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Rating baseball's retired numbers

Don Mattingly, left, and Wade Boggs both have their numbers retired but it's hard to say they're on equal footing.
Don Mattingly, left, and Wade Boggs both have their numbers retired but it's hard to say they're on equal footing. AFP/Getty Images

The Houston Astros recently retired Craig Biggio’s No. 7. He joined Jeff Bagwell (5), Jose Cruz (25), Larry Dierker (49), Nolan Ryan (34), Mike Scott (33), Jim Umbricht (32), Don Wilson (40) and Jimmy Wynn (24). But where does that group rank among other baseball teams in terms of prestige factor? Well, we set out to find out by assigning very subjective and highly debatable grades to each team. Some factors that can lower a team’s prestige grade:

  • You can’t retire same number twice.

  • Executives don’t wear jerseys, don’t retire a number. Build a statue or hang a plaque.

  • If a player didn’t wear a number, how can you retire it? You can’t or at least shouldn’t.

  • Retiring a player’s number who had marginal success with your organization. It’s the Wade Boggs Clause.

  • Not being exclusive enough.

  • Forgetting numbers that should be retired.

    Atlanta Braves (A)

    Hank Aaron (44), Eddie Mathews (41), Dale Murphy (3), Phil Niekro (35), Warren Spahn (21)

    Proof that quality is more important than quantity. It’s impossible to argue against any of these names. And the list should grow as some of the stars of the great Braves teams of the past couple of decades start retiring.

    Los Angeles Dodgers (A)

    Walt Alston (24), Roy Campanella (39), Don Drysdale (53), Jim Gilliam (19), Sandy Koufax (32), Tommy Lasorda (2), Pee Wee Reese (1), Jackie Robinson (42), Duke Snider (4), Don Sutton (20)

    They’re like the Yankees. It’s a deep list of deserving names. With such as storied history, it’s amazing they still have single-digit numbers available. Unlike the Yankees, the Dodgers didn’t make a critical mistake to lower their grade.

    Chicago Cubs (A-)

    Ernie Banks (14), Ryne Sandberg (23), Ron Santo (10), Billy Williams (26)

    It’s just a rock-solid group of iconic Cubs. And the Cubs have resisted the urge to water it down with good players (Lee Smith, Mark Grace), short-time stars (Andre Dawson) or just made-up numbers (Harry Caray). Ferguson Jenkins might have the best case of the uninitiated.

    New York Yankees (A-)

    Yogi Berra (8), Bill Dickey (8), Joe DiMaggio (5), Whitey Ford (16), Lou Gehrig (4), Ron Guidry (49), Elston Howard (32), Reggie Jackson (44), Mickey Mantle (7), Roger Maris (9), Billy Martin (1), Don Mattingly (23), Thurman Munson (15), Phil Rizzuto (10), Babe Ruth (3), Casey Stengel (37)

    It could have been an A-plus if they hadn’t retired No. 8 twice. And you can make a case they have a few too many non-Hall of Famers in the mix. A word of warning though: the grade plummets to a C-minus if they ever retire Paul O’Neill’s number.

    Baltimore Orioles (B+)

    Eddie Murray (33), Jim Palmer (22), Cal Ripken Jr. (8), Brooks Robinson (5), Frank Robinson (20), Earl Weaver (4)

    Shouldn’t they have retired No. 2,632 with Ripken, too? It’s pretty hard to argue any of these names.

    Pittsburgh Pirates (B+)

    Roberto Clemente (21), Ralph Kiner (4), Bill Mazeroski (9), Billy Meyer (1), Danny Murtaugh (40), Willie Stargell (8), Pie Traynor (20), Honus Wagner (33)

    Every name probably belongs except Meyer who never finished better than fourth in five seasons as manager. And another big question looms: Will the Pirates retire Bonds’ number?

    Boston Red Sox (B)

    Joe Cronin (4), Bobby Doerr (1), Carlton Fisk (27), Ted Williams (9), Carl Yastrzemski (8)

    It’s a little surprising they never tried retiring Babe Ruth’s number with the Yankees during the dark days of the curse. How is Wade Boggs’ number retired by Tampa Bay, but not by Boston? And the Red Sox aren’t doing Jim Rice’s Hall of Fame campaign any favors by not retiring his number.

    Cincinnati Reds (B)

    Sparky Anderson (10), Johnny Bench (5), Dave Concepcion (13), Fred Hutchinson (1), Ted Kluszewski (18), Joe Morgan (8), Joe Nuxhall (41), Tony Perez (24), Frank Robinson (20)

    The Big Red Machine is well represented. It’s not their fault they can’t retire Pete Rose’s number. And George Foster’s window of greatness was probably too narrow to be deserving. Barry Larkin might be worthy.

    Cleveland Indians (B)

    Earl Averill (3), Lou Boudreau (5), Larry Doby (14), Bob Feller (19), Mel Harder (18), Bob Lemon (21)

    Just a thought but maybe Major League Baseball should have retired Doby’s number in all American League parks and Jackie Robinson’s number in all National League parks.

    Minnesota Twins (B-)

    Rod Carew (29), Kent Hrbek (14), Harmon Killebrew (3), Tony Oliva (6), Kirby Puckett (34)

    Killebrew, Carew, Puckett and Oliva: Absolutely. Hrbek: Not quite.

    Washington Nationals (B-)

    Gary Carter (8), Andre Dawson (10), Rusty Staub (10), Tim Raines (30)

    For such a star-crossed franchise, the Expos/Nationals did a remarkably solid job choosing numbers to retire.

    Detroit Tigers (C+)

    Charlie Gehringer (2), Hank Greenberg (5), Willie Horton (23), Hal Newhouser (16), Al Kaline (6)

    Horton’s inclusion on the list raises questions as to why Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris are left off?

    St Louis Cardinals (C)

    Ken Boyer (14), Lou Brock (20), August Busch Jr. (85), Dizzy Dean (17), Bob Gibson (45), Stan Musial (6), Red Schoendienst (2), Enos Slaughter (9), Ozzie Smith (1)

    A great list absolutely ruined by that No. 85. Who’s going to wear No. 85 anyway? Just put up a statue of him driving a team of Clydesdales or something.

    Oakland A’s (C)

    Dennis Eckersley (43), Rollie Fingers (34), Catfish Hunter (27), Reggie Jackson (9)

    No qualms with these four, but there are some huge omissions. Where’s Rickey Henderson? And if Hunter’s number is retired, shouldn’t Vida Blue’s be too? And from the Philadelphia days it’s hard to believe Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Al Simmons and Mickey Cochrane haven’t gotten the nod.

    Philadelphia Phillies (C)

    Grover Alexander, Chuck Klein, Richie Ashburn (1), Jim Bunning (14), Steve Carlton (32), Robin Roberts (36), Mike Schmidt (20)

    It’s a great list of players but they get docked twice for retiring a player who didn’t wear a number (Alexander) and retiring no number of a player who wore six. Hey, at least they didn’t retire all six.

    Houston Astros (C)

    Jeff Bagwell (5), Craig Biggio (7), Jose Cruz (25), Larry Dierker (49), Nolan Ryan (34), Mike Scott (33), Jim Umbricht (32), Don Wilson (40), Jimmy Wynn (24)

    Bagwell and Biggio are no-brainers and there might be a riot if Ryan’s number wasn’t retired. Scott probably deserves it for 1986 alone and the combination of Dierker’s playing and managerial careers puts him over the top. The others are a bit more questionable. Wilson owns more no-hitters with the Astros than Ryan, but he had his career cut short by his shocking death in 1975. Wynn had a great nickname (The Toy Cannon) but his power was hit or miss. Cruz was immensely popular, but was he productive enough to merit one of baseball’s ultimate honors? Umbricht deserves admiration for his fight against cancer that ultimately took his life, but he pitched just two seasons with Houston.

    Kansas City Royals (C)

    George Brett (5), Dick Howser (10), Frank White (20)

    Brett is an absolute no-brainer. Howser is understandable given his World Series title and the circumstances of his death. White was an All-Star who played his entire career in Kansas City but is a .293 career on-base percentage the stuff of retirement ceremonies?

    Texas Rangers (C)

    Johnny Oates (26), Nolan Ryan (34)

    In fairness they really haven’t missed anybody. You could make strong cases for Jim Sundberg or Charlie Hough, but both probably fall a little short. Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez should be the next wave.

    Chicago White Sox (C-)

    Luis Aparicio (11), Luke Appling (4), Harold Baines (3), Carlton Fisk (72), Nellie Fox (2), Ted Lyons (16), Minnie Minoso (9), Billy Pierce (19)

    For a franchise with so much history, there sure are a lot of pretty-good-but-not-great players. Maybe it’s because their best players were banned from baseball.

    Milwaukee Brewers (C-)

    Hank Aaron (44), Rollie Fingers (34), Paul Molitor (4), Robin Yount (19)

    Here’s where we get dicey. Aaron is such a legend in Milwaukee it’s easy to see why the Brewers retired his number. But he hit just 22 of his 755 career homers with the Brewers. Fingers pitched just four seasons with the Brewers. Molitor and Yount actually make a lot more sense.

    New York Mets (C-)

    Gil Hodges (14), Tom Seaver (41), Casey Stengel (37)

    At first glance it seems like there should be more, but the Mets actually have too many. Stengel’s best winning percentage with the Mets was .327 in five seasons as manager. And if you’re going to retire Hodges’ number shouldn’t you consider Davey Johnson? He twice managed the Mets to 100 victories, won a World Series and never finished lower than second in the division in seven seasons. Dwight Gooden’s and Darryl Strawberry’s personal problems probably kept them off the list.

    Florida Marlins (C-)

    Carl Barger (5)

    We don’t want to be too hard on the Marlins because Barger was hired as the team’s first president but collapsed a year later at the winter meetings and died a few hours later. But how about a statue? Or name a street around the ballpark after him. Retired jerseys should be reserved for those who actually had a jersey.

    San Francisco Giants (C-)

    Orlando Cepeda (30), Carl Hubbell (11), Juan Marichal (27), Christy Mathewson (No number), Willie Mays (24), Willie McCovey (44), John McGraw (No number), Mel Ott (4), Gaylord Perry (36), Bill Terry (3)

    This is a frustrating list because it has the makings of one of the most prestigious. Why would a franchise with so many great players feel compelled to cheat the system? The most troubling moves were not once, but twice, retiring no numbers at all. Huh? And Gaylord Perry, while a Hall of Famer, probably shouldn’t have his number retired anywhere since he bounced around the league so much. He only won 20 games twice in San Francisco.

    San Diego Padres (D+)

    Steve Garvey (6), Tony Gwynn (19), Dave Winfield (31), Randy Jones (35)

    Gwynn’s No. 19 should be the only number retired right now and it should stay that way until Trevor Hoffman calls it a career. Winfield was just becoming a star when he left for the New York Yankees. Garvey’s career was winding down when he arrived from Los Angeles. Jones won 20 games twice, but he had losing record in five of eight seasons in San Diego.

    Los Angeles Angels (D)

    Gene Autry (26), Rod Carew (29), Jim Fregosi (11), Jimmie Reese (50), Nolan Ryan (30)

    Ugh. Gene Autry owned the team but he didn’t own a number. Reese was a conditioning coach who was best known as a former roommate of Babe Ruth. Carew had his best seasons with the Twins. Fregosi was an All-Star infielder and solid manager but hardly a superstar. Not even Nolan Ryan can save this bunch.

    Tampa Bay Rays (F)

    Wade Boggs (12)

    This is just embarrassing for everyone involved. Boggs played two seasons for Tampa Bay, driving in a grand total of 81 runs as the team went a combined 132-192.


    These teams haven’t retired any numbers:

    Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays
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