Best By Number, Baseball 75, 73, 72, 70
Numbers are everywhere in sports, in fact, one may argue there is nothing quite as memorable as a number. A movie about Dale Earnhardt was simply titled “3“ and every sports fan can recognize the symbolism number 755 even if it doesn’t have the same titled as the past. Athletes numbers on their backs are as much as the name’s arching above them and no one can escape the number they wear or wore. Kobe will always be #8 even when he’s #24 and no one can recall that Ken Griffey Junior was #3 during his final year in Cincinnati. I have researched the best players in each sports to wear numbers from 0-99. This is the list for Major League Baseball.
It was the unmatched 12-6 curveball, c’mon folks! People may be left scratching their heads thinking of Barry Zito’s massive 7-year $126 million dollar deal which shipped him across the bay in 2007; however, Oakland fans remember seven fond years with the junk balling left-hander who posted a 102-63 record with the A’s and won the 2002 Cy Young award. His time in San Francisco hasn’t been quite as memorable and fans have called for his head on more than one occasion, but Zito was a key contributor to the Giants two World Series wins. Zito might be considered one of the worst signings in Major League history–at the time his salary was the largest for a pitcher in ever–but the man’s career record, earned run average, and WHIP with the 75 on his back are 157-135, 3.99, and 1.3 with a Cy Young and 2 World Series rings to boot. So why the 75? Zito wanted the 34 he wore in college, but Oakland had it retired for Rollie Fingers and Zito decided on a number he could have his entire career, saying, “In case I go to another team, I’m pretty sure 75 will be available.”
One of my favorite players to pick up late in an MVP baseball 2005 Fantasy Draft, Rincon was a submarine throwing lefty who spent every year of his career with a 73 on his back. His best years were probably spent wasting away as a member of those awful Pirate teams of the early 2000’s, but Rincon was named a member of the Cleveland Indians’ all-decade team for the 1990’s…and the tribe featured quite a good cast of characters during those old days. His modest 3.59 earned run average is the best we’ve featured thus far. The Mexico native was a part of the last no-hitter for the Pirates–in which he pitched a perfect 10th inning and garnered the win–and received his fair share of mentions during the Brad Pitt baseball flick “Mondeyball”.
You probably remember Fisk for his prancing while begging his home run to stay fair during his time as a Boston Red Sox catcher during the 1975 World Series. Do you recall the number he sported was not 72, but 27? Fisk wanted the digit back when he joined Chicago as a 33-year old catcher, but it was claimed by pitcher Ken Kravec. Fisk settled on the year of his son’s birth, 1972, and would play 13 years in the south side of Chicago with the number. The Commander played 24 seasons and endured the most games caught in history, 2,226, until Ivan Rodriguez broke the record in 2009. He may have never won the World Series, but the 72 hanging at U.S. Cellular Field, his statue outside the stadium, and Hall of Fame plaque help assuage that pain.
Ever since Joe and his franchise expelled the Devil, he’s been one of the most visible and respected managers in baseball. After leaving the Angels to manage what was baseball’s perennial doormat, Maddon kept the 70 he’d been wearing in Anaheim and brought the winning ways of the 2002 Angels World Series winners he was a coach for to Tampa. Since 2008 when the Rays officially became the Rays, Maddon is 517-393 (.598) with an American League pennant and two manager of the year awards under his belt. The thick-rimmed glasses have created more than a little history in Tampa, taking the Rays to their first playoff appearance, first AL East championship, the franchise’s first playoff win, first World Series appearance, and Maddon is the only manager ejected from a perfect game when he argued balls/strikes in Felix Heranndez’s effort on August 15th, 2012.