Dan's Dugout: Handful of Pitchers Brave Single Digits • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Handful of Pitchers Brave Single Digits


Pitchers aren’t supposed to wear single digits on their backs. It just doesn’t look right.

Call it tradition, superstition, or habit but numbers are supposed to make it easier to tell the players apart – and who plays where.

Confusion reigned before 1916, when the Cleveland Indians wore digits on their sleeves. The idea was a good one but did not catch on for good until 1929, when the New York Yankees placed numbers on players’ backs.

Babe Ruth did not wear any number during his days as a pitcher

The Yanks followed the batting order, with Babe Ruth getting No. 3 and Lou Gehrig No. 4, but pitchers always received double digits – usually 10, 11, 12, and 14 for starters. The eight starters had the first eight numbers, the backup catcher had No. 9, and the rotation was next in line.

Infielders and outfielders took numbers in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, with top stars getting their preferences.

Because pitchers didn’t play every day, they were widely considered less “deserving”of the prized single-digit numbers.

But that was then and this is now.

With 30 teams in the big leagues today, exceptions to etiquette almost seem like standard operating procedure.

Adam Ottavino (Rockies) wears zero, or is that an O to coincide with his surname?

Is that a number or a letter on Adam Ottavino’s back?

Tampa Bay starter Blake Snell wears No. 4, Toronto’s Marcus Stroman and Carl Edwards Jr. of the Chicago Cubs wear No. 6, and the well-traveled Mike Leake sports No. 8 on his Seattle Mariners jersey.

All but Snell wore double digits as rookies. The Rays southpaw had a choice, asked for his favorite number, and coach Jamie Nelson gave it up.

When Stroman and Snell paired off on April 6, 2017, it was the first time two single-digit starting pitchers faced each other since Sept. 14, 1941, when Johnny Hutchings (5) of the Boston Braves opposed Johnny Schmitz (7) of the Chicago Cubs.

During the 2015 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers promoted a 19-year-old rookie lefthander named Julio Urias and gave him No. 78 – a number befitting a player not expected to have a long major-league tenure. The teenaged prodigy wore double digits only in his first start, then switched to No. 7 after infielder Alex Guerrero was released. He told reporters that 7 had been his favorite number since he was 5 years old.

Babe Ruth, who made No. 3 famous, didn’t wear any uniform number during his pitching days with the Boston Red Sox but was a full-time outfielder by the time his Yankees started wearing numbers.

Bob Feller wore 9 early in his career with Cleveland

In fact, the best pitcher who ever wore single digits was Hall of Famer Bob Feller, who wore No. 9 for Cleveland before settling into his more familiar No. 19. In 1939, there were actually three battles between Feller and fellow single-digit wearer Eddie Smith of the Chicago White Sox.

Pitchers of recent vintage who wore single digits include David Wells, whose fascination with Babe Ruth prompted him to wear No. 3 while working for the Boston Red Sox; the forgettable Wayne Gomes, who wore No. 2 for the San Francisco Giants; and Rob Bell, whose wearing of No. 6 did not prevent him from having an awful season with the Texas Rangers that same year.

And let’s not forget Atlee Hammaker, who wore No. 7 for the Giants but was more notorious for throwing the first bases-loaded gopherball in the history of the All-Star Game (to Fred Lynn in the 1983 Comiskey Park game that marked the 50th anniversary of the Midsummer Classic).

Kyle Drabek wore No. 4 from 2010-14 but never pitched like his father Doug. Nor did wearing Mickey Mantle’s No. 7 help Josh Towers, an earlier version of Stroman, who pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays while wearing just that one digit.

Although a lot of pitchers are known for enormous egos, none of them tested fate by wearing No. 1. But quite a few consider themselves perfect 10’s and wear that number proudly.

By the way, 10 doesn’t pretend to be a single-digit uniform number.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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