Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ultimate Number Players: #1-5

If you read this blog regularly, you might get the sense that I love lists and trivia to the point of obsessiveness. And you'd probably be right. What better to do with this post than share another one of my obsessions?

I have an interest in uniform numbers, and I love it when a player manages to wear the same number his entire career. Of course, it's not all that impressive if he spends his entire career with one team, but when he goes through several teams and maintains the same number, that's when it becomes downright cool.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference's Uniform Number Search, we can easily find out which players wore the same number with multiple teams. However, a more interesting question (to me, at least) is which players managed to wear the same number at every stop in their careers?

I thought it'd be good to celebrate these players, and also to pick the "Ultimate Player" for each number. To be the "Ultimate Player," he must meet the following criteria:

1) The player must have worn the same number at some point for each team he played for.

2) If he had multiple stints with a team, he must have worn the number during both stints. A "stint" refers to a continuous duration of time in the organization.

3) If he left the organization at some point and returned wearing a different number, he doesn't count. (Joey Hamilton is an example of a player who was disqualified under this rule. Hamilton wore #50 with each of the three teams he played for during his career. After spending the 2002 season with the Reds, he signed as a free agent with the Cardinals and didn't make it out of Spring Training. He then went back to the Reds, but wore #54 in this second stint. As much as I wish I could include him, it doesn't seem right to me.)

4) He must have worn the number for the most teams (or stints) of any player who meets the above criteria.

5) He must no longer be active, since an active player still has the chance to lose the number with a new team.

6) In case of a tie, I'll pick the player I think was better (which usually isn't too tough a choice).

For these "Ultimate Players," I want to include a collage of their number being worn for each team. However, there's a bit of a problem there. There are a few cases where I can't find a good photo of their number being displayed while a member of that team. In those cases, my only option is to give you a collage of the best player of whom I can find good photos.

For this installment, let's look at numbers 1-5!

Ultimate #1: Richie Ashburn

Not a tough choice here, as the Hall of Fame center fielder wore it with three teams: the Phillies, Cubs and Mets. However, since Ashburn played in an era when most teams didn't have numbers on the front, it's hard to find photos where his number #1 is visible.

Therefore, for the photo collage, I give you another player who managed to wear #1 for three teams: Luis Castillo. He's nothing close to a Hall of Famer, but he was a fine player for several years.

Ultimate #2: Jack Wilson

Wilson and Fred Patek are the only qualifying players I can find who made it to three teams, and it was essentially a tossup between them. I went with Wilson, since I could find good photos for him. The underrated shortstop wore it with the Pirates, Mariners and Braves during his career.

Kelly Johnson is currently at four teams, but since he's active, we can't include him yet.

Ultimate #3: Dale Murphy

Another easy choice. The Braves retired Murphy's #3, and he also wore it with the Phillies and Rockies.

Ultimate #4: Lenny Dykstra

#4 doesn't have many good choices, since it's often worn by great players, and it's notoriously hard to keep throughout one's career. Therefore, the best I can give you is Lenny Dykstra of the Mets and Phillies.

Hall of Famer Joe Cronin sort of qualifies, but because he played for the Pirates during the pre-uniform number era, it didn't seem quite right. Journeyman infielder Pete Orr is currently sitting on three teams, and if he never plays another game in the majors, he'll become the Ultimate #4. What a strange circumstance that'd be. I'm sure that Bobby Orr, whom he wears the number in tribute to, would be proud.

Ultimate #5: Nomar Garciaparra

A guy who had six Hall of Fame-level seasons and little else, Garciaparra wore the number with the Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and Athletics.