Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Retired Uniform Numbers

When the Tigers acquired Jose Iglesias on July 30, the debate regarding retired numbers quickly
followed.  Wearing Number 1, Jose fueled a debate and some controversy. Lou Whitaker, of course.
wore that number from 1977 until he retired in 1995.  No Tiger had worn the number since.  Until

The Tigers have an unwritten policy, apparently, that if a player is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, their number is retired by the team.  With the exception of Willie Horton, whose number was retired due in large part to his extraordinary community service,  all the numbers on the
brick wall in the outfield were worn by Hall of Famers.

Interestingly enough however, these players often shared their numbers for some time after they became Hall of Famers. Charlie Gehringer, who wore Number 2, was elected to the Hall in 1949.  No fewer than 13 players proceeded to wear Charlie's Number 2, including Jake Wood, Frank Bolling, Dalton Jones, John Knox, and Richie Hebner.  Hebner was the last player to wear the number (1982), as the Tigers finally retired Gehringer's number in 1983.

Similarly, Hank Greenberg entered the Hall of Fame in 1956, but his Number 5 was not retired by the Tigers until 1983.  Hank played with the Tigers until 1946, after which he left Detroit for one final season in Pittsburgh.  After his 1956 induction,  eight players, including Vic Wertz, Mark Wagner,
and most notably, Jim Northrup, wore Number 5.

In 1992, Tigers pitching great Hal Newhouser was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.  Two players, David Haas, and the flamboyant David Wells, wore Number 16 from 1991-1995.  The Tigers retired Newhouser's number in 1997.  (Current Tigers' 3rd base coach Tom Brookens, who wore Number 16 from 1979-1988, now wears number 61.)

Al Kaline, arguably the most popular Tiger in history, retired in 1974.  His Number 6 was retired in 1980, the same year he became a member of the Hall of Fame.  No player wore his number after he
retired. (Kaline wore Number 25 during 1953-54 seasons).

Ty Cobb is honored by the Tigers with the name "Cobb" and an empty space above his name.  Cobb of course, played in an era where players did not wear numbers.

Jackie Robinson, who wore Number 42, was honored by the Tigers, as he was by every other major league team, in 1997, for being the first African American man to play in the Major Leagues.
Interestingly, Alan Trammell, one of the greatest Tigers, wore Number 42 briefly when he first came
up to the Tigers in 1977.  Of course, he wore Number 3 for the rest of 20 year career.

Trammell, along with Whitaker, do not have their numbers retired by the Tigers.  Although there is precedent in retiring players' numbers long after they entered the Hall of Fame, Alan and Lou have been excluded from the Hall (another story), making it unlikely the Tigers will ever retire their numbers.  (Gary Sheffield even wore Number 3 for a couple years in 2007-08).

Personally, I would like to see Iglesias switch to Number 7 in 2014.  It would be a classy gesture, and could be part of a plan to finally properly honor Whitaker and Trammell.  They deserve the honor, and should not be denied  because the Hall of Fame has unfairly turned their backs on these two great Tigers.  Tigers management, who wisely finally honored long time Tiger stars, have shown that they can be flexible.  Hopefully Tram and Lou will have their day.

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