To celebrate the 300th post at Hot Corner Harbor, I’m taking a look at my favorite topic in a way that I’ve wanted to for a while now. One thing that I began wondering about a lot while working on the Retired Numbers Series was the rate that different teams retired numbers. For example, both the Astros and the Pirates had nine retired numbers, but those nines were not arrived at through similar means at all. So what does each team look like on a rate basis?
Well, that’s a tricky question. First of all, not every retired number is retired equally. Specifically, there are four that are a little different. When writing my series, I covered every retired number, but for the purpose of a study, I threw out a few. First of all, the (rather ridiculous, to be completely honest) 455 retired by the Cleveland Indians is gone. It really has no predictive value, and relatively little historical value (that’s no longer even the sell-out record).
A little more significant were the more tragic numbers. The Reds (Willard Hershberger), Marlins (Carl Barger), and Astros (Jim Umbricht and Don Wilson*) have all retired numbers for deceased team members. This didn’t seem to have much predictive value either, as tragic as they were. In two of the cases, the teams even un-retired the numbers later. And given how other similar cases from recent years (Josh Hancock, Darryl Kile) haven’t had the same reaction (Hancock’s number has since been reissued, although Kile’s still remains out of service on all three of his teams), I think it’s fair to question the predictive value of these.
*Wilson was a tough call, especially since I’m an advocate for J.R. Richard to get a retired number. In the end, though, Richard had so much more recognition and such a good peak (that was cut short) that I feel like he makes a more viable candidate, even with both tragic backstories considered.
I did keep numbers like Augie Busch’s 85 or Jimmie Reese’s 50 in the study, as while they were not for players, they were for service to the team. That still seems predictive to an extent, even if it’s not as easily predictable as players and managers.
With all of that out of the way, now is time to move on to the numbers. I think the best way to present this data is in a spreadsheet. After all, and Excel File is worth a Thousand Words. Or cells of data. Something like that. I always mess that idiom up.
Some quick information on what you just witnessed: there are three sheets. The first one is exactly what you’d expect. The team, the number of years they’ve existed, the year they started, years per retired number, and numbers retired per decade. After that, I took the average, the highest rate (the Yankees here) and the lowest (Blue Jays) and shown where each team would be if they retired numbers at that rate (plus the difference between that number and how many they’ve actually retire). Then, I took those three rates plus their actual rate and projected 20 years out.
Sheets two and three are more of the same, but with different start points. Sheet two starts from the first year a team retired a number. For example, it may sound impressive that the Dodgers retired ten numbers since they began play in 1884. However, it becomes even more impressive when you learn they didn’t retire their first number until 1972. As a result of this change, the Astros and Mets replace the Yankees and Blue Jays as the top and bottom rates. The third sheet uses the first year the team has numbers as a start point instead. Again, it seems odd to use 1884 as the Dodgers’ start date when the team didn’t even use numbers until 1932.
Now then, on to the numbers. The average for the first sheet came out to just under fifteen years per number, or two every three decades. The second sheet (from first retired numbers) had an average of six years between numbers, with over three every twenty years per team. That one seems the most accurate given the high quantity of ceremonies in recent seasons. The third set (from first season with numbers) comes out to an average rate of twelve years per number, or four numbers every five seasons. If I actually wanted to build a model to predict the future rates, I’d probably use the second rate. However, I do wonder how teams “catching up” on their history will affect it, as well as the steroid backlash.
On the complete history sheet: of course the Yankees have the highest rate. The Astros and Padres are a surprising two-three, though. Or rather, their ranking came about in a different way than the Yankees' has. At the bottom are the Blue Jays and Rangers. I’d probably call the Rangers the absolute bottom here. At least the Blue Jays have their alternate-recognition Level of Excellence. It’s interesting that the two Texas teams represent exact opposite ideologies.
The extremes are funny to see, too. I don’t think I could legitimately think of 16 Orioles I think deserve to have their numbers retired, as a rather liberal Orioles fan. I would probably put my personal rates somewhere between that and the average, though.
The 20-Year projections are a little weird, too. For example, I can’t see the Yankees only having 19 retired numbers in 2033, or the Cardinals only having 14 by then. I mean, the Yankees only retiring three by then means you have to pick three from a list including: Joe Torre, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, CC Sabathia... Who do you pick? I guess Torre, Rivera, and Jeter, but even then, it’s hard to justify not retiring some of those numbers.
I’d also be interested in seeing how the Rockies and Mariners look in the next few years. With Todd Helton retiring after this year, and Ken Griffey, Jr. coming up on the ballot soon, they should move from undefined soon.
The second sheet sees the the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays at the top thanks to small sample size weirdness. The Astros have a more legitimate claim to the top spot, with seven numbers retired in 22 years. I don’t think they’ll double their number of retired numbers by 2033; even with their current youth movement, twenty years seems a little too soon to see the results paying off like that.
I also think it’s weird the Mets fall at the bottom. Mike Piazza should come soon, though, right? And David Wright is as obvious a future candidate as exists today. It’s also weird that the Yankees slide to ninth place, although the max projection of six retired numbers in the next two decades seems more on par with my expectations. Again, I think it’s also interesting that the two New York teams are on such opposite ends of the spectrum for retired numbers.
Also, again, I’d be curious to see the bottom of this list in a few years. Both the Mariners and Rockies already have three deserving candidates to work with, right? I mean, the Rockies have Larry Walker, Helton, and Troy Tulowitzki. The Mariners have Griffey, Ichiro Suzuki, and Edgar Martinez (not even getting into the still-active Felix Hernandez). Maybe the Rockies will happen, but I’d almost guarantee the Mariners go over that mark. No idea what the Marlins will do, though.
The third sheet is very similar to the first. Half of the teams don’t change. The numbers change a little for the original sixteen teams, but the conclusions don’t change much. It’s mostly just a more reasonable idea of what to expect from those teams. And even then, most of them don’t change a huge deal.
It is interesting to see the Cardinals jump up to second place in rate. The A’s fall down to just above the Mets, although I’d be interested in seeing how they’d do if I removed all but their Oakland years. Actually, I’d be a little curious to see how all of the relocated teams would do if I just counted the years since they moved.
What makes relocated teams harder to account for is that there was no single unified response among relocated teams. The Orioles and Twins, you can kind of understand. Both were awful and changed their names upon moving, so maybe there’s less of a connection; therefore, no retired numbers for the Browns or Senators. And let’s be honest, there wasn’t a lot to even pull from there. Baltimore, you get George Sisler and not much else (Harlond Clift maybe? A lot of the other options didn’t even have numbers). For Minnesota, Walter Johnson didn’t have a number, so you get players like Goose Goslin or Sam Rice as your best options.
But then, the Braves, A’s, Dodgers, and Giants all kept their names, and only the A’s have decided to totally ignore their pre-move years. Even the Braves, who similarly played in three cities, acknowledged both Boston and Milwaukee players. Seeing that makes me want them to honor Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove (at a minimum, possibly Al Simmons too) even more.
Anyway, there’s a lot to digest in these numbers. These are just the things that immediately jumped out at me. Feel free to poke around a little more, though.