Jonah Keri posted something the other day over at CBS Sports about the best players to wear each uniform number. It made me think of an idea I had been kicking around for a while (read: had a filled-out spreadsheet sitting open on my desktop for months), the “Best Players Without a Retired Number, by Number” list, where I basically try and guess the best retired number candidates for each uniform number. This seemed like as good of an excuse as any to see how that experiment would go, so let’s dive right in.
Only 21 players have worn #0 in history (and another 20 have worn #00), and Oliver has far and way the most seasons played and WAR of the bunch. However, the team where he played the longest, the Pirates, was the only one where he didn’t wear #0, so don’t expect this one to get retired any time soon.
Whitaker’s the easy choice here. He should have gotten it last year when the Tigers honored Alan Trammell and Jack Morris’s numbers; maybe it would have finally lit a fire under the Veterans Committee’s butt to elect Lou. The only other potential candidate here is Tony Fernandez; the Blue Jays added him to their Ring of Honor back when that was their highest award, but they’ve since started retiring numbers and not included Fernandez.
#2 is surprisingly weak, for being a single digit number. Only five of them have gotten retired, and one of those is for a manager rather than a player. Tulo basically wins this one by default. If you want to keep it to just Hall of Famers, you could maybe try and get the Cubs to retire it for Gabby Hartett, but he wore #9 for one season more. Failing that…maybe Alex Bregman, Andrelton Simmons, or Xander Bogaerts one day take the lead?
Foxx takes this over A-Rod, with the tiebreaker being that #3 is Foxx’s best option, while it’s a fallback for A-Rod. The A’s have basically decided not to retire numbers from their pre-Oakland days, so this one probably isn’t happening. Shoutouts are also in order for Willie Davis, who’s probably the best player to never appear on a Hall of Fame ballot, and Evan Longoria, who will probably be the next Rays honoree.
Grich wore #4 for his decade with the Angels. If the Veterans Committee ever elects him to the Hall, he’d probably go in as an Angel, and maybe then the team would retire his number. Yadier Molina will probably get his number retired in St. Louis when he’s done as well.
Speaking of players who will get their number retired in St. Louis when they’re done… In the non-Pujols tier, Nomar Garciaparra, Brian Downing, David Wright, and Ian Kinsler all wouldn’t be awful choices in their own right.
Bando was an underrated part of the early-‘70s A’s dynasties. The A’s seem to have stuck to retiring Hall of Fame numbers, and while Bando wouldn’t be at all out of place in Cooperstown, that underratedness carried over into his post-playing days. Stan Hack is maybe the next tier down; he wouldn’t be a bad VC choice at third, and he was a career Cub who wore #6 more than any other number.
He jumped around a lot at the end, but ten of his seventeen seasons came in Cleveland wearing #7 (he also wear it on about half of his non-Cleveland teams). Another guy who fell off the Hall ballot unfairly after just one year. Mark Belanger or Reggie Smith also wouldn’t be awful candidates for Baltimore or Boston to consider. Hall of Famer and Triple Crown winner Joe Medwick is an unlikely choice, but he wouldn’t be too out of place if St. Louis did decide to retire his number. It also strikes me how underrepresented #7 is; Ivan Rodriguez and Joe Mauer being honored since 2017 has doubled the number of 7s retired league-wide. Feels weird for a number usually considered lucky.
Most of the good candidates at #8 have been honored already. I could also see arguments for Albert Belle or Gary Gaetti here, depending on how attached those fanbases are.
The only player who wore #9 for a majority of their career with more WAR than Nettles is Ted Williams. It’s a little weird that the Yankees haven’t honored him, actually, since they’re usually pretty open to retiring numbers. And while they’ve retired 9 for Roger Maris, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve retired a number twice. But there just doesn’t seem to be momentum for it to happen. Maybe he’s another VC option, like Bando?
Grove basically has the same story as Foxx, albeit with a more even split between the Athletics and Red Sox. Still, the A’s decision to ignore the pre-Oakland days is probably the major factor keeping out Grove. Gary Sheffield and Johnny Mize also wouldn’t be bad candidates just based on career numbers, although their careers were split across so many teams that it’s understandable that nobody has made a move on it yet. Ron Cey wouldn’t be a bad choice, although the Dodgers seem to want Hall of Famers only. The Rangers haven’t re-issued it since Michael Young left.
I’m not a huge Phillies fan, but I still think it would be pretty cool to see them one day retire numbers for Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard. Those three meant a lot to what’s basically the Golden Era of the team’s history, and it was a really good core, especially for a modern-era team. Toby Harrah and Bill Freehan wouldn’t be bad choices themselves.
This number is weirdly under-worn, and it’s hard to pick out anyone as especially “likely”. Baker wore #12 everywhere throughout his career (in fact, he wore it more seasons as a player than anyone else in history); maybe if he gets inducted into Cooperstown as a manager, someone will retire it, but even that feels like a long shot. Outside of him, we have guys like Steve Finley and Mark Langston (good, but who would retire their numbers, given that both hopped around a lot and weren’t exactly Hall of Famers?) and Jeff Kent (might make it to Cooperstown, but the Giants are the ones mostly likely to retire his number in that case, and he wore #21 in San Francisco).
Despite the superstitions about #13, there are some good candidates here. Omar Vizquel wore it for most of his career, and there’s a decent chance he goes into Cooperstown. Billy Wagner might also get inducted one day. Ozzie Guillen and Lance Parrish meant a lot to their fanbases. Might it’s hard to top Alex Rodriguez, given his Hall of Fame talent and place on a team that has been very open to retiring numbers. Of course, it’s A-Rod, so we’ll need time to see how things develop, but people definitely seem warmer to him these days than they used to be.
Fun fact: #14 is the second-most retired number in baseball, so there isn’t a wealth of solid candidates here. Julio Franco has the most seasons wearing it without getting it retired, but his career was pretty divided among teams. Vida Blue was popular in Oakland, but is worse than a lot of other A’s without retired numbers. Price kind of wins by default. It helps that the Rays don’t have a long history, so he might win out as the best from a weak bunch (although he’s switched to #24 in Boston). While not a player, Lou Piniella might be the best choice here, since the Mariners haven’t reissued #14 in his honor since he left.
On the flip-side, #15 has only been retired once, but there are a lot of players who make for strong candidates. Dick Allen, Tim Salmon, Tim Hudson, Sandy Alomar Jr., George Foster, and Davey Lopes all wouldn’t look out of place on some teams’ walls. Ultimately, I think it comes down to Carlos Beltran or Jim Edmonds; Beltran has the stronger career, and will probably make it to the Hall first, but Edmonds has a more obvious constituency with the Cardinals (rather than the Royals and Mets splitting a claim to Beltran), and a team that has shown it’s willing to retire numbers for players who don’t get elected to the Hall. I don’t think you can go wrong with either.
Gooden’s far and away the best #16 without a retired number, and is strongly tied to the Mets in my mind. I don’t know if the team would want to retire his number, but he’s definitely better than the other choices here. Jason Giambi, Ray Lankford, and Garrett Anderson could maybe work as fan-favorite candidates, although all would need solid pushes from the grassroots level I imagine.
I’m actually a little shocked the Mets haven’t retired his number yet. Lance Berkman, Mark Grace, and Jim Gantner (who already got it removed from circulation in Milwaukee) wouldn’t be awful choices either, and all seem popular with their main teams.
Every candidate here has flaws, so I’ll go with the player that I’m biased towards. Before injuries and overuse got to him, Kendall was pretty historic, and he’s one of the better players in Pittsburgh’s history. He was also unquestionably the team’s star for about a decade (although it was a really bad decade). Since I’ve mentioned Cey and Lopes, I’ll bring up Bill Russell as well (Garvey already has his number retired, although it’s with the Padres). Similarly, since I mentioned Gooden, I’ll bring up Darryl Strawberry. The Giants apparently are keeping 18 out of circulation since Matt Cain retired. And if someone wanted to claim Gene Tenace, Johnny Damon, Moises Alou, Ben Zobrist, or Andy Van Slyke they’d apply here; all would be fine choices had they stuck more with a single team rather, but as is, they’re probably not tied closely enough to one team.
This one will happen someday. Also worth mentioning: Bert Campaneris (another ‘70s A who’s been ignored), Jay Buhner (no one’s worn it since he retired), Fred Lynn (maybe if he had stayed in Boston with Jim Rice), and Juan Gonzalez (his case would look a lot like Buhner’s, I presume).
#20 is the only number that has been retired more than #14, so Youkilis is kind of the best of a picked-over bunch here.
Wow are there a lot of good candidates here; it’s weird we keep getting these clusters. Sammy Sosa would also work. If Jeff Kent makes it to the Hall and the Giants want to honor him, this would be the number. I increasingly think Curt Flood has a good Hall case, and if the Cardinals decide to honor him, they’d go with 21. The Yankees have basically kept this out of use since Paul O’Neill retired. And Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan primarily wore this number while being really underrated back in the day, but the Pirates have sicne retired it for Roberto Clemente. Bad luck there, Arky.
Another one almost guaranteed to happen, but there are quite a few runners-up, between Will Clark, Brad Radke, Andrew McCutchen, and Roger Clemens’ Yankees days.
Another stacked number. Simmons and Luis Tiant would both make solid VC choices, with the Cardinals’ looser number policy giving the former the edge. Zack Greinke also wore this in Kansas City, where he’s played the most. Kirk Gibson and Robin Ventura are good dark horse candidates for number retirement.
Another really obvious one with a bunch of interesting names behind it on the list. Dwight Evans played almost his whole career in Boston and would be a solid Hall pick. Manny Ramirez is Manny. Robinson Cano wore this in New York, and it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of his career plays out after last year.
A lot of sluggers here, even within the large pool of candidates. I put McGwire as the top one, but I could be persuaded otherwise. Andruw Jones, Rafael Palmeiro, Norm Cash, Tommy John, Bobby Bonds, Carlos Delgado, and Buddy Bell could all have their number retired by a team as is without playing “what if”, I think (although for Bell and John of them, there might be a question of which team honors them, but I think they’d both be strong Hall of Fame picks either way).
Not much to add here after the Rollins blurb. Shout outs to Amos Otis and Boog Powell.
I’d love to see the Cardinals honor Rolen, and maybe an eventual Hall induction can force their hand. Honorable mentions to Giancarlo Stanton, Kevin Brown, Vladimir Guerrero, and Mike Trout (who is probably the single reason Guerrero didn’t get his number retired after his induction).
Posey seems well on his way to accomplishing this. Vada Pinson or Cesar Cedeno would also be acceptable answers, although I can’t say either seems especially likely at the moment.
When I initially sketched this out months ago, Adrian Beltre was the easy choice, but I waited too long and the Rangers announced they’d retired 29 next year. So I guess this goes to Lolich? Maybe Fred McGriff, although he didn’t wear it in Toronto or Atlanta, probably the two places he’s most associated with. Maybe Tim Wallach, if the Expos still existed.
Much like Nettles, Randolph’s lack of popular recognition has probably hurt him, although he would also be a more-than-deserving candidate among Yankees. Maury Wills also wouldn’t be a bad choice here.
Things are going to start to get a little sparse up here. There will still be good candidates (mostly…), but maybe just one per number instead of numerous. That said, Chuck Finley wouldn’t be a bad choice, with nearly 60 WAR and 14 of his 17 years with the Angels.
Like I said…mostly. It probably doesn’t help that Martinez’s best team was the Expos. I guess you could also argue for Milt Pappas here, but I don’t expect his case to take hold.
I’m surprised this one hasn’t happened yet. Maybe next year, when he gets inducted (fingers crossed). The Red Sox already took it out of circulation for Jason Varitek. Jose Canseco might have been here once upon a time, but he’s basically destroyed all of his good will.
Hopefully he bounces back, but I get the sense Seattle is a big fan of King Felix even if this is all she wrote. Also, no one’s worn it for the Dodgers since Fernando Valenzuela.
Now that he’s in the Hall, will the Yankees or Orioles honor him? Maybe both? Justin Verlander and Cole Hamels are also very good candidates, but a little less immediately viable.
I have a feeling he gets a call from the Veterans Committee in the next few years, which might move the Twins to honor him. It’s more plausible than #36 runner-up Jerry Koosman, at least.
Another Ring of Honor guy; maybe the Blue Jays would be motivated to take it to the next level? Also, if the Mets don’t honor Keith Hernandez, he wore #37 with St. Louis.
If he hasn’t burned too many bridges with the front offices, I could see Philly or Arizona honoring him when he makes it into the Hall in 2020 or 2021. Speaking of burned bridges, the guy after him on this list is probably Carlos Zambrano, so if it’s not Schilling, don’t expect any #38s for a while…
He’d be a solid choice for a retired number in my mind regardless of Hall of Fame status, but after the Harold Baines election, maybe Parker makes the Hall someday as well?
He’s still young, but he seems more likely than Frank Tanana or Bartolo Colon at this point.
Kevin Brown and John Lackey also maybe have claims here. It’s not exactly overflowing with good candidates, which will be a recurring theme the rest of the way.
Now that Mariano Rivera is done, we’ve closed the book on 42 appearing in the Majors, since it was retired league-wide for Jackie Robinson back in the ‘90s. Although, fun fact: Mussina, 2020 candidate Vizquel, and 2018 inductee Alan Trammell all wore it at various points as well.
This one isn’t retired league-wide, there’s just aren’t any candidates I can even fake a devil’s advocate case for. Do any of you want to argue for Raul Mondesi or Ken Forsch or something? Knock yourself out.
The Astros really should retire his number and Lance Berkman’s.
45-Steve Rogers? John Candelaria?
Another pretty weak number. Like with Wallach, I’d like Rogers’s chances more if the Expos hadn’t moved, and it will never not be funny to me that Montreal’s (slash-future Washington’s) best pitcher shared his name with Captain America.
Now that he’s in the Hall, the Cubs have an excuse to retire his number. Also worth noting that the Orioles have removed this one from use thanks to Mike Flanagan, although there haven’t really been any new developments on that front for a few years.
47-Johnny Cueto? Lee Smith?
Jack Morris was the easy choice as of last year. If one of Smith’s non-Cubs teams would like to claim him, this is what they’d mostly use. Outside of them, I guess there’s Cueto.
I’ve been advocating for Reuschel to make the Hall for a while now, and when that happens, the Cubs can retire #48 for him. Failing that, maybe the Twins will do something for Torii Hunter.
He had to switch to #41 when he arrived in Boston, since Tim Wakefield got it taken out of use there (although not formally retired yet). Given the weak crop of candidates at #41, Sale might shift to the leader there the longer he stays in Beantown.
I’ve said it before, but I’m kind of shocked the Astros didn’t already retire his number, since he fits their profile to a T. I’m not sure what could inspire them to change their stance, though. Adam Wainwright or Jamie Moyer might also go here. Pick your poison here: the guy who pitcher a short time for one team, or the guy who pitcher a long time for several teams.
It’s definitely happening someday. The Mariners might even retire it twice, honoring Randy Johnson as well at a later date (although he already has it retired in Arizona). Johnson would be the eleventh person with multiple retired numbers if it happens, and the Mariners would become the fourth team with a double-retired number (ignoring the Cardinals and Yankees retiring 42 for players on top of the league-wide retirement). The Cardinals have also basically kept #51 out of circulation in honor of Willie McGee.
I still think he’ll make the Hall someday. Would the Indians or Yankees retire his number, though? Maybe. He seems well-liked enough.
Another highly underrated guy, who’s set to hit the Hall ballot next year. I never understood why he wasn’t as liked in Philly as some of their later guys. Regardless of his reputation, he would still be a worthy retired number honoree.
A bit of a stretch, but then again, he is a Hall of Famer who once played mostly for the Yankees. They usually love to retire numbers for guys like that.
Orel Hershiser or Kevin Appier had better careers and would be fine choices (I’d even argue Appier deserves a Hall of Fame discussion), but the Giants have actually taken #55 out of circulation for Lincecum, so he’s the de facto leader in this conversation.
It would have been Mark Buehrle, but unlike other teams, the White Sox do not mess around when it comes to retiring numbers for local heroes promptly.
I still think he deserved more of a Hall discussion. The Twins honoring his dominance would be cool.
Yeah, this one isn’t happening
He’s been decent, and he’s in Cleveland through 2023 at least. That’s a solid body of work, if nothing else. And unlike Papelbon, he never choked a teammate in the dugout, or grabbed his crotch at booing fans. But yeah, these last few to hit a round number are pretty weak.
Maybe if he goes back to Houston, but that doesn’t look likely at this point. Also, despite only playing seven years, the only player who’s worn #60 for more seasons is Scott Schoeneweis.
I’m going to stop there. There are a handful of players maybe worth mentioning (if we’re getting into the Carrascos and Papelbons, at least) at the higher numbers, but most of them are massive reaches at best, and there aren’t enough to balance out the total zeroes we’ll face along the way. At the very least, though, I think there are some solid candidates from 0 to 60, with maybe one or even two dozen of the players here getting honored eventually.