We are days away from the first Retired Number of the 2020 season.
Or at least, we would be. The Rockies were set to honor recent Hall of Fame inductee Larry Walker with the team’s second-ever retired number (#33) on April 19. Obviously, that’s not happening now, but the 2020 season was looking to be a pretty big year for retired numbers, with six on the slate. I don’t see any reason those won’t happen when things do return to normal, but it is a delay nonetheless.
With no active baseball season to write about, I’ve seen a few more people than normal talking about uniform numbers and such. It makes sense, as the topic is pretty universal, full of interesting history, and not time sensitive. But while I’ve written about them pretty often and extensively, I realized that I haven’t put down comprehensive predictions on who will be next in that regard since my really big series.
So let’s do that; after all, there have been a big change of the overall scope of things since I wrapped that up, with 35 players being honored since my final piece in the Retired Numbers Series (not even counting the additions that happened during the writing process, with teams that I had already covered). This won’t be anywhere as in-depth as that series, but I still want to see what’s changed in the meantime.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed as of especially late was teams going through their backlog of candidates, so to speak. Arguably, there were some things hinting in that direction, with the Mariners retiring #11 for Edgar Martinez in 2017 and the Giants honoring Barry Bonds’s #25 in 2018. They were somewhat jumping the gun, since both players were on the ballots, and usually teams like to wait for actual induction. And maybe Alan Trammell (#3) and Jack Morris (#47) helped move the needle as well, with the Tigers retiring their numbers years after they retired in 2018, following both getting inducted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee that year.
But 2020 has a number of candidates who combined both aspects, with Dave Stewart (#34, A’s), Jerry Koosman (#36, Mets), Will Clark (#22, Giants), and Lou Whitaker (#1, Tigers) all finally getting their numbers retired years after hanging up the spikes and without a Hall induction to their names (yet). I’m not sure what in particular led to each of those (Whitaker in particular seemed like he would have made sense a few years ago with his longtime teammates Trammell and Morris, but maybe they were holding off to see how he fared in this year’s Veterans balloting).
But it feels like that could happen for just about anyone, so I’ll try and throw out one “backlog” candidate each team could surprise us with as well.
Angels-It feels like the answer here shouldn’t be Mike Trout, since he still has so much of his career left to go, but he seems like one of the bigger limiting factors. Vladimir Guerrero would be the more obvious call here following his recent Hall induction, but he also wore #27, so it’s still dependent on Mike Trout. I could see a backlog candidate breaking through since there’s still a while to go here; maybe Chuck Finley (#31), or more plausibly, Tim Salmon (#15), since they’ve kept his number out of retirement since 2007. On the non-player front, I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on retiring manager numbers (Do you wait for a Hall election? Give them a few years to make sure they don’t move to a new team?), but Mike Scioscia (#14) probably hasn’t met it since leaving after the 2018 season. I’d imagine that one happens eventually.
Astros-The next “timely” candidate will either be Billy Wagner (#13) upon election to the Hall, or Jose Altuve (#27) upon his retirement. Altuve is much more certain, but Wagner will be relevant well before Altuve is eligible. As for backlog candidates, do Lance Berkman (#17) or Roy Oswalt (#44) qualify yet? Probably, since both immediately fell off the Hall ballot, so I’m going with them. Those feel like they could happen at any time.
Athletics-Tim Hudson (#15) and Barry Zito (#75) are going to hit the Hall ballot next year, so they still qualify as “recent”. I’m not sure either will make it, but I wouldn't totally rule it out; after all, I was kind of surprised by the Dave Stewart choice. I’m not sure anyone on the current team has a strong enough case to challenge them, in any case. The A’s do have a wealth of backlog options, too: Sal Bando (#6), Bert Campaneris (#19), and Dick Williams (#23) from the ‘70s teams, Tony La Russa (#10), Mark McGwire (#25), or Jose Canseco (#33) from the ‘80s, Eric Chavez (#3) from the 2000s… One of them strikes me as the most likely, although I have no timeframe estimates there, nor any idea which one specifically is the most likely.
Blue Jays-Jose Bautista (#19) is the most promising of any recent candidates. I think the more likely options is honoring one of their “Level of Excellence” members, which looked like it would be their replacement for retried numbers until they retired #12 for Roberto Alomar back in 2011. Dave Stieb (#37), Carlos Delgado (#25), or the late Tony Fernandez (#1) would all be solid options there, as would former manager Cito Gaston (#43).
Braves-Andruw Jones (#25) is still on the Hall ballot, and looks like he will be for a while, so there’s still relevancy in retiring his number. There aren’t a ton of backlog options here, so if not him, I guess the strategy is to wait for Freddie Freeman (#5) to retire
Brewers-Any backlog candidate is going to depend heavily on being a favorite in the community, since there are a ton of overwhelming options here. Maybe someone like Cecil Cooper (#15) or Ben Sheets (#15)? I feel like I'm not plugged into the Brewers fandom to know who might qualify there. Other than that, we’re probably waiting for an active player, whether that ends up being Ryan Braun (#8) or Christian Yelich (#22). Yelich is my guess here.
Cardinals-I’m a little shocked they haven’t announced anything for Ted Simmons (#23) yet following his Veterans Committee selection, although Marcell Ozuna signing with Atlanta frees the number up. Maybe they were planning to announce something later in the year, but there are obviously issues there now. Outside of that, maybe they retire #27 for Scott Rolen once he finally builds the momentum for a Cooperstown selection. Albert Pujols (#5) and Yadier Molina (#4) are givens whenever they call it quits. And Jim Edmonds (#15) is a solid backlog option now that he’s off the Hall ballot. I expect to see a lot of movement here over the next decade, but my money for next is still on Simmons since it’s the most relevant; maybe we’ll here something once things return to normal.
Cubs- Lee Smith (#46) played more with the Cubs than any other team, and they still haven’t made any moves in that direction, but it’s still more relevant and likely than a lot of his competition. Sammy Sosa (#21) is basically an afterthought on the Hall ballot at this point, although he is still on the ballot. I suppose you could argue for fan choices like Mark Grace (#17) or Andre Dawson (#8) as well (although both are still in use).
Diamondbacks-Maybe Curt Schilling (#38), once he’s finally elected to the Hall in a year or two? His time with the team was short but notable, in a way that looks not too dissimilar from recent Phillies honoree Roy Halladay, although surrounding details of the cases are very different. But since the Diamondbacks are so new, there just aren’t really a ton of other options here; maybe Paul Goldschmidt (#44), if he finishes a Hall of Fame career? Or Brandon Webb (#17)?
Dodgers-There are a lot of good backlog options if the team decides it’s finally okay retiring numbers for non-Hall of Famers: Orel Hershiser (#55), Fernando Valenzuela (#34), Ron Cey (#10), Willie Davis (#3), or Gil Hodges (#14), maybe. Valenzuela is the most likely of those (his number is already out of circulation), but if they don’t change that rule, Clayton Kershaw (#22) is the answer here. Mike Piazza (#31) is already in the Hall, so he could supersede Kershaw, but the team hasn’t really indicated they’re going to do anything about it.
Giants-I think it’s Buster Posey (#28), at this point. Jeff Kent (#21) is an interesting complicating factor, though; I don’t think he’s going to fall off the Hall ballot, but I do think he’s going to wear out his ten years. I also suspect that the Veterans Committee might like him a little more, though, and if he does make it in, the Giants are the team he’s most associated with at this point. I don’t know if San Francisco would honor him without something like that, nor do I know if they’d do it even if the VC selected him, but I definitely wouldn’t rule it out in those cases, either. And on the non-player front, Bruce Bochy (#15) is an obvious choice.
Indians-I think Omar Vizquel (#13) will make the Hall of Fame in the next six years before his time on the ballot is up, and I would also bet that the Indians retire his number once that happens. But, if they want a backlog option before then, Kenny Lofton (#7) was great, and deserved better than the one-and-done treatment Hall voters gave him. You could help make up for that, Cleveland!
Mariners-It's Ichiro Suzuki (#51). They might retire Randy Johnson's number (also #51) eventually as well, but Ichiro comes first.
Marlins-I have no idea, at this point. I’ve joked in the past that it would be Gary Sheffield (#10), so I’ll stick with that. It makes more sense than most; he had Hall of Fame career numbers (and he’ll stick around the ballot the full ten years, based on his big improvement this year). Unlike other stars they’re traded, he’s not more closely associated with another team (like Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers, for example), thanks to his frequent moves (in fact, he spent more time in Miami than anywhere else). He’s a Florida native, one of the team’s early stars, and won a World Series there. I still don’t think it’s likely, but it makes some amount of sense, at least, and it’s not like they have many options.
Mets-It’s probably David Wright (#5). Maybe he’ll get beaten to the punch if Carlos Beltran makes it into the Hall first-ballot and goes in a Met (#15). The team could also decide to honor another backlog candidate like Jerry Koosman; Dwight Gooden (#16) would work, as would Gary Carter (#8) and Keith Hernandez (#17), and the latter two already have already had their numbers out of circulation for several years. But Wright’s retirement is fresh enough that it feels like it could happen in the next year or two.
Nationals-It feels like it’s going to be Max Scherzer (#31) at this point. The Nationals basically don’t acknowledge the Montreal days, so he’s not going to have to worry about one of those guys beating him to the punch. The only real competition is Ryan Zimmerman (#11), who might get a pass as the team’s first star (a la Luis Gonzalez in Arizona). That’s not impossible, but it also doesn’t seem as much a lock as Scherzer getting his number retired sometime between his retirement and going in as a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Orioles-I’m going to go with recent Hall of Fame inductee Mike Mussina (#35), since it’s still new enough that there’s no rush. If not him, they have several out-of-circulation numbers (including #7 for Cal Ripken Sr., #44 for Elrod Hendricks, and #46 for Mike Flanagan) that might happen, but I’m not sure what will become the most likely choice if none of those four happen. Maybe Manny Machado (#13), upon Hall of Fame induction?
Padres-Unless they pull a surprise move and retire, say, Jake Peavy’s number (#44), it’s probably going to be someone active and relatively new to the team. Maybe new signee Manny Machado (#13), or sophomore Fernando Tatis Jr. (#23). We won't be seeing anything here for a while, either way.
Phillies-It might be Curt Schilling (#38) or Scott Rolen (#17) once they make the Hall, but they both had shakier relationships with the team. Ditto Bobby Abreu (#51), who will likely fall off the ballot next year. But you know who didn't? Chase Utley (#26), Jimmy Rollins (#11), and Ryan Howard (#6). None of those numbers has been reissued since those players left the team (I thought this was the case with Cole Hamels as well, but bullpen coach Jim Gott wears #35 now). Now that Utley, Rollins, and Howard are all out of the game, though, it definitely frees them up to come back to the stadium for ceremonies, which is helpful because I don't know if they'd retire all three numbers at once. Maybe it wouldn't happen, but as an outsider, it seems like a good idea to me. Charlie Manuel (#41) also feels like one of the likelier managerial options.
Pirates-For their backlog candidate, Dave Parker (#39) seems like a good choice. I don’t know if the VC will inducted him, but I would bet he keeps coming up on ballots since he went the full fifteen years on the regular Hall ballot. That should help keep him in peoples’ minds at least. Andrew McCutchen (#22) is looking like the active player with the best chance. It’s not the weirdest number to fall out of use, but it feels worth noting that no one has worn #22 since McCutchen left, making them one of the few teams in the league with no one on the number.
Rangers-They knocked out their recent options, between Ivan Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, and Michael Young, so a backlog option strikes me as more likely. There are several directions they could go here: either an older star like Buddy Bell (#25) or Jim Sundberg (#10), or a more recent star, although most of their biggest unhonored recent stars also have other issues (most notably Rafael Palmiero (#25), Juan Gonzalez (#19), and Josh Hamilton (#32)).
Rays-It’s hard to say who it would be besides Evan Longoria (#3), but it seems like the team is leaning in that direction anyway. No one on the team has worn his old number since he was traded over two years ago, which is really uncommon for a single-digit number like that. Every team that hadn’t retired it already had someone wear #3 last year except for Tampa, who is now on year two without it. Seems like a removal from circulation to me.
Red Sox-Another team that has cleared out their most obvious candidates the past few years. The biggest remaining recent stars all have big question marks against them, including Manny Ramirez (#24) and Roger Clemens (#21). Clemens, Tim Wakefield (#49), and Jason Varitek (#33) have all seen their numbers removed from circulation. More immanent, though, might be Dwight Evans (#24), the underrated star who finally reached the Veterans Committee ballot this past winter and debuted at 50% of the vote. As his likelihood of induction increases, I'd expect so do his chances at a number retirement. And I'm not sure what the team's stance is on managers, but Terry Francona (#47) feels like he has at least decent odds.
Reds-Joey Votto (#19) is the most likely choice. Maybe a backlog choice like Vada Pinson (#28) or George Foster (#15). The opportunity for the Reds to pull a surprise Ken Griffey Sr./Jr. (#30) joint session in the wake of the latter's Hall election has probably passed. But I'd guess Votto's number is on the wall before the end of the decade.
Rockies-Now that they've taken care of Todd Helton and Larry Walker, they just have to wait for Nolan Arenado (#28) in a decade or so, unless they chase him off. There aren't a ton of other options outside of that; I'm not sure they'd do anything for, say, Troy Tulowitzki (#2), or Carlos Gonzalez (#5). I guess it's not out of the question, though?
Royals-This one is tricky, surprisingly. Maybe Carlos Beltran (#15) or Zack Greinke (#23) when they make the Hall of Fame? They have several good backlog choices as well, including Bret Saberhagen (#18), Amos Otis (#26), Willie Wilson (#32), and Kevin Appier (#55). #29 has been taken out of use for Mike Sweeney and Dan Quisenberry. But the best choice is probably someone from those 2014-2015 teams. Alex Gordon (#4) would be my guess. If they end up valuing Hall of Fame selections, then I'd bet on Greinke or Beltran, but that hasn't been the case so far. And of course, Ned Yost (#3) probably has a good shot as well.
Tigers-Now that Morris, Trammell, and Whittaker have been taken care of, the Tigers' number backlog is looking a lot less overwhelming. But that's okay, because they have Miguel Cabrera (#24) and Justin Verlander (#35) both right around the corner.
Twins-The team wasted no time in retiring Joe Mauer's number, leaving us bereft of the obvious choice. The only retired numbers I could see happening within the next decade are less-likely backlog options. Maybe perennial VC candidate Jim Kaat (#36) if he makes it. Brad Radke (#22) or Johan Santana (#57) are decent options from more recent Twins teams.
White Sox-The White Sox have been pretty good at retiring their numbers, and have already honored Paul Konerko and Mark Buehrle. Their backlog options are consequently much less interesting than other teams. Wilbur Wood (#28)? Robin Ventura (#23)? Neither seems likely. For active stars, Chris Sale (#49) is the most likely I guess, given his Hall pace, but he also was traded away pretty young for a retired number candidate. The real answer here is probably Ozzie Guillen (#13).
Yankees-Do they retire #13 for Alex Rodriguez when he hits the Hall of Fame ballot in 2022? They're already holding it out of use, so I'm kind of expecting it to happen at some point. They've otherwise handled their other recent numbers pretty swiftly, and a lot of their active options have a lot of question marks due to their youth, or have even more question marks to their case than A-Rod (Robinson Cano, #24). Surprisingly, they also have a number of strong backlog choices, despite their wealth of already-retired numbers, including Willie Randolph (#30) and Graig Nettles (#9); those two in particular have the benefit of being good VC candidates, which could return them to prominence. And #21 is still out of use, thanks to Paul O'Neill.