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Best By Number, Baseball 66, 65, 63, 62, 61

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.

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Perhaps you’re wondering why the picture is so blurry?  Google didn’t provide a quality image and I wasn’t around in the 40’s and 50’s to get one myself.  Staley spent fifteen years in the Major Leagues and for six of those years he was sporting one six shy of the devil’s number on his back including a game in the 1959 World Series which the White Sox lost.  Staley’s career ERA was a pedestrian 3.70; however, with a 66 on his back in Chi Town, Staley’s ERA sunk to an impressive 2.61; surrendering only 189 runs during his six year tenure.  Also, two of his three career appearances were made with sixty-six sported.

 

 

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Expectations can be a little hard coming out of the minors for today’s starting pitchers.  Multiply the average expectations by tenfold and you may have an idea of what lights were shining on a young man sporting a 65 above the famous pinstripes of the New York Yankees.  Hughes, the Yankees first round pick in 2004, was baseball’s most anticipated prospect for years, but injuries have slowed his maturation.  Also, a random number switch caused a bit of havoc.  Hughes switched from 65 in his second year with the Yanks to the more believable 34…and struggled to an 0-4 record with a 6.62 ERA in eight starts before injury.  He switched back in 2009 and was greeted with an 8-3 record and a 3.03 earned run average.  Safe to say Hughes has stuck with his first Big League number since.

 

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What’s not to like in this choice?  Rafael Betancourt and Justin Masterson could argue their cases, but neither of those to right handers numbers in the past or present measure up to LeCure’s or his mustache.  His current 2.13 Earned Run Average is just damn amazing and it’s due mostly to Sam’s ability to stare down any batter–whether an all-star or amateur–and throw strikes.  The greatest value on perhaps any team in the Majors this year–LeCure is making a modest 510K this year–LeCure may be on his way to the closer’s role for Cincinnati if they trade fireballer Aroldis Chapman.  This little known reliever is well on his way to becoming the most renowned sixty-three in the history of baseball…assuming he keeps his lofty digit on his back for the remainder of his career.

 

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It may seem trivial, but it is interesting to note at the time of his retirement, this number 62 was the final member of the cast which brought home the 2002 World Series crown. You may not remember him from that Fall Classic, as the rookie Shields pitched in only Giants’ Game 5 drubbing of the Halos.  Shields may not have the sex appeal of his former bullpen mate Francisco Rodriguez, but he was as important a piece to the Halos during his ten year stint in the team’s bullpen.  Shields’s career earned run average of 3.18 is far from lackluster and add that to his multiple years of striking out 100+ from the pen and you have one of the more dominant and unknown set-up men in baseball history.  Shields’ plays perhaps the most undervalued role in baseball and is one of the more underrated to fulfill it.

 

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If you remember Josh Beckett for his 2007 campaign in Boston where he finished second in the Cy Young race and led the American League with 20 wins, just stop.  This is your big brother’s Josh Beckett.  Before he stripped off his minor league number in favor of the 19 he attempted to make famous in Boston.  This is the Florida Marlins’ Josh Beckett who was on top of far more than his teammates shoulders after winning the World Series against the Evil Empire in 2003.  Beckett only made it to Boston because of what he accomplished with 61 on his back in Miami: 3.46 earned run average and a load of talent and expectations took the potential to Pesky’s Pole.  Boston went well for Josh and his number 19, but he was traded to Los Angeles in 2012 and the Dodgers have 19 retired in honor of Jim Gilliam…Beckett’s decision?  Return to his roots and bare 61 with honor once again.  His reward?  A sub-3.00 ERA for the Dodgers in 2012.

 

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