Sunday, January 22, 2006

January 22nd, 1929

Yankees Announce Uniform Numbers

Given that somewhere around ninety-five percent of people who follow baseball these days can't remember a time when uniforms didn't have numbers, it sometimes seems odd to think that the Yankees' announcement today made them the first team to ever have numbers as a regular part of their uniform. (The Yankees number assignment system, incidentally, was based on where one batted which is why Babe Ruth was #3 and Lou Gehrig #4.) In fact, it would not be until 1933 that the all teams finally had uniform numbers on their players meaning that the 2008 season will mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of uniform numbers being league-wide, although I imagine that will be a largely unnoticed event. Nonetheless, numbers are in some ways a relatively recent concept; many all-time greats (Ty Cobb, Cy Young among them) never wore uniform numbers regularly.

Of course, uniform numbers has given rise to one of baseball's great traditions, retired numbers. The Yankees were also pioneers in this regard, being the first franchise to retire a number, giving the honor to Lou Gehrig on the same day when he made his famous "Luckiest Man" speech. The most definitive list of retired numbers that I've found can be found here, and is always interesting to see who teams have retired (and who they have not) along with speculation about whose number might next be placed in a place of honor in your team's ballpark.

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