From 0-99: Stories of how MLB players picked their uniform numbers

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Updated: August 16, 2017

Baseball is a game of numbers. For everything a player does on the field, there’s a number to evaluate it. But the number that a player chooses to share with us — the one on the back of his jersey — often remains a mystery. So we asked players around the league for the best stories behind their numbers.

For some it’s a tribute to a childhood hero or a family legacy, while others have more humorous tales behind their selections. And, yes, some were just handed a jersey with a number on it somewhere along the way and never let it go. What is your favorite big leaguer’s uniform-number story?

0

Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies

Ottavino is the only pitcher to ever wear zero. He said it’s an “O” for his last name, and he has worn it since little league. His former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, would not let him wear it, but the Rockies said yes.


2

Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

“I grew up following Derek Jeter. He was one of the prime examples of how you want any kid growing up to play the game, just to take the good habits that he had. That’s why I asked to see if I could get No. 2 after Jacoby [Ellsbury] went over to the Yankees.”

J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles

“There were only two single digits available when I came here — 2 and 7. Cal Ripken Sr. was 7, so they said they’d rather not give that one out. So I took 2. I was 7 in Milwaukee and 27 in Minnesota. So I figured the 2 kind of went with both of those. My first thought was, who was No. 2? And it was Bill Hall when I played in Milwaukee. But Jeter was my favorite player in high school. The 2 didn’t have anything to do with that, but I did like Jeter.”


3

Sandy Leon, Boston Red Sox

“Three is the month when I [was] born — March. July 3 is my mother’s birthday. May 3 is my dad’s birthday, too. March 13 is the day I [was] born. There’s a lot of 3s in there, so I like that number.”


4

George Springer, Houston Astros

“My favorite player as a kid was Torii Hunter, and he wore 48, so I kind of stuck with it. I always wore some multiple of 4 — whether it was 2, 4 or 8.

“When I was at Connecticut, we were at a fall practice and I was screwing around and my coach, Jim Penders, said, ‘What, are you 4 years old?’ When it was time to pick our jerseys, that was the smallest one. I weighed like 170 pounds at the time, and I needed it to fit. I was like, ‘I need the smallest jersey, and coach says I act like I’m 4. So I’ll be 4.'”


5

Albert Almora Jr., Chicago Cubs

“I think I’m a single-digit guy. I don’t think I’m big enough to wear two digits. It was between 5 and 8, and I chose 5. I just don’t think I’d look good in two digits.”


6

Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals

“I actually hate the No. 6, but they gave it to me when I got here. I was 23 in college, and I was always 24 growing up for [Ken] Griffey [Jr.]. But 24 was taken in college, so they gave me the closest number. Everywhere we used to go, they called me Jordan. My birthday’s in June, so there are some ties to six. I don’t hate it, it’s just not my favorite. It’s a single number, too. That’s weird. I’ve never had a single number.

“I was going to switch for this year. I could’ve taken 24, but MLB makes you buy all of the inventory, and it would’ve been like 40 grand. I told them, ‘Don’t make any more then. Just sell it and get the total down, and maybe I’ll change it next year.'”


9

Dee Gordon, Miami Marlins

“Dad’s high school number. And they thought I looked like Juan Pierre when I first got up to the Dodgers. I used to wear 5, but I got to the Dodgers and [Juan] Uribe had it, and 9 was better than 70. People thought it was a Pierre thing — I mean, I’m little and fast and hit leadoff — but for me, it was my dad. His big league numbers were 36 and 45: 3 plus 6 is 9, and 4 plus 5 is 9.”


12

Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals manager

“I wore it because Tommy Davis wore it, and he was my baseball hero with the Dodgers. I was lucky enough that when I got to the Braves, they just gave me 12. That’s why Jeff Kent wore 21. He was 12 with New York, but I was wearing it already in San Francisco. It’s been my lucky number since I was a kid. Calendar has 12 months. There’s 12 tribes of Israel. Twelve is just 12.

“My life’s been so good that, when I got traded to the Dodgers, Tommy Davis was one of my heroes, and then there I was wearing his number, then I ended up batting where he batted, I played left. How many guys end up playing their hero’s position and wearing their number?”

Chase Headley, New York Yankees

“I wanted something lower. They gave me three numbers and I chose 12. … But I’ve never been like, ‘I have to have this number.’ … If I came to a new team, I would not buy someone a Rolex just so I can have a number. To me, it is not worth it. There is nothing wrong with it, it is just not me.”


14

A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros manager

“When I got to the big leagues, I wasn’t good enough to have a playing number. It was whatever the team gave us. … It’s called ‘not established enough to own a number.’

“When I got to the Astros [as manager], they asked me what my favorite number was. I said 7, and they said, ‘Pick another number. That’s Craig Biggio‘s number.’ … My daughters drew jerseys with my name on the back of pieces of paper and wrote numbers that they liked. I think they had 10, 11, 14 — whatever numbers were available in that middle area. And then they picked 14.”


16

Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox

“Really, the only reason is my dad was 16 when he played [in college at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio]. I’ve always worn it, pretty much. D-Mo [Deven Marrero] was wearing it last year, so I asked him and he was kind enough to give it to me. They didn’t give me a choice last year. They just gave me 40.”


17

Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

“My dad wore it, and my brother. I always wore No. 23, but obviously I can’t have a retired number [Ryne Sandberg]. Growing up, I always wore No. 25, because Barry Bonds was my favorite player then. When I got to high school, they just didn’t have a No. 25, so I took No. 23, because it was close to 25. Guys would call me KB23, so that was kind of cool. Then I get here, and it’s retired. You can’t unretire a Hall of Fame number.”


19

Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox

“This is the number that I’ve actually wanted since I got to pro ball. … I wore 19 in school [at the University of South Carolina]. A lot of reasons why: born April 19, my mother was in labor with me for 19 hours, Jackie Robinson — can’t wear 42 anymore, but the year he was born was 1919, Jan. 31, and also, I wore No. 19 in college.”


22

Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs

“My high school teammate passed and his mom was my favorite teacher, and he was No. 22. He was one of those guys like David Ross, everyone liked him, the backup catcher. We were really close as a team. We won state and stuff. Andy Wilmot was his name and his mom was my teacher my senior year, but she was like the team mom. In the fall league in 2009, I wore No. 22, and I ended up giving that to Andy’s mom.”


28

Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

“My first big league camp, you know, most guys’ first big league camp they get No. 70 or, like, high numbers. And I got No. 28 at my first big league camp, and I was kind of like, ‘Wow, this is cool. People aren’t going to look at me like some scrub. I’m some guy who looks like I’ve been doing this a long time.’ That’s kind of how it all started.”


31

Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

“I was 37 in Detroit, came over here, wanted to be 31. That was my number at Mizzou. They just handed me that number, but that’s when I felt like I really solidified myself and became a pitcher in my mind, so I got attached to it.”


41

Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

“My favorite player is Victor Martinez. He has helped me a lot. I’m very proud for that. When I played in low-A in Michigan, the house where I lived, we watched Detroit a lot. I watched him a lot, and that is why I liked him. He was helpful when I met him.”


51

Ichiro Suzuki

“It was the first number that I got assigned as a pro. You just take what they give you. I was a pitcher in Japan, and usually you wear No. 1, so I was No. 1. I was just happy to become a professional, and that’s the number they gave me. In my third year, I had 210 hits, which broke the all-time record for a season in Japan. The most special number in our organization was 7, which belonged to Yutaka Fukumoto, who held the stolen base record. He was a fast outfielder, kind of similar to what I was at that time, and so that offseason, they offered to give me his number. But I declined and kept my 51. Looking back, I’m glad I kept that number.”


68

Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

“I’m 6-foot-8, that’s why I wear 68. As a kid, when I first played, I wore No. 10, because of Gary Sheffield. I wore 23 because my birthday is March 23rd. I wore 32 when they didn’t have 23. I wore 53 because I just like the numbers 5 and 3. With 68, I got that number in spring training and I was like, ‘I’m going to keep it.'”


77

Clint Frazier, New York Yankees

“[It] was supposed to be so me, [Dustin] Fowler [since traded to Oakland] and [Aaron] Judge could have 77, 88 and 99, but that plan changed with Fowler going elsewhere. I looked around and every other outfielder had a double number. It is another reason I’m wearing my pants up, too, because all the other outfielders are wearing their pants up. Just trying to build a little family out there.”


99

Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

“My first day in spring training with the New York Yankees that was the number hanging up in my locker. That’s what they gave me. That’s my number. I don’t think you’d turn down a jersey from the New York Yankees.”


Jerry Crasnick, Tim Kurkjian, Scott Lauber, Andrew Marchand and Eddie Matz contributed to this story.

Article source: http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/20276096/behind-numbers-stories-how-mlb-players-picked-their-uniform