We’re now in the back half of this trip through the league. Having covered the AL East (quiz, article), the NL East (quiz, article), and the AL Central (quiz, article), we now move on to the next division, the NL Central. As I mentioned last time, the two Central divisions have the oldest teams on average, which makes things a little more difficult. But I still don’t find this one on the whole to be as tough as the AL Central; their NL Central counterparts just don’t feel like they’ve picked over their retired number options quite as thoroughly.
When you’re ready, you can play the quiz HERE, then return after you’re finished to learn more about the answers. As a reminder, players must have worn a uniform number on the team in question for at least three seasons. Since none of these teams have moved, the only bonus answer this time is a Hall of Famer for the Reds who didn’t reach that three-year minimum.
#21 Sammy Sosa (1992-2004, 58.8 WAR)
#9/#2 Gabby Hartnett (1922-1940, 55.9 WAR)
#6 Stan Hack (1932-1947, 54.8 WAR)
#48 Rick Reuschel (1972-1981, 1983-1984, 49.1 WAR)
#17 Mark Grace (1988-2000, 44.2 WAR)
#38 Carlos Zambrano (2001-2011, 43.2 WAR)
Sammy Sosa left the Cubs on pretty bad terms, and the last I heard, ownership still holds a grudge against him. Which is mostly shocking because the current owners aren’t even the ones from when he played on the team; they never even had to interact with him. The fact that this grudge has lasted multiple owners is pretty ominous; it seems a little silly for the new owners to care about that as much, but whatever. I think absent that, it still wouldn’t be a sure thing, given the general disdain for players tied to steroids. But if Barry Bonds could get a retired number in San Francisco, it’s not crazy to imagine a world where Sammy’s long tenure in Chicago and remaining goodwill to the 1998 home run chase put him over the line with the Cubs, even if it wasn’t enough to help him in Hall of Fame voting. And speaking of players burning bridges on the way out, that all probably applies to Carlos Zambrano as well; until there’s some indication of the team and player burying the hatchet, don’t expect much to change here.
Gabby Hartnett was an early-enough star that he only wore uniform numbers in the second half of his career, and he swapped them more often than most players, but I still feel like it’s better odds than those for a player who never wore uniform numbers at all. This has come up several times, but my general sense is: with Hall of Fame players closely associated with the team like this, I don’t know that it’s ever too late for the team to decide to retire their number, but it does get more difficult the further we get from their career. Like, Hartnett has been dead for nearly five decades, and I’m not sure how many people would come back if they had a ceremony for him. They could still do something else that doesn’t require all of that, but at a certain point, we need some sign they’ve changed their mind after years of not-retiring his number.
A lot of that goes for Stan Hack, Hartnett’s teammate and an underrated third baseman. He also falls into the problem I mentioned last time with Robin Ventura, where third base is so underrepresented in Cooperstown that Hack’s not even the top tier of snubs, so he has quite a bit of waiting to even get considered. If we’re doing overlooked stars, Rick Reuschel seems like a much better choice, as a pitcher who has been highlighted due to more modern analysis and as someone who has played four decades more recently than Hack. That hasn’t translated into increased Hall support just yet, but it could. As for a retired number, we still need some indication that the team’s thinking on him has changed, but you can at least see what could cause a hypothetical change.
Mark Grace might be the most likely candidate here, depending on how we weight the lingering anger at Sammy Sosa and Carlos Zambrano. He’s not going to get Hall consideration or anything, but he did spend a long time in Chicago, played pretty well, and was recent enough that they could just invite him back for a recent nostalgia night and it wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary. Of course, Kris Bryant is still using his #17, but I guess if the trade rumors about him come true, having a retired number night for Grace could make use of the freed-up number and help make up for the lower attendance they’d likely see the next year (for one night, at least).
#19 Joey Votto (2007-Present, 61.8 WAR)
#28 Vada Pinson (1958-1968, 47.7 WAR)
#31 Bucky Walters (1938-1948, 43.8 WAR)
#15 George Foster (1971-1981, 39.5 WAR)
#27 Jose Rijo (1988-1995 & 2001-2002, 38.0 WAR)
#46 Jim Maloney (1960-1970, 37.8 WAR)
Joey Votto is in that top tier of “most likely future retired numbers”, at least in my mind, along with your Clayton Kershaws and David Wrights and Ichiros and what-have-you. I hope he can keep chugging along for the rest of his contract to build up better totals and really sway the more obstinate Hall of Famers, but luckily, the Reds seem okay with retiring numbers for players who aren’t in the Hall, so it’s not as big a deal for the purposes of this article, at least.
I wonder if Vada Pinson’s biggest issue wasn’t timing. Being traded away right before the dawn of the Big Red Machine era probably helped overshadow his quite solid career in Cincinnati. Obviously, if he had come up a decade later, I imagine there would be a bigger push for his number to be retired, but even something like four years later might have helped, and made the lasting image of him the veteran for all the new young talent who hung around just long enough to see the start of the success (and of course, maybe pushing them over the top in some of those years. He’s good enough to get a retired number if they want to do so as-is, but maybe that would have made it happen sooner. It probably also doesn’t help that he was a little underappreciated back in the day. For instance, Pinson has four All-Star Games, but only from two seasons, since this was back when there were two of them a year. Meanwhile, he finished top ten in the MVP voting two other years where he didn’t make the All-Star team, plus he had a few other good seasons where he got no notice. Such is the curse of the well-rounded center fielder.
Skipping ahead to Jim Maloney, he probably suffers similarly. He did make it to 1970 with the team at least, but he was basically done at that point, whereas Pinson still had some good seasons left in him when he was traded away. Honestly, in most ways, Maloney’s case looks like Pinson’s, but slightly worse (better than he looked, a little underappreciated, but not quite as much as Vada). Once again, it wouldn’t be shocking if the team decided to honor him, but he does have the added difficulty of being the second banana here, so any retirement would likely bring the question of “why him before this other player?”.
Of course, George Foster might be the cautionary tale to those “what if” scenarios. The former MVP was a key part of the Big Red Machine as well, but hasn’t seen his number retired yet either, possibly because he didn’t quite stack up as well against Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and the rest. To be fair, six of the ten Reds retired numbers do come from that era, so I guess I can understand the reasoning to maybe hold off a little. But honestly, I think if they wanted to, they could get away with another one. It’s not often you see a team so dominant they get a nickname like that. And if they did decide to retire another number from that era, Foster would be the easy choice. It’s not like there are a ton of other players from those teams close to him in value without retired numbers, so it’s easy to draw a line after him. And given that Dave Concepcion and Pete Rose are both not in the Hall of Fame, that’s hardly a detriment for Foster’s case.
Bucky Walter is a fascinating what-if in a different way. He got his start as a mediocre infielder who was converted to a pitcher late in his fourth season in the majors, at the age of 25. He really came into his own on the Reds five years after that, eventually winning the 1939 MVP and 1940 World Series with the team. You could maybe justify retiring his number, in much the way you could with Stan Hack earlier. He’s maybe not a Hall of Famer (thanks to that relatively-late reinvention), but that was an impressive run with the team. If it happened a few decades later, when retired numbers were more common, it’s plausible he would have gotten his number retired, with his inspirational personal story a fun factor to push him over the edge. Also, starting as a pitcher from the beginning might have gotten him to Hall-level performance on the whole and gotten him a retired number that way, although maybe he doesn’t find his way to the Reds in that scenario. Either way, I’d need to see some indication the team has changed their thinking on this matter before calling it likely.
And then, there’s Jose Rijo. If you were arguing for him to get a retired number, your best argument would probably be “he’s the team’s best pitcher in the last 70 years”, since Walters. Which maybe says more about the Reds than Rijo himself. Of course, it’s not hard to imagine a world where Rijo was healthy enough in his early 30s to actually build towards a retired number the usual way, one where he doesn’t miss all of 1996 through 2000. Of course, the devil’s advocate here might point out that that perseverance to eventually work his way back in inspiring enough that it might be worth commemorating in and of itself. Of course, it helps that there was actual success mixed in there as well, including some Cy Young-caliber seasons and the 1990 World Series MVP Award. All in all, probably not likely, but I also don’t think it would be ridiculous if it actually happened.
Also, the bonus answer I mentioned back at the start is Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey, who didn’t have a uniform number until his final two seasons.
#8 Ryan Braun (2007-Present, 46.7 WAR)
#15 Cecil Cooper (1977-1987, 30.8 WAR)
#49 Teddy Higuera (1985-1994, 30.3 WAR)
#7 Don Money (1973-1983, 28.4 WAR)
#26 Jeff Cirillo (1994-1999 & 2005-2006, 26.2 WAR)
#15 Ben Sheets (2001-2008, 22.8 WAR)
This is a tough bunch; I think the Brewers are in the running with the White Sox and Braves (and maybe Twins?) for the most difficult set of players to guess. Maybe some of that is that the Brewers haven’t always gotten a ton of attention nationally, but that’s still only part of the equation. Half of these players having below 30 WAR is difficult to work with as both a trivia player and a retired number advocate, and it’s hard to see Money, Cirillo, or Sheets getting retired numbers with those numbers. Higuera is only moderately better, although I think he could have been a dark horse candidate had he not struggled with injuries.
Cecil Cooper is only a little ahead of him, but has substantially better chances for a couple of reasons. His career consisted of more than just his Brewers days, and he got more attention overall (finishing with more All-Star appearances and award votes than Higuera). Still, his case doesn’t seem especially overwhelming.
Braun has a case that would look like a favorite for a retired number one day, but that will also depend on good will. His positive steroid test killed a lot of good will around the league, and while I really don’t know exactly how he’s received within the Brewers fanbase, I’d imagine it dampened enthusiasm for him as well. That’s probably more than enough to stop any momentum he had towards a retired number. Maybe I’m missing something? Probably not, though.
#21 Arky Vaughan (1932-1941, 67.8 WAR)
#24 Barry Bonds (1986-1992, 50.3 WAR)
#19 Bob Friend (1951-1965, 42.3 WAR)
#22 Andrew McCutchen (2009-2017, 40.4 WAR)
#39 Dave Parker (1973-1983, 34.8 WAR)
#45 John Candelaria (1975-1985, 34.0 WAR)
It’s hard to think of anyone more blocked than Arky Vaughan. Even retiring #21 a second time would feel kind of silly, given how large Roberto Clemente looms in Pirates history. Honestly, it might be more likely that the team just retires a P with his name under it, or adds his name or initials to their retired numbers section; neither would be unprecedented, even for a player who wore numbers in his career.
I don’t foresee anyone outside of the Giants (who have already retired his number) warming up to Bonds in the near future, so we can probably skip ahead. Bob Friend would be a reasonable retired number choice if the team decided to run with it. Like with many long-retired players, the big question is what it would take to prompt it. Friend probably won’t be getting any Hall consideration in the near future (his career is basically just his Pirates days). If they decide to retire his number, it wouldn’t be shocking, I just don’t expect it (although I expect the pitcher who passes him for the title of “Best Pitcher in Team History” will probably be a strong contender). John Candelaria probably falls into this territory as well; he had a fine career, although Friend was slightly ahead of him in most categories.
The two most likely names here are far and away McCutchen and Parker. I’ve noted before that teams not circulating a number can indicate that they intend to retire it, or are at least considering doing so, in the future. No player or coach in Pittsburgh has worn #22 since Andrew McCutchen was traded away after 2017. And while a number can sometimes not be used in a year due to chance, especially a double-digit number like #22, failing out of use for multiple seasons like that is unusual, and likely not an accident; every other team in the majors has issued #22 between 2019 or 2020 except for the Orioles and Giants, both of whom have retired it. And this could lead to a fun fact, if Pittsburgh does retire it: the Giants decided to retire it recently for Will Clark, after years of letting it circulate. The last player to wear it prior to them deciding to retire it and removing it from circulation? Also Andrew McCutchen, on his 2018 stint with the team, meaning he would be the final player to wear #22 on two different teams.
Speaking of, the Will Clark scenario is the type of situation the Pirates would face if they decided to honor #39 for Parker, so it clearly isn’t impossible. He had a better total career than Friend or Candelaria, which likely helps his case. Being a perpetual Veterans Committee candidate can’t hurt; if he makes it in that way, I imagine the Pirates would certainly retire his number. And if he doesn’t, the extra consideration he’s gotten that way might be enough to convince the team to retire his number anyway. I don’t know that I’d call him “likely” yet, I’d say has a better chance than anyone in this article so far outside of McCutchen and Votto (although the Cardinals are kind of hoarding a lot of the favorites in this division).
St. Louis Cardinals
#5 Albert Pujols (2001-2011, 86.6 WAR)
#23 Ted Simmons (1968-1980, 45.0 WAR)
#21 Curt Flood (1958-1969, 42.3 WAR)
#50 Adam Wainwright (2005-Present, 41.0 WAR)
#4 Yadier Molina (2004-Present, 40.3 WAR)
#7 Joe Medwick (1932-1940 & 1947-1948, 39.8 WAR)
It’s hard to think of another team’s top six where I expect to see more movement in the near future. The first mover in this case will probably be Ted Simmons, who, as you may recall, made the Hall of Fame last year (although the ceremony has been delayed to 2021 due to the pandemic). If there was a time to retire his number, it would be now, and there are indications that it is indeed happening, despite the lack of an announcement so far. Wikipedia claims that the number is out of circulation, but that claim is unsourced. I was unable to find anything definite on that regard, however my own research did determine a few interesting facts:
1) 2020 marked the first year since Simmons was traded away where #23 was not in use by anyone on the Cardinals, player or coach.
2) This was especially interesting considering the Cardinals saw a lot of turnover thanks to their COVID scare, with numbers being issued to 25 pitchers, 19 position players, and 15 coaches. #0 was issued for just the second time in team history, and #74 and #84 made their first ever appearances. Jesus Cruz and Genesis Cabrera wore #86 and #92, respectively, becoming the first players on any team in MLB history at those numbers (also of note: as of this year, every one- or two-digit number, including both #0 and #00, has now been worn by an MLB player).
3) While it’s not as conspicuous an absence as, say, the Rays not having a #3, #23 is still pretty unusual. Two-thirds of the league had it issued to a player in 2020, and four more had it issued to a coach. Add in the Tigers, Cubs, and Yankees, who have already retired it, and it makes the Cardinals one of just three teams, along with the Dodgers and Brewers, to not have a #23 this season (all three used it in 2019).
So while it’s definitely not guaranteed, that certainly seems like what a team retiring a number would do. And if, come the start of next season, no one is set to wear it in 2021, that makes it even more likely. My guess is they planned to announce it early in the year for a game later in the summer, and just decided to postpone it until 2021 like all the other teams that announced number retirements did.
#5 is a lot more obvious. No one has worn it since Albert Pujols left, and of course they’re going to retire it when he’s done. The only big question is whether they wait until he’s inducted into the Hall or just pull the trigger when he retires; we should be getting an idea soon, since his deal with the Angels is up after 2021.
And then we have the modern duo, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. Yadi seems like a sure thing no matter what happens to him on the Hall of Fame ballot, although at this point, I think he’ll do pretty well for himself there, even if he doesn’t go in first-ballot. It feels a little like Vladimir Guerrero, where the stats said he was closer to the Hall’s borderline but writers liked him enough to put his case well over the top.
Wainwright, in comparison, feels a little more complicated. I don’t think his Hall case will go anywhere as far, and that reputation difference might hurt his retired number case as well. The Cardinals have been willing to retire numbers for non-Hall players in the past, but they also might be a little wary after retiring #4 and #5 so close together; I do think some teams hold off based on that sort of reasoning, a fear that retiring multiple numbers close together means they’re getting too lenient in their standards regardless of the quality of players actually involved, although I haven’t been able to test that. As a Cardinals fan, I think he’s meant a lot to the team, and would like to see it, although I’ve felt that for several other players who haven’t gotten their numbers retired yet. As a retired number scholar, I think he’s well qualified, and also, it would kind of be fun to see another #50 retired (so far, on my Sporcle quiz asking players to name a player at each retired number, #50 is far and away last place, and Wainwright is the biggest change I can see there for the next decade before Mookie Betts retires, outside of the Mariners surprising everyone and honoring Jamie Moyer or something).
And then we have the less pressing cases. I’ve mentioned a few times that I think Curt Flood probably deserves some sort of recognition for his role as a trailblazer, whether a retired number or a spot in the Hall of Fame (although the latter might jump start the case for the former). Another low-likelihood but interesting thing is the possibility of the league retiring #21 league-wide for Roberto Clemente; it’s more an idea that’s always floating around rather than something that seems imminent, but if it does go through, I could see the Cardinals adding something for fellow trailblazer Flood. It’s an interesting match of players, and it wouldn’t be the only time the team has done that (honestly, it feels much more fitting a pair than their Bruce Sutter-Jackie Robinson duo on #42).
Joe Medwick is interesting. He was a star for the 1930s Cardinals, and remains the most recent winner of the NL Triple Crown. He wouldn’t be the worst retired number, but it does sort of lead to the question of what would trigger such an event? Medwick has been retired for over seven decades and in the Hall of Fame for over five. He did make the Cardinals Hall of Fame when they started it in 2014, so he isn’t totally forgotten, but as-is, it would require something of a change of pace for them.
Since there are so many cases that look like they’ll be retired soon, I also looked down the list a little further. I was hoping it might be a star whose Hall of Fame case could use a boost, like Jim Edmonds or Keith Hernandez, or maybe a recent underappreciated star who isn’t quite Hall-level, like Ray Lankford. Or maybe even an underappreciated Hall of Famer with an interesting case, like Johnny Mize. Someone who quiz players might know once I update it. Those four represented places eight-through-eleven, though. Currently, seventh place is Harry Brecheen, who’s slightly more obscure. Control problems, the doubts of Branch Rickey, and a stacked rotation kept him in the minors (with one short exception) until his age-28 season, but he finally got a chance in 1943. I’m not super familiar with him, but I do wonder if he’d be more well-known had he gotten a chance before then (his 41.2 pitching WAR is 60th all-time from the age of 28 on). He might have gotten a retired number had he stayed to coach the Cards after retiring as a player, but instead he joined the Browns and continued with them to Baltimore, where he helped guide the Orioles’ plethora of young pitchers in the ‘60s. So maybe not the best answer for trivia-guessers, but definitely an interesting story!