Six MLB legends who deserve to have their numbers retired
- Now that Derek Jeter's No. 2 is officially being honored at Yankee Stadium, here are six other former players who deserve the same honor.
NOTE: A version of this story originally ran on SI.com on June 23, 2016. It has been updated and revised as necessary.
In 2017 a trio of legendary players will receive one of baseball's highest honors, that of having their jersey retired. Derek Jeter (No. 2), Edgar Martinez (No. 11) and Ivan Rodriguez (No. 7) will each join the exclusive fraternities of the Yankees, Mariners and Rangers, respectively. However, that still leaves a number of players who have yet to see their jersey retired. Some, like Pete Rose (No. 14) with the Reds and most of the otherwise deserving players who have been connected to performance-enhancing drugs, probably have little chance of being honored in that way. Others, like all the stars of the 1986 New York Mets, are harder to understand. Below is a look at six of the most notable players who have jet to have their jerseys retired.
Barry Bonds (No. 25), San Francisco Giants
The Giants are one of the teams that only retire the jerseys of Hall of Famers, so while they haven’t reissued the number 25 since the all-time home run leader departed San Francisco in 2007, they haven’t officially hung it up for good either. Until recently, that appeared to be a major impediment for Bonds, who’s beloved by most Giants fans and on good terms with the team (he worked as a special instructor this spring). Due to his connection to performance-enhancing drugs, just 36.2% of BBWAA voters tabbed him when he first became eligible in 2013, and he gained almost no ground over the next two years. As the electorate evolves, resistance to his candidacy is dropping. He gained 17 points over the past two election cycles, and after receiving 53.8% in 2017 appears capable of reaching his destination by the time his eligibility expires in 2022.
Update: MLB.com’s Barry Bloom told me via Twitter that retirement of Bonds’ No. 25 is “part of his deal to return to the ball club as an advisor to [club CEO] Larry Baer.”
Bonds, of course, isn't the only PED-tainted player who not only is outside the Hall of Fame and hasn't had his jersey retired. Roger Clemens (No. 21 for the Red Sox and No. 22 for the Yankees), Mark McGwire (No. 25 for the A's and Cardinals) and Sammy Sosa (No. 21 for the Cubs) each of them strong statistical and sentimental cases, but there is no expectation yet that any will soon see their numbers permanently taken out of circulation.
Dave Stieb (No. 37), Toronto Blue Jays
When Jack Morris was on the Hall of Fame ballot, proponents of his case often cited the fact that he won more games, 162, than any other pitcher from 1980 to ’89. As with the rest of his case for Cooperstown, his status as "The Pitcher of the Eighties"—if that's a thing—is questionable based upon his run prevention and overall value. According to Wins Above Replacement, it was actually Stieb who was the decade's best pitcher, compiling an MLB-high 48.6 WAR and notching 140 wins, with clear advantages over Morris in ERA (3.32 to 3.66) and ERA+ (126 to 106). A seven-time All-Star for the Blue Jays—for whom he pitched from 1979 to ‘92, with a brief comeback in '98—Stieb is the franchise leader in pitching WAR (57.4), wins (175), innings (2,873), strikeouts (1,658) and shutouts (30). On Sept. 2, 1990, he threw the Jays' lone no-hitter against the Indians, that after coming within one out of doing so three times in 1988 and '89 (including on consecutive turns in the former year).
Chronic back problems prevented Stieb from reaching the career totals that would have given him a strong case for the Hall of Fame; he received just 1.4% of the vote in 2004. While the Blue Jays honored the 20th anniversary of his no-hitter on Aug. 29, 2010 by having him throw out the ceremonial first pitch and engraving his number on the mound, Stieb deserves to become the team’s second player to have his number retired, alongside that of second baseman Roberto Alomar (No. 12), the only player with a Blue Jays cap in the Hall of Fame.
Alan Trammell (No. 3) and Lou Whitaker (No. 1), Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have generally pegged retiring a player’s number to his inclusion in the Hall of Fame, but they have made one exception: Willie Horton’s No. 23. The Detroit native, a four-time All-Star who played for the team from 1963 to '77, was not only one of the big bats from the Tigers' 1968 world championship squad but also became a civic icon for going into the streets while still in his uniform during the 12th Street Riot in '67, pleading for peace; the team has also honored him with a statue at Comerica Park.
All of which is to say that the Tigers shouldn't hesitate to honor Trammell and Whitaker. From late 1977 through '95, the two played 1,918 games together, a record both for a double play combo and for AL teammates. Both players were key members of Detroit’s 1984 world champions and had Hall-caliber careers—they're around or above the JAWS standards at shortstop and second base, respectively—but they have been snubbed by voters to an almost shocking degree. Trammell, whose case and career numbers are very similar to those of 2012 Hall of Fame honoree Barry Larkin, lasted 15 years on the ballot and maxed out at 40.9% in 2016, his final turn. Whitaker, meanwhile, fell off after receiving just 2.9% in 2001, his first year of eligibility, and since then, he has never had his case considered by the Veterans Committee or Golden Era Committee.
For that matter, the Tigers could consider retiring Hall of Fame near-miss Jack Morris's No. 47. Unlike those of Trammell and Whitaker, that number hasn't even been reused since the pitcher's 1977 to '90 tenure in Detroit.
Fernando Valenzuela (No. 34), Dodgers
In 1981, a chubby, 20-year-old Mexican lefthander burst upon the major league scene. Though he had pitched 10 games out of the bullpen for the Dodgers the previous September, he was largely an unknown when he replaced the injured Jerry Reuss as the team’s Opening Day starter on April 9, 1981. Valenzuela not only threw a five-hit shutout against the Astros that day, but he also went on to rack up seven complete games and five shutouts in his first eight starts, good for a 0.50 ERA.
Fernandomania took the baseball world and Los Angeles by storm: He landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, became an icon to the city’s Latino community and drew fans of all backgrounds to parks around the country when he pitched. He started the All-Star Game for the NL, became the first pitcher to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards in the same season and helped the Dodgers win their first World Series since 1966. Valenzuela went on to earn All-Star honors five more times with L.A., for whom he pitched through 1990. Since 2003, he's been the color commentator for the team's Spanish-language radio broadcasts.
Like the Tigers, the Dodgers generally limit number retirements to Hall of Famers, with Jim Gilliam (No. 19) the only exception; he was part of four championship teams as an infielder and was serving as a coach when he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died the day after the team clinched the 1978 National League pennant. No Dodger has worn Valenzuela's number since he left the team, and it seems petty to keep it out of circulation without officially bestowing the honor.
Valenzuela is not the only one whom the team should consider, either. As the anchor for four pennant winners in the 1970s and ‘80s, the members of the longest-running infield in baseball history—first baseman Steve Garvey (No. 6), second baseman Davey Lopes (15), shortstop Bill Russell (18) and third baseman Ron Cey (10)—are worthy as well.
Larry Walker (No. 33), Colorado Rockies
Walker first reached stardom with the dearly departed Montreal Expos in his native Canada, but he built a strong Hall of Fame case while playing for in Colorado from 1995 to 2004, and it is the Rockies who should bestow this honor upon him. In 10 seasons in Denver, Walker won the NL MVP award, three batting titles and five Gold Gloves, helping the team to both its first postseason appearance and to league-leading attendance totals in Coors Field's first five years (1995 to '99). His 258 homers, 1,361 hits and 48.2 WAR all rank second to Todd Helton in franchise history; Helton, who spent his entire career with Colorado before retiring in 2013, is the only Rockies player whose number is retired.
If Colorado is waiting for Walker to reach Cooperstown before honoring him, it could be awhile. Despite ranking 10th among rightfielders in JAWS, he has never received more than 22.9% of the vote in his six years on the ballot, and he was at 21.9% in 2017. He deserves better, both from Hall voters and from the Rockies.