Thursday, February 16, 2012

Taking the 5

One of the sillier things baseball teams occasionally do is retire a number for reasons unrelated to anybody who actually wore the number.

One such is now creating a bit of a controversy around the Miami Marlins. The Florida Marlins retired the number 5 even before they played their first game to honor Carl Barger, the team president who died four months before the expansion team's debut. They picked the number 5 to mothball because that was Joe DiMaggio's number, and DiMaggio was Barger's favorite player. Now, some 20 years later, Logan Morrison wants to wear the number (in memory of his father, whose favorite player was George Brett), and the Marlins are "unretiring" the number. Hey, they have a new stadium, a new name, a new logo -- let's put their one retired number back into play.

And the Barger family, which had apparently been ignoring messages from the Marlins for a while, is upset.

Unretiring numbers is a silly thing to do, or it should be. The core principle ought to be: You retire the number if it is so closely associated with a particular player that it will be jarring, if not unthinkable, for anybody else to wear it for that team again.

Retiring a number for a team president, or owner (as the Angels did in retiring 26 for Gene Autry on the basis that he was their 26th man, or as the Cardinals did in retiring 85 for Gussie Busch when the beer baron was 85 years old) is sillier than unretiring it. You want to honor those guys, fine -- but do it in a way appropriate to their role.

Of course, not many players would want to wear 85. But 5 is a rather prestigious number -- legitimately retired by seven franchises, for six Hall of Famers (DiMaggio, Brett, Brooks Robinson, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Bench and Lou Boudreau) plus Jeff Bagwell -- and 26 is pretty common also. Taking those numbers out of circulation for suit-and-tie guys who didn't actually wear it is lame.

The goofiest officially retired number belongs to the Cleveland Indians: 455. That's "retired" in honor of their 455 consecutive sold-out games. And I put the word "retired" in quotation marks because who ever heard of a three-digit uniform number? It's not a legitimate number to retire.

1 comment:

  1. The Marlins seem to have a history of not exacatly taking the high road when it comes to public perception. I agree, though -- it's downright goofy to retire a number for someone who was not a player. That's why we have statues, plaques, etc. Heck, even name a concourse, section of the stadium, or private stadium club (like Metropolitan Club) after him.