Writing stories to pass values from one generation to the next

Baseball’s Retired Numbers: Surprising Findings

Retired numbers

Retired numbersRetired Numbers in Baseball

I mentioned on a post last week, a tribute to my friend Mike, that his number would be retired this week. Mike died of a heart attack suffered during a game 30 years ago. His number 17 has not been worn at my high school since, but the ceremony will make it official. It’s long past due for a great friend and teammate.

Maybe you’re wondering why a team retires a number. In doing some research on the topic–out of general interest and because I have a Little Fella who is fascinated by this sort of thing–I learned a few interesting pieces of information (that some might justifiably consider worthless trivia). For instance, the only two major league players who have worn Mike’s number 17 and had it retired are the Cardinals’ Dizzy Dean and the Rockies’ Todd Helton.

Come, go down the rabbit hole with me as I share some of my findings about retired numbers. At the end of the post, take the quiz that I have put together about some of baseball’s retired numbers.

  • Consistent criteria for retiring a player’s number among major league teams doesn’t exist. Some teams have Hall of Famers whose numbers have not yet been retired. Others have retired numbers of players whose career statistics are downright pedestrian.
  • Some organizations wait until a person has passed away before they retire a player’s number. Others bestow the honor as early as a player’s retirement.
  • Several teams have numbers that are no longer worn but that are not yet officially retired numbers.
  • Some franchises have been forced to begin using spring training-type numbers (typically above 55) because they have so many retired numbers. Others, meanwhile, have not retired numbers (at least not from their organization…for more on this, take the quiz!)
  • Baseball is not the only sport to have one player’s number retired from all the team’s. Wayne Gretzky’s #99 is retired across the National Hockey League in recognition of being a transcendent player. Speaking of other sports, Michael Jordan’s #23 was not only retired by the Chicago Bulls but also by the Miami Heat for much the same reason as Gretzky’s.
  • Organizations have–on rare occasions—“un-retired” previously-retired numbers.

My Take on Retired Numbers

I am of the opinion that the numbers that a sports franchise retires should reflect the history, values, and tradition of the organization. The player being honored in such a manner should be representative of the highest ideals of the sport. He should be a good citizen in the city that honors him by retiring his number. New franchises should not be so eager to try to build a history that they retire a number for less than the best of motives. Retired numbers tell the stories of the best of the best of a relationship between a baseball player and the city that makes him famous.

What do you think?

Take the Retired Numbers Quiz

And now for the quiz. Go ahead. Give it your best shot. My boys both enjoyed a perfect five-for-five on the first half of the quiz before taking a shutout on the final five tougher questions. Let me know how you did.



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photo credit: <a href=”″>Todd Helton – Colorado – 2000 Road</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell.

Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel, Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and the Coach Dave series. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

What do you think?