Retired numbers — and numbers that should be retired but aren’t — are always an interesting topic of conversation. Today Jeff Snider of Baseball Essential puts a twist on the conversation.
After an enlightening walk through some retired number history — if you’re unaware of who Jim Umbricht was or Jim Gilliam’s post-playing career history with the Dodgers, by all means go read this story — Jeff says that rather than make numbers off limits, teams should allow notable numbers to be worn by worthy members of the current team, as an award or an honor:
Every year, teams should grant a one-year license to a particular player to wear a particular number. The Astros could give Umbricht’s number 32 to a player who has overcome great odds to play in the big leagues. The Yankees could give Ruth’s number 3 to the player who led the team in homers the previous year. The Dodgers could give Garvey’s number 6 to a player who played every game the previous year. The possibilities are endless, and each team would be free to determine their own criteria.
I kind of like it. It has an air of soccer or hockey to it and the way those sports tend to be more creative and local when it comes to traditions and things. Baseball doesn’t do too much of that. Fans do, of course, but clubs tend not to. Each team has its own history, sure, but they tend not to have their own cultures, as such, and things like the one Jeff is describing here could go a long way toward bringing back some local identity to a team in an age of free agency and ever-changing rosters.
Put differently, if we all root for laundry anyway — and we sort of do — why not make the laundry mean a little more?