When Babe Ruth hit home run No. 60 on Sept. 30, 1927, he was wearing, well, nothing on his back. Jersey numbers became common after the Depression, and the Yankees didn't officially decide to wear them until Opening Day 1929.
On May 13 of that year, in a game between the Yankees and Indians, major league baseball played its first game in which both teams wore numbers on the field at the same time. By 1933, all big-league players wore uniform numbers.
Ruth was a lock at No. 3 when we crunched the data for the best performers in baseball at each number. We based our decisions on a combination of statistics, impact on the game, and a team's success during the player's years. For research we culled through dozens and dozens of media guides, some terrific baseball websites, as well as archived stories from the Sports Illustrated library.
There was immeasurable help from one of the great books on the subject, "Now Batting Number...The Mystique, Superstition, and Lore of Baseball's Uniform Numbers" by Jack Looney. Ace photo editor David Kaye painstakingly sorted through hundreds of images and built the galleries of the chosen few.
For those players who switched numbers during their career, we based our decision on how they performed at that specific number. Thus, Padres closer Trevor Hoffman is listed as "worthy of consideration" at 51 but not at 34 (which he wore for one unremarkable season, in 1993).
We decided to list only the numbers where a player had achieved a certain level of success. Thus, we omitted many numbers above 63. (Apologies to fans of Brewers pitcher Seth McClung, who currently wears No. 73).
It's worth noting that no number over 54 has been retired, with the exception of Carlton Fisk's No. 72 with the White Sox. Dodgers reliever Joe Beimel owns the highest number (97) in baseball today. He wears it as a tribute to his son, Drew, who was born in 1997. Also worth noting are the many famous players who never had a uniform number, including Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Christy Mathewson and Cy Young.
The toughest calls? Kirby Puckett over David Ortiz (No. 34), Bob Gibson over Pedro Martinez (45), Jack Morris over Tom Glavine (47) and Ichiro over Randy Johnson (51). You can flip a coin between Puckett and Ortiz but we gave the late Puckett the nod for his brilliant all-around play in two World Series. Glavine has more career wins but few were better than Morris in big games. Click here to vote in a FanNation throwdown about Puckett and Ortiz.
The easiest choices? Ruth (3), Lou Gehrig (4), Mickey Mantle (7), Ted Williams (9), Don Drysdale (53) and Rich Gossage (54). Eddie Gaedel was also a lock at 1/8.
The number worn by the most stars? JoeDiMaggio, Johnny Bench, Jeff Bagwell, Lou Boudreau, George Brett, Nomar Garciaparra, Hank Greenberg, Albert Pujols, Brooks Robinson all wore 5. Cal Ripken, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Bill Dickey, Joe Morgan, Willie Stargell, and Carl Yastrzemski are famous number 8's.
In our three photo galleries of the selections, we listed our runner-up choice and others who were worthy of consideration for the top spot. SI.com's Bryan Grahamalso offers an argument for Mariano Rivera (42) over Jackie Robinson. No doubt you'll disagree with some of our choices and we look forward to reading your arguments on FanNation.
THE BEST BASEBALL PLAYERS EVER TO WEAR ...: Nos. 0-22 | 23-46| 47-99