once held-up the carefully planned get-to-the-track-on-time schedule. There were also the humorous moments like when I illegally got into a police escort line, speeding by all those stopped by the sirens until they caught me. I also lost my young son, after he ran away angry into the crowd. After searching for hours I found him safely protected by “Mud Man,” a drunken superhero with a muddy cape from diving in the puddles. There was also that race that I arrived at the Speedway in style by helicopter, avoiding all traffic like a real big shot!
I usually spent Race Day trying to get my guests in places where they needed special credentials or invitations. It was a game that more than often turned out successfully, considering all the contacts I made through the years. I miss the fried biscuits and apple butter that were served with Jug’s popular fried chicken. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was my office every May. I sold media sponsorships, driver appearances, car branding, and suite VIP experiences. One Memorial Weekend I even went jet skiing with the Unser and Andretti families. I rarely sat during the race, moving from the infield grass for the start, to the pit or garage areas; to the tower, suites or top row for the best overall perspectives; and finally for the Winner’s Circle for the milk bath. My Gold badge was the key to all this freedom.
These days I could never tolerate the crowds or afford to go by chopper. There are probably not enough VIP credentials as motivation to go. I’d spend all my time searching for another bathroom, that incidentally weren’t always the cleanest. The best seat for me is in front of the TV, listening to the radio broadcast. It will never replace the unforgettable ear-splitting sound of 33 cars on the track at the same time, partially to blame for my present hearing loss. I especially won’t miss the Indiana heat and humidity that could turn to snowflakes the very next day. With the new August date, snow will not be a surprise. We’ll hopefully be on a road trip back to Florida while it’s happening – if it happens?
In these times of no baseball or other popular sports, it’s important to savor the past and why a silly game has so much personal meaning. I blame it on my dad, taking me to games as a kid. High school basketball in our hometown, Notre Dame football, and occasional trips to Chicago for the Cubs or White Sox were bonding moments for us. I used the same magic on my son. I can remember fiddling with the TV antenna to watch a game with either of them, although we had an electronic rotor by the time I became an adult. It sure beat aluminum foil or climbing up on the roof. My son also got to see NBA and college basketball, NFL football, auto racing, and soccer with me. We still share an interest in baseball cards, but he’s more for the Cubs than my White Sox.
My dad started as a Tigers fan, but eventually became a die-hard Cubs supporter. As a grandfather, he lured my son to the Cubs side. I had no choice but to play along, although my loyalties still lie with the Sox. It all comes down to one man, that I’ve never met, but a childhood memory keeps our relationship strong. In the 1959 World Series in glorious black & white, Sherm Lollar hit a home run against the Dodgers, and even though they lost the war, it was at least a battle won, and a lifelong attraction to the number 10 that he wore on his back.
Some may joke that I’m still obsessed with this man who has been dead for 43 years. I did see him play with my dad several times at Comiskey Park, and still know the line-up of those White Sox teams of the 60’s. It wasn’t for another 46 years before they got back the World Series and actually won. I was there for two of the games in the sweep of 4. It’s too bad Sherm couldn’t have been around. Cancer took him at the early age of 53. Although, he did get a World Series ring in New York before he joined the Sox, and one more with the Orioles as the bullpen coach. It’s also a shame that more catchers have not been voted as Hall-Of-Famers, because they are the heart & soul leaders of any team. The glory always goes to the pitcher. Unfortunately, I don’t think he will ever get the defensive credit that he’s long overdue.
I’m not a wealthy man that can spend a lot of money on baseball cards and memorabilia. They were like gold to me growing up, even though I abused a few Yankees on my bicycle spokes. If I had extra money, I would spend it at the neighborhood store on bubble gum packs and trade the duplicates with my friends. As a retiree, I reverted back to childhood and joined a group of collectors, knowing that I couldn’t compete with their high-priced Mickey Mantles or Ty Cobbs. Fortunately, for me Sherm Lollar was not on the Cooperstown wall and therefore his cards were relatively affordable. As it turns out, however, there were hundreds of them made by various manufacturers over his 28 years of playing and coaching, not to mention photos, articles, ticket stubs, yearbooks, score cards, cartoon likenesses, promotional items, and ads. He was even a Trivial Pursuit question, beanie pin, card game, and coin. Sadly, he never got his own bobble-head or figurine, but there were glasses, plastic cups, mitts, catcher’s masks, and stamps bearing his likeness and/or signature. At the end of his career he owned a bowling alley, and provided a post card for patrons to get his signature. I was able to secure one of these, after his nephew sold some of his personal collection.
I have Sherm Lollar’s signature on cards, photos, scraps of paper, and baseballs. My rarest find is his uniform #10 from the first four games of 1956. It’s hard to imagine that I’ve spent over $4,000 on items that mean little to anyone but me. I will probably never recover that investment even if he somehow gets into the Hall. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of a movement on his behalf. I care for his memory and family, but I could have never gathered so much of his past on my limited budget. Granted, there are famous teammates and fellow All-Stars of his on some items, adding to their value. I have him in photos along side of Yogi Berra, Bill Verdon, Al Lopez, Marty Marion, Minnie Minoso, Early Wynn, Frank Hayes, to mention a few.
Over the past month, with little to do, I’ve added to to my Sherm Lollar collection, that has to be one of the largest in existence. A photo of him with Billy Pierce showing off #10, another with Frank and Brooks Robinson, plus a couple of magazine pictures have been recently added to my bulging notebook. A 1960 ticket stub, a team photo from the 1951 St. Louis Browns, and a couple additional magazine clippings are in the mail. Within reason, I’ve vowed to add whatever I can, because within my circle of fellow collectors, that I have been separated from during months of social distancing, I’m known as the “Sherm Lollar Guy” and have the t-shirt to prove it!
The strain and stress of isolation is beginning to distort my sense of personal privacy. I was always taught to refrain from discussing three controversial subjects in life: Religion, Politics, and Bobby Knight. These were the three most debatable subjects while growing up as a Hoosier. I was warned that each could easily destroy any good friendship and create irreparable alienation from others. Through my daily thoughts, I’m hoping to attract others to my words – not drive them away. With this in mind, I will cautiously step to the edge of the religious cliff and reveal some of my secrets. For those of you ready to stop reading, this is not about Coach Knight!
I know that we all would like to believe that after we die there’s a special place we go where we are rewarded for our goodness. I see it as the retirement party that I never had. A lot of things in life for me did not go as planned, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t turn out for the best. I never imagined that I would work for ten different companies, after my dad spent forty successful years at one. I never would have planned being married twice or moving over 30 times. Portland, Oregon was never on my radar, but Florida always was a Heaven on Earth and where I hope to retire next year.
I attended church and vacation Bible schools while I was growing up in Indiana. I never had any issues with following the basic principals of the Commandments, even to this day. They are good rules to live by, and the common foundation of every religion. However, it was always disturbing to me that every organized group of worshipers seemed to portray a superior attitude in their beliefs. Like clubs, fraternities, and sororities, religious affiliation appears to divide more people rather than it brings together. From my perspective, it’s been a alarming observation that 30% of the world are Christians and 70% are arguably wrong.
Heaven and Hell are the two choices we’re given, yet nobody really wants to go to Hell! Heaven could be really boring, filled with people that can do no wrong or at least never get caught. What would there be to talk about, and what does a two-bedroom condo cost there? Are there travel options to Hell and Back, just for a little variety? I’m not one to make fun of beliefs, but all this preaching about one God and two ways of spending eternity, leave me a bit baffled.
I can see where each of us carries a little bit of our God with us at all times. This enables us to distinguish between “Good and Evil.” I don’t see where “going to church” or following a specific God should be like a Walt Disney World Fast Pass to Heaven. You might not even speak his or hers’ language. I think we’ve already proven that our personal prejudices have made it impossible to live peacefully together on Earth, let alone in some other Eden-like world. Like most everyone else, these are questions that I silently ponder every day of my retirement life.
Every day could be my last, but I’m content with the way I’ve led my life. I know that when I close my eyes for the last time, I don’t expect to be transported to paradise, but I will be briefly reunited with those that I have lost. This is the one reward that I think everyone, regardless of good or bad merits, is entitled to experience. A final rush of remembrance. After that, it may simply be eternal sleep, which at times sounds pretty good after too many years of wondering what might happen next?
I’ll save the heated subject of Bob Knight for another time, after I’ve gauged any negative reaction to these thoughts on the after-life. While there may be a place in my heaven for him, I’ve heard too many Purdue fans say, “he can go to Hell!” I think my first wife might have said that of me, but I don’t think she really meant it at the time. Hopefully, we’re both happier with the way things turned out. Life is not a fairy tale, so not everyone will have a happy ending. I hold no animosity for anyone or anything, and if there is a God, I would be the last one to try to upset them. Just get someone where I go that can win a few basketball games for me!
A sad reminder of the state of our sports world arrived in the mail yesterday. I had ordered the Topps Now Opening Day card sets for the Cubs and White Sox, hoping to have them in time to take to Spring Training. Maybe use them for autographs? Needless to say, I’ve been anticipating their long-overdue arrival for months. The kid in me was excited to see which player had personally autographed his card, which is why I paid the overinflated prices. It was like a cheap prize in a Cracker Jack box, a unique bonus only because you found it. Last year, I got one signed by Ian Happ of the Cubs. Who would it be this year?
I still haven’t gotten my money back from the tickets I bought for that March Spring Training game that was canceled between the Sox and Cubs. When the cards arrived yesterday, it prompted another angry e-mail to the broker. Ticket-centers.com had assured a full refund in two to four weeks. It’s now been more than six weeks since the virus struck-out baseball, and they’re still stalling on reimbursement. In the meantime, Major League Baseball is already starting to issue refunds on regular season games that were missed in April. I feel bad for everyone associated with the game from both the financial and “love of the game” standpoints. The current state of the season is still up in the air, like a game-ending pop-up that never seems to drop.
It was supposed to be Christmas, but when I finally unwrapped my card sets, I was immediately filled with disappointment. First, there were no autographs as I anticipated. Some of the photos looked like they were thrown together at the last minute, while there were definite short-cuts in the player descriptions on the back. This was on every Sox card: “With a burgeoning youth movement in full swing, the Chicago White Sox are ready to take the next step in 2020, after adding several key pieces to their promising core.” The Cubs offered: “With fan-favorite David Ross now at the helm, the Cubs will look to reclaim the top spot in the NL Central Division.” In my opinion, it was a pretty lazy effort in highlighting each respective player. Even though Topps surely struggled with player access, I still feel they need to do some make-goods to keep me as a customer.
Baseball, like everything else, will never be the same, even when “normalcy” eventually returns. Discussions continue on playing this season without fans in the stadiums that surround Phoenix. It will be a far cry from my most memorable Opening Day at Wrigley Field on April 3, 1998 when they honored Harry Caray and topped the Expos 6-2. I still have the ticket stub and commemorative pin. Without people in the stands, at the least there won’t be annoying lawsuits from disengaged fans struck by foul balls. I suppose it would be better than no baseball at all, but the real experience is in going to the ballpark. I’m afraid the televised games will be as uneventful as the player descriptions on the back of my new cards. Plus, even if we could go to the games, it would take a six-foot pen to get an autograph. There may be an Opening Day, but there’s really no “open” about it.
I did feel like an “Old Sport” in my running “Shorts” this morning, dragging a sore left leg and extra weight on top of my concrete-like feet. It was slow going on Day #4129 of “The Streak,” thinking of how much longer I’ll be able to maintain this daily routine. I think this viral threat has aged me both physically and mentally. It’s hard to get going every day in a fight against an enemy we can’t see coming. Some of my favorite past-times have been taken away in the process, including basketball and baseball just for starters. As I mourn the lack of sports in my life, I at least wanted to write about it today!
To think I was on my way to Spring Training and in anticipation of March Madness when this whole pandemic started. The hotel where we were staying would soon empty and the restaurants began to slowly shut-down. We got on a plane to fly back, leary of what was to come in the way of self-quarantine, social distancing, and protective gear. My reality was the fact that all sports stopped when at first play was restricted to just fans. At least, we’d be able to watch on TV, but instead we’re stuck on re-play. Out of habit, I continue to check the ESPN app, but unfortunately there’s little to report.
I did run across Tim Kurkjian’s article about baseball uniform numbers and the greatest players in history to wear each one. It struck me because as a kid I was drawn to #10 when it came time to pick a uniform. It was because of my catching hero Sherm Lollar of the Chicago White Sox. I have his 1955 uniform in my collection, along with lots of cards, pictures, and stories about his career. I would imagine that many other kids made similar decisions in Little League based on their favorites.
#10 in the article was assigned to Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves, a top-four Hall of Fame third baseman. He was born as I turned twenty-one. Sherm sadly died five years later. I’m sure there are those that adopted #10 based on Chipper’s popularity. Sherm, I’m sure was far down the list of those wearing the number, since he will probably never inducted into the Cooperstown Club. Chipper’s #10 was ceremoniously retired by the Braves, while infielder Yoan Moncada currently wears it for the White Sox. Sparky Anderson, Dick Howser, Phil Rizzuto, Ron Santo, Tony LaRussa, Tom Kelly, and Michael Young all wore #10 and were honored by their respective teams by not allowing others to ever wear it again. Howser, Kelly, and Young have yet to be inducted nationally.
Kurkjiun reported that the Yankees were the first to put numbers on the back on their jerseys starting in 1929. “The numbers often corresponded to where the player hit the batting order, which is how Babe Ruth ended up with No. 3 and Lou Gehrig No. 4.” Other Yankees secured their place in numbers history with Derek Jeter #2, Joe DiMaggio #5, Mickey Mantle #7, Sherm’s rival Yogi Berra #8, Alex Rodriguez #13, Whitey Ford #16, and Roy Campanella #39. Many of my childhood baseball peers fought over Mickey and Yogi’s numbers, while #10 was usually always available.
Some kids wanted to be #1 like Ozzie Smith or #6 Stan Musial, particularly if they were Cardinals’ fans. #17 Dizzy Dean and the Gaslight Gang was slightly before my time. If you were a Reds’ fan, Barry Larkin #11 or controversial Pete Rose #14 were probably your top uniform choices. Ted Williams wore #9 while Red Sox traitor to the Yankees Johnny Damon #18, Tony Gwynn claims #20, Roberto Clemente #21,Clayton Kershaw #22, “Say Hey” Willie Mays #24, Barry Bonds #25, Wade Boggs #26, and Mike Trout #27. They are each Hall-of-Famers on Kurkjian’s list. With the current trends in free-agency, it’s more challenging for a player to retain the same number throughout their career, particularly if it’s retired by the team they join. Big bucks have also been rumored to change hands during team transitions since the number is part of a player’s brand.
In the higher ranges of uniform numbers, everyone wears No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. Hank Aaron wore #44 on his back, Nolan Ryan #30, Greg Maddux #31, and Sandy Kolfax #32. If you were into base-running speed you might crave the number 35 of Ricky Henderson fame. Orel Hershiser owns #55, the highest number on this particular list. Other pitchers like Goose Gossage chose #54, Don Drysdale #53, CC Sabathia #52, Randy Johnson #51, J.R. Richard #50, Hoyt Wilhelm #49, Tom Glavine #47, Lee Smith #46, Bob Gibson #45, Dennis Eckersley #43, Bartolo Colon #40, Curt Schilling #38, spit-baller Gaylord Perry #36, and Tom Seaver #41.
I’ve been skipping around quite a bit on the ESPN list with preference given to some of my more familiar favorites. For the record, these are all great players, with just a few yet to gain Hall-of-Fame status. The best defensive second-baseman in his opinion was #12 Roberto Alomar, Carlos Beltran tops those wearing #15, followed by #20 Mike Schmidt, #23 Ryne Sandberg of the Cubs, Bert Blyleven #28, Rod Carew #29, Eddie Murray #33, Big Papi, David Ortiz #34, Keith Hernandez #37, and last but not least Torii Hunter #48. At this stage, too many uniform numbers have already been claimed forever, so modern day players will have to start at #56 to make a lasting numerical impression. Who will be the first to wear #100 or #1000? Manny Ramiriez and Aaron Judge have already claimed #99, while Yasiel Puig wears #66. It’s a number game – what’s lucky for you?