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Do Ballplayers Gamble By Wearing No. 13?

In a game rife with superstitions, none is more obvious than aversion to the number 13.

Major league teams have retired hundreds of numbers but only once has anyone who wore 13 been so honored. That was star shortstop Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds.

Dave Concepcion is the only player whose No. 13 jersey was retired. Credit: The Topps Company

During a 19-year career spent exclusively with the Reds, he hit .267 with 101 home runs and 321 stolen bases but was a nine-time All-Star with five Gold Gloves, two World Championship rings, and an All-Star Game MVP award. None other than Pete Rose described the smooth-fielding Venezuelan as “the glue that held our clubhouse together.”

Yet he’s not in the Baseball Hall of Fame – or even mentioned as a Veterans Committee candidate – even when a lot of lesser players are getting in. Recent choice Harold Baines is Exhibit A.

Another Latino star, Roberto Clemente, wore No. 13 before switching to the No. 21 he made famous. He won 12 straight Gold Gloves and MVP awards for both the regular season and the World Series, later becoming the first Latino elected to the Hall of Fame. But the rifle-armed rightfielder ended his career with exactly 3,000 hits because he lost his life in New Year’s Eve plane crash while ferrying relief supplies to victims of a Nicaragua earthquake in 1972.

Buck Martinez, a Californian with Latino roots, lasted 17 years as a catcher in the big-leagues but suffered a severe ankle injury in a home-plate collision in 1985. Though he later became a manager and broadcaster, he batted just .225 lifetime.

Omar Vizquel spent 24 years in the big leagues. Credit: The Topps Company

Omar Vizquel, like Martinez, had a long career (24 years) and was such a smooth fielder at shortstop (11 Gold Gloves) that he’s often mentioned as a Hall of Fame candidate. A .272 hitter without much power, he made three All-Star teams because of his glovework. His Cooperstown candidacy is still alive – maybe because he wore three other numbers besides the dreaded 13.

Getting rid of the number doesn’t always help. Ralph Branca was wearing it when called in from the bullpen to protect a 4-2 Brooklyn lead in the last inning of the best-of-three unscheduled playoff against the New York Giants on October 3, 1951. A three-run homer by Bobby Thomson (“the shot heard ‘round the world”) devastated the Dodgers and Branca, who had been a solid starting pitcher up to that point. He tried No. 12 the next year but was basically through.

Years later, fellow pitcher Jeff Fassero went 5-14 with a 7.20 earned run average – the worst for anyone who pitched at least 150 innings since 1937!

Maybe there’s a reason many hotels lack 13th floors, airplanes don’t have a 13th row, and players take extra precautions on Friday the 13th. Some teams just don’t give out the number.

On the other hand, 17 current players are wearing the feared digits.

Ronald Acuna Jr. (right), working out with Atlanta teammate Ozzie Albies, is an MVP contender. Photo credit: Dan Schlossberg

The best of them is Ronald Acuna, Jr., the Venezuelan wunderkind who plays right field for the Atlanta Braves. He’s already won a Rookie of the Year trophy and is widely considered a strong candidate for an MVP award too. Just 22, he boasted during the first spring training this year that he was aiming to become the first 50/50 man in baseball history. With the season since shortened to 60 games, the Atlanta slugger will have to wait, though his 2019 figures (41 homers and a league-best 37 steals) suggest anything is possible.

Another All-Star who tempts fate by wearing No. 13 is Salvador Perez, rifle-armed catcher of the Kansas City Royals. He’s a five-time All-Star with five Gold Gloves and a World Series MVP trophy. But bad luck caught up with him this spring, when he tested positive for the coronavirus just last week.

Manny Machado, a four-time All-Star with two Gold Gloves, wears No. 13 for the San Diego Padres but has also worn No. 8 during his career. He’s hit at least 30 home runs five years in a row and supplies strong defense at two positions. Machado mans third base now because the Padres have Fernando Tatis Jr.,a rising star, at short.

Other established players who dare to wear No 13 include Nick Ahmed (Diamondbacks), Asdrubal Cabrera (Nationals), Matt Carpenter (Cardinals), Joey Gallo (Rangers), Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (Blue Jays), Manuel Margot (Rays), and Max Muncy (Dodgers).

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