Over the years, various athletes in the major sports become associated with specific jersey numbers. Of course, occasional situations may prevent those athletes from donning their favorite digits…or else they may choose to change numbers for a specific reason. This edition of TSOMB will cover a baker’s dozen worth of numerology oddities in the NFL, NBA and MLB.
Frank Robinson: Currently #20 as the field boss of the Washington Nationals, and also #20 in most of his previous playing and managing stops, his single season with the Los Angeles Dodgers (1972) found him wearing#36, instead, as the incumbent 20, Don Sutton, wouldn’t let the number go. His 1972 spring training jerseys were 1971 flannels issued to a player named Galiher who never made a regular season roster, but had #36 uniforms prepared, just in case. Check out his 1972 and 1973 Topps cards, numbers 754 and 175 (the latter airbrushed to remove the Dodgers script) for evidence.
Duke Snider: Legendary as a Dodger and Met clad in jersey #4, his brief, career-ending stint with the San Francisco Giants in 1964 found him wearing #28 jerseys originally made for bonus bay pitcher Bob Garibaldi. Advanced collector Delbert Mickel spoke with Snider about the number oddity many years ago, caused by the then-unissued (and since retired) status of #4 on the Giants (for Mel Ott).
Michael Jordan: The 1990-91 Hoops card #223 of Orlando’s Sam Vincnet shows a 1-game eye-opener…MJ in a red 1989-90 Sand-Knit Bulls top bearing #12, necessitated by a uniform theft before the Bulls-Magic clash in question.
Tim Raines: As a Montreal Expos rookie in 1979, Raines, better known as #30 for most of his days in double-knits (including his current go-round as a White Sox coach), was issued #32, as evidenced by his 1981 Donruss card #538. Rock also ran into a brief stint as #32 with the 2002 Florida Marlins, until Cliff Floyd (the incumbent #30) was traded.
Jim Otto: The Hall of Fame AFL/NFL center, well known as one of pro sports’ first prominent double-zero wearers, saw action for a few years early in his career in the more traditional center digits 50. See Otto’s 1965 Topps #145 for a photo example.
Gary Carter: “The Kid”, a wearer of #8 most of his career, came up in late 1974 with the Montreal Expos in the unlikely uniform #57 (1976 Topps #441). Extra points for you if you recall his 1991 preseason time as #12 with the Dodgers, for who he donned his normal #8 once the season started.
Don Baylor: Upon joining the California Angels in 1977, Baylor found that his normal #25 was on the back of one Bobby Bonds, who refused to yield it. Baylor, resultantly, wore #12 until Bonds was traded to the White Sox after the season ended (1978 Topps #48).
Bobby Bonds: What goes around comes around, and, upon joining the St. Louis Cardinals in 1980, the elder Bonds was stymied in his access to #25 by a slugger even more moody than he…George Hendrick. Check out 1981 Fleer #548 for a look at Bonds as #00 in the 2-season sleeve numbers style of Redbird knits.
Charles Barkley: I don’t have a card to show this one handy, but I remember the news vividly, even over a decade later. With Magic Johnson’s HIV-related retirement still a fresh memory at the time, Barkley sought to pay tribute to the Lakers legend, and wanted to don his #32 to do so. Problem was, the 76ers had retired #32 for old-timer (and then Philly front-office guy) Billy Cunningham. Billy C. graciously agreed to allow his number to be “unretired” for a season to allow Barkley to give Magic his due.
Tony Perez: In over two decades of Hall of Fame-worthy play in the Show, Perez spent three of those years (1980-82) in number 5 as opposed to his usual #24. The reason? The team he played for those three seasons, the Boston Red Sox, had a pretty fair #24 on the roster named Dwight Evans.
Roger Clemens: The Rocket had no qualms about asking incumbent #21 Carlos Delgado to give up his number for him when he joined Delgado in Toronto in 1997, placating him with a Rolex watch. Two years later, however, he chose not to plead with Yankee Paul O’Neill for the same number (a respect issue, supposedly), so he took #12 briefly before eventually switching to his current #22 (see the back of his 1999 Topps #334 card for a shot as #12).
Sammy Sosa: Number 21 in the scorecards of Cubs and Orioles fans, he served his two previous employers, the Rangers and the White Sox, as numbers 17 and 25, respectively.
Fred Lynn: Until he was playing out the string in Detroit and San Diego, Fred was nearly always #19…except in 1981, when Bert Campaneris outranked him seniority wise, kept 19, and put Lynn in #8 for the year, a great shot of which is on 1981 Topps Traded card #797.
Of course, many other such oddities exist… a few even involving some of these men themselves apart from the ones cited here…but hey, we’ve got to save SOMETHING for another article. If you don’t have a hard copy or downloaded file of Mark Stang’s numbers reference, check www.baseball-almanac.com and see if some of your favorites were forced to play the numbers game with what they wore on their backs.