Thursday, November 29, 2007

Retired Numbers: AL West

In our dejection after Cornell got run out of MSG by BU on Saturday night, Ross and I started talking about one of my pet theories. I actually just started thinking about it recently while wondering to myself how a team like the Boston Bruins has retired 10 numbers, despite the relative lack of success the franchise has achieved. In their 80+ year history (including 25 years in a six-team league), they have won five Stanley Cups - not an impressive total. I don't see how a team like that could retire a number every eight years... how could that many players possibly be deserving?

So then it hit me: why not institute a rule where every professional team can only retire one number for each championship they win? It makes perfect sense. I mean, why do teams retire numbers in the first place? Yes, to honor important players in the history of the franchise, but in the case of some teams (the Bruins in particular), they do it for the guaranteed sell-out for a regular season game. They recently retired Terry O'Reilly's number; he played with the team for 13 years and captained them for two, but he only scored 606 points in 891 games, and only played a full 80-game season twice. He was a great fighter and fun to watch, but he does not deserve the same honor that players like Orr, Esposito, and Bourque have received.

Which eventually got me thinking about the Red Sox. They are notorious for their strict standards on retiring numbers, which I have always liked, and like even more now because it supports my argument. To have your number retired by the Sox, you have to be a hall-of-famer, spend ten years of your career with the Red Sox, and, until recently, you had to retire as a Red Sock. They bent the rules on that one for Carlton Fisk, though, and it's no longer a strict criteria.

By my rule, since the Red Sox have now won seven World Series, they should be allowed to retire seven numbers, but we'll get to them later. I wanted to start with an easy division, since I figured I'd need a little time to tell the back story, which of course I did. Anyway, let's start with the AL West. I should note that I'm not counting Jackie Robinson in each team's total - every team should be able to retire his number regardless of how many titles they have, and it shouldn't count against them. Also, Ross and I decided that each player can only have his jersey retired for one franchise, so that may factor in here.

Los Angeles/California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels:
World Series wins: 1
Current retired numbers: Jim Fregosi, Gene Autry, Rod Carew, Nolan Ryan, Jimmie Reese

Well, right off the bat, Gene Autrey is out. He was a beloved owner, but for god's sake, he never wore a number... you can't retire one for him. Jimmie Reese was a freaking bat boy for the PCL Angels for 5 years (1919-1923), so he's gone. Carew spent seven years with the Angels after spending twelve years with the Twins: he belongs to Minnesota.

Fregosi spent 11 years with the franchise, winning a gold glove and making a bunch of all-star teams before bouncing around the majors for the last seven years of his career. He was the first "star" of the MLB Angels, and managed them to their first division title and playoff berth in 1979 (where they were knocked off 3-games-to-1 by Baltimore). If they had three or four titles in the bag by now, they could consider retiring his #11, but he is not the single most defining player in Angels history, so he's out until they string a few more together.

That leaves Ryan, who pitched more games for the Angels than any other team (although he spent more seasons with Houston). Here's a dilemma, though: Houston has never won a World Series. Since the Angels have, under my rules, they could have retired Ryan's number in 2003 (assuming the Mets hadn't already tried to claim it for themselves), and the Astros couldn't have done a damn thing about it. I think this kind of gamesmanship would be fascinating to behold in real life, don't you?

But there's another factor at play here: a franchise like the Angels, who has only won one title, has to keep their options open. If they don't win another World Series in the next 20 years or so, what happens when they want to retire Vlad's number? Or perhaps they end up with Miguel Cabrera, or K-Rod spends his entire career there. When you only have one number to play with, you have to be careful.

The verdict: keep the number open for Vlad, but if they win again anytime soon, retire Ryan.

Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland Athletics:
World Series wins: 9
Current retired numbers: Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunger, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley

Wow, only four for this franchise? That's amazing. They've also "retired" former owner Walter Haas, but they didn't attach a number to him, thankfully.

I can't argue with any of the four they've already retired; Jackson and Hunter spent more time with the A's than any other team, although they are more associated with the Yankees. Fingers also spent the first half of his career in Oakland, and Eck became a household name with the A's. All four are in the hall of fame.

As for the other five... you'd have to consider Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker, Eddie Plank, and Chief Bender, hall-of-famers all from the Philadelphia days. I don't support retiring managers or coaches, so I don't think you can retire Connie Mack. The only no-brainer from the Oakland era that isn't already retired is Rickey Henderson, who has to belong to the A's after spending parts of 11 seasons with the team. If you retired these five with the current four, that gives you nine, but in the interest of keeping at least one number open, potentially for Mark McGwire, I would leave out Bender.

The verdict: Jackson, Hunter, Fingers, Eckersley, Collins, Baker, Plank, and Henderson, with one vacant slot.

Seattle Mariners:
World Series wins: 0
Current retired numbers: none.

Wow! Amazing restraint by the Mariners here - I like it. They actually have a policy similar to that of the Red Sox, stating that hall-of-famers who played for the team for at least five years, and lifetime Mariners who narrowly missed making the hall of fame, are eligible for induction. That would seem to leave the door open for Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Ichiro Suzuki. A-Rod will belong to the Yankees when all is said and done, so he's out. It's debatable whether Johnson belongs to Seattle or Arizona. Griffey will probably belong to the Reds, although that's debatable, too. That leaves a pretty tough call between Martinez and Suzuki as to who should be the first Mariner to be retired.

The verdict: if they win one in the near future, Ichiro will be on that team - he should be the first to go (although he wears the same number that Johnson did... maybe they'll fudge it for both of them, which I'm also against).

Washington Senators/Texas Rangers:
World Series wins: 0
Current retired numbers: Johnny Oates, Nolan Ryan

Oates, tragic as losing him may have been, was a manager, so he's out. Ryan only pitched for the Rangers for five years, and we've already said he belongs to the Angels or Astros. Who does that leave? Ivan Rodriguez? Juan Gonzalez? Those weren't exactly clean break-ups. Raffy Palmiero should probably be first in line, but that whole "Miguel Tejada gave me steroids" affair does two things: guarantees he won't get into the hall of fame, and attaches him to the Orioles for the rest of history.

The verdict: It's a tough call, but I'd give Rodriguez the nod over Gonzalez once a spot opens up.

Any dissenting views?


Warren said...

Are you going to retire "numbers" for players who played before numbers were on jerseys?

If you want to hold off before retiring Nolan Ryan's Angels number, you could retire Bobby Grich's. Not a Hall of Famer, but he arguably should be.

Anyway, most of my comments would be about the A's. For some reason, they never retired numbers for players from their Philadelphia days, although that's when they had their best teams by far.

Lefty Grove definitely should have his number retired by the A's, unless you were leaving him for the Red Sox. Jimmie Foxx is in the same boat - he needs have his number retired by the A's or Red Sox. Like Grove, he probably was a bit better as an Athletic than a Red Sock.

Rube Waddell is in the Hall as well, although he played before jersey numbers. And Al Simmons played for a bunch of teams, but was with the A's more than any other team.

Sully said...

I'll admit that I didn't really dig too deep on the Philadelphia A's - I just breezed through the A's page on Wikipedia - but I can't believe I forgot Grove and Foxx. I should be put on baseball fan probation for that. I'd add them and cut... I don't even know, Plank and Baker, I suppose. Maybe this is a case where you have to use up all 9 slots and not keep one open for the future.

And yeah, if they didn't have a number, I say you still acknowledge them in the same way and have it "count" as a number, so in the A's case, it would count as one of the nine.