The Cleveland Indians experimented with uniform numbers for a
short time in both 1916 and 1917 on the left and right sleeve,
respectively. The 1923 St. Louis Cardinals also tried using numbers of
their sleeves, but it was the 1929 Yankees and Indians who first put them
on the backs of their uniforms. Uniform numbers were not common among all
16 teams until 1937.
On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig's #4 became the first
uniform number to be "retired." Well over 100 players have had
similar honors in the years since and hardly a year goes by without
someone joining the list.
On April 15, 1997, Jackie
Robinson's #42 was retired by Major League Baseball, which means that
no Major League Player will ever wear that number again. Those players who
already were wearing 42 were allowed to continue doing so. The seven
players who continued to wear Jackie's number were Butch Huskey (Mets),
Mike Jackson (Indians), Scott Karl (Brewers), Jose Lima (Astros), Mariano
Rivera (Yankees), Mo Vaughn (Red Sox), and Lenny Webster (Orioles).
A number of uniform retirements had more to do with honoring the victim
of a tragedy rather than one of the all-time greats. The Astros honored
Jim Umbricht, a borderline major league pitcher who lost his battle with
cancer at age 33 in 1964. The Astros later honored Don Wilson, whose
suicide attempt was so tragically successful that he managed to take his
son with him. He at least pitched a pair of no hitters.
The Astros lead in another category: most players with retired numbers
who never made a single "The Sporting
News All-Star" team. Jose Cruz,
and Mike Scott
join Wilson and Umbricht for a record five. In fact there are only seven
other such honored players in all of baseball and five of them are in the
Hall of Fame!
Some teams have made a mockery of the honor by either having executives
honor themselves or to retire numbers of players whose accomplishments were achieved elsewhere. Among the
ridiculous number retirements are #85 of Cardinals owner Augie Busch, #26
of Angels owner Gene Autry, #5 of Marlins president Carl Barger, and
#12 by the Devil Rays of Wade
Boggs, who lead the team in only one
offensive category in his short time: grounding into double plays in 1999.
Uniform numbers were originally assigned by the player's position
within the batting order, which is one reason 1-9 are mostly
over-represented. The first number which has not been retired, perhaps not
surprisingly given the irrational fear of it, is 13. With Alex Rodriguez now wearing that number for the
only team that can afford his salary, that should eventually change. On the opposite
side of the superstition is #7, which is oddly well under-represented in the
first 10 numbers with only Mickey
Mantle managing to get it retired.
Here is a list of retired uniform numbers by number. (We try to
update this list during the season. If we miss one from 2006 or later,
please use the Contact link at the top right of this page to let us
know. We are confident the list is complete through 2005, however.)
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Mariano Rivera is the only player still active allowed to wear uniform #42. Thus he will be the last in Major League history to do so.
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