Philadelphia Inquirer - August 1, 1980
Rookie Walk takes on Reds
The Phillies entertain the Cincinnati Reds tonight (8:05) and their rookie hurler, Bob Walk, is in an enviable position.
Walk's record is 7-1, but he doesn't qualify for leading pitchers in the National League because he hasn't been involved in nine decisions.
If he wins, at 8-1, he will be right near the top.
Even if he loses, at 7-2, he will still be among the leaders.
Bill Bonham is going for the Reds.
PHILLIES vs. Cincinnati at Veterans Stadium, 8:05 p.m. (Radio-KYW-1060)
Phillies Clinic at 11th Street and Columbia Avenue Playground, 1 p.m.
The number matters
Even players need a security blanket
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
There is one thing in baseball that everybody has. And that's a number.
Pitchers have them. Batters have them. Coaches... managers... even umpires have numbers.
If a guy doesn't have a uniform number, he's either dead, retired or had better check the waiver wire in a hurry.
Numbers serve a simple purpose. They are the only means fans have of telling George Vukovich (29) from John Vukovich (18) from the 700 level.
All numbers were ever supposed to do was identify people. They're really not a lot different in that respect from phone numbers, Social Security numbers or the numbers they put under guys' pictures on the FBI's 10-Most-Wanted posters.
At least they never were intended to be. But things have a way of taking on whole new meanings in sports. And numbers, too, have gotten out of control.
It is hard to believe, but some numbers have come to be regarded as more desirable than others. Guys who are assigned "uncool" numbers can have their entire self-image affected. Anybody with a lousy number probably can't play too well, either.
Some numbers also have become more historic than others. The number three, for example, has been retired by three different teams (Yankees, Twins, Indians). The number 57 has never been retired by anybody. In fact, it has hardly even been worn by anybody.
Numbers, see, tend to become part of a guy after a while. They are as much a part of certain players' identities as their stance, their statistics cr their home-run trots.
"When you think of 14, you think of Pete," says the Phillies' John Vukovich, and he doesn't mean Pete Mackanin. "You don't think of anybody else. Just like when you think of 24, you think of (Willie) Mays. If Schmitty went somewhere else, you'd still think of him as number 20. If Bowa went somewhere else, he'd still be 10."
Numbers just have that way of sticking with a guy. Pete Rose has worn 14 for 18 seasons, and there is very little chance he will ever wear, say, 49. Once you have carved a niche with one number, you can be traded, sold or optioned to Peninsula, and your number is pretty certain to make the trip with you.
"I guess it's just superstition," says Phillies equipment manager Kenny Bush, the man in charge of assigning all uniform numbers, sacred and not so sacred. "Guys just like to stay with the same number they've had their whole career.
"To me, it doesn't make much difference. But when we get somebody in a trade, right away I'll look up what number he's worn before. And if it's open, I'll give it to him."
When it's not open, you sometimes get problems.
Bobby (No. 00) Bonds got to St. Louis this year, for example, and found George Hendrick wearing 25, his number. Bonds tried to convince Hendrick to switch to 26. He might as well have tried to convince him to retire. No deal.
So Bonds gave up and requested No. 007, which was worn once by a non-ball-playing guy named Bond (James). But three-digit numbers are not allowed. So Bonds wound up, simply, with No. 00.
Other players have a little more clout. When Rose arrived in Philadelphia, Bud Harrelson had his number. For about a minute, anyway.
When Rose held up a Phillies uniform at a press conference the day he signed, it already had No. 14 on it. Harrelson never got the option of giving it up. But he probably would have if he had had the option.
"I think anybody would have given it to him," says John Vukovich. "I mean, that's just Pete's number. Everybody recognizes his ability and his accomplishments. No use changing a good thing."
Most players deny they have any superstitious attachment to their numbers nowadays. But they do admit they sometimes get inextricably involved with their numbers whether they like it or not.
"The toughest thing about changing numbers, after you've played for a while, is your family," says Tug (No. 45) McGraw.
"You'll buy your wife a piece of jewelry with a number on it. Then if you get traded and they don't give you the same number, the jewelry's obsolete. You either have to take it to the pawn shop or have it melted down."
McGraw has never had that problem. He has worn 45 since his first day as a Met in 1965. But other guys see more numbers go by than H & R Block.
Just in Philadelphia alone, John Vukovich has worn 30, 28, 26, 22 and 18. Del (No. 25) Unser has gone from No. 1 (in Cleveland) to No. 30 (in Washington).
Tim McCarver started out as No. 15 in St. Louis. But before he was done he'd worn 2 (in Montreal), 33 (in Boston), 6 (as a Phillie the first time) and 11 (as a Phillie the second time).
"As long as I had a number," says McCarver, "I was never really particular."
Question: Dear Mr. Kuhn, how can I be sure I have a cool number?
Answer: Aim low. You are better off wearing minus-12 than 62.
There is hardly anything more humiliating in baseball than being assigned a number in the 50s or 60s.
George Vukovich came to spring training this year as a non-roster player and was given No. 53. This was like telling Vukovich he had about as much chance of making the club as Stan Lopata had of making a comeback.
"It was embarrassing," says Vukovich. "I felt like a linebacker. When you have 53, everybody knows you're either a minor leaguer or a scrub or something. It just wasn't a baseball number."
Obviously, that never occurred to Don Drysdale. Drysdale wore 53, and it affected him so adversely he managed to win only 187 games.
"Some guys get attached to numbers that other guys wouldn't even think of wearing," says McCarver. "Drysdale liked 53. Most guys would have thought that was an ominous number."
The old saying, according to McCarver, goes: "If you can keep your number under 60, you know you're in the big leagues."
But Bush says no Phillie in his memory ever has wdrn anything higher than 49. So sometimes there are variations, even to old sayings.
The highest number spotted in the big leagues this year was 63, worn by that famous New York Met, Mario Ramirez. When Ramirez came to the plate at Veterans Stadium one night, people actually began pointing and questioning his virility.
So remember, kids, if someone assigns you No. 63, either hold out for something lower or switch to football.
Q: Dear Mr. Garagiola. How come catchers always have lower numbers than pitchers?
A: Well, it's like this. Numbers are too important to just be handed around at random. There has to be a system.
According to Bush, the Phillies system is: catchers 5 to 9, infielders 10 to 19, outfielders 20 to 29, pitchers 30s and 40s.
The system sometimes gets messed up. Either you have too many infielders or you get somebody in a trade or certain guys like certain numbers. So things get out of order.
It does not make Bush very happy when the system gets out of whack. But because he also is occupied with important duties such as picking up about 14,000 dirty socks, he doesn't have time to get too upset.
Q: Dear Mr. Bush. Have there ever been times when two guys fought over a number?
A: Well, of course.
Bush says there was one dispute just this year.
When Lee Elia joined the club as a coach, he requested No. 4, the number he had worn all his life. It is also, except on maybe the Yankees, a fabled coach's number.
That was the problem. Another coach, Herm Starrette, already had it. Starrette wouldn't give it up. So Elia became No. 3.
One of Bush's most delicate problems ever was the legendary Tony Taylor Caper. Taylor was No. 8 as a Phillie for many years. Then he was traded, and Bob Boone got No. 8. Whoops. Then the Phils got Taylor back.
"I hated like heck to ask Booney to give it up," says Bush. "He'd been here. And besides, he was a catcher, and I like to keep them in those numbers."
The system could not be altered. Taylor wound up with 12.
Then there was Dave Cash, who arrived from Pittsburgh and wanted 30.
"I tried to talk him out of it," Bush says. "That's a pitcher's number. But he just kept bugging us about it. So finally I just decided to give it to him."
Q: Dear Mr. Green. How come you wear 46 and all the other managers wear 1, 2 or 3?
A: Dallas Green says he wears 46 because it was his first number in the big leagues, and "1, 2, 3 and 4 don't do much for me. I didn't want to wear Danny's number." (Ozark wore 3.)
Behind every number there is a story. Here is the story behind some famous numbers:
ROSE AND 14 – He wore 11 in the minors. The spring training when he first made the Reds, he wore 27. Then, suddenly, he was a second baseman on Opening Day, and they handed him 14.
Now, on other guys' warm up shirts, they sew in their names. On Rose's warmup shirt it says only "14." He has just about copyrighted the number.
But Rose says that if he changed teams some day and, say, Vida Blue was already wearing 14, "I don't think I would feel funny."
"When I think of 14." Rose says, "I always think of Oscar Robertson."
GREG LUZINSKI AND 19 – Luzinski is one of the guys messing up the system. The reason is, when he came up he was a first baseman. So he got an infielder's number. He still has one.
MANNY TRILLO AND 9 – In Venezuela and Chicago, Trillo wore 19. That was, uh, unobtainable in Philadelphia.
So Trillo was given 6, Ted Size-more's old number, in spring training. He was miserable. Nine is his lucky number. So he convinced Dave Rader to trade him 9 for 6.
"I like 9 so much, I had to stick with anything about 9," Trillo says. "I'm not really that superstitious. But when I play roulette I always play No. 9 or 19. And when I drive to the park, I always look for car licenses with 9 or 19. If I see one I say, 'It's gonna be a good day for me.' "
TUG McGRAW AND 4S – "I've had it since I came up with the Mets," McGraw says. "And when I came over here I didn't even think about it. They just gave it to me.
"The worst part about it was, when I came up with the Mets, 45 used to belong to a guy named Ron Locke. So everybody was calling me Ron Locke. They didn't even notice he was gone."
Other assorted trivia about numbers:
The guy who wore 32 before Steve Carlton – Darrell Brandon.
The guy who wore 20 before Mike Schmidt – Roger Freed.
The guy who wore 10 before Larry Bowa – Scott Reid (an outfielder, now a Phillies scout).
The guy who wore 1 after Richie Ashburn – Alvin Dark.
The guy who wore 15 after Dick Allen – Sam Parrilla.
The guy who wouldn't wear 15 after Dick Allen – Tim McCarver. (It was his number in St. Louis. But Allen wasn't real popular in Philly then, and "I thought I might get shot." McCarver says.)
Number to wear if you want to win the Cy Young Award – 32. Not only was it Sandy Koufax' number, it is the number worn by Carlton, Baltimore's Steve Stone and Kansas City's Larry Gura. They are a combined 46-12 this year.
Highest number worn by a guy who plays every day – 49, Montreal's Warren Cromartie.
Eight players in baseball who wear No. 13 – Dave Concepcion, Cincinnati; Dave Revering, Oakland; Bobby Brown, Yankees; Lance Parrish, Detroit; Harry Chappas, White Sox; Roy Howell, Toronto; Joe Ferguson, Los Angeles; Bruce Bochy, Houston. (Ron Pruitt wore 13 in Cleveland but was traded to the White Sox.)
Only player to have his number retired twice – Hank (No. 44) Aaron, by the Braves and Brewers. (Casey Stengel's No. 37 was retired twice, by the Yankees and the Mets.)
Highest number ever worn in the big leagues – 99, by Dick Allen in Oakland, for no particular reason.
Second-highest number ever worn in the big leagues – 96, by Bill Voiselle of the Giants, because he came from a town named 96 in South Carolina.
Final proof that numbers are important:
There is probably no greater honor in sports than having your number retired. Richie (No. 1 ) Ashburn, who joins Robin (No. 36) Roberts as the only Phillies to have had their numbers retired, admits he was "touched" by that gesture.
The only trouble was, it didn't occur to the Phillies right away to do it. So about 10 guys wore 1 between the time Ashburn left and the time the number was retired last summer. The Phillies finally had to trade Jose Cardenal to pull it off. And, in a way, they retired Cardenal's number, too.
"They had a shirt for me with my name and number on it, but somebody stole the shirt," Ashburn said. "So the shirt I got was Cardenal's."
The main reason that having your number retired is such an honor is, obviously, that there are only a limited number of numbers a team can afford to retire. Retire 20 or 30 numbers and pretty soon you have guys wearing 83.
So a lot of great players haveliad to accept the realities of not having their uniform number perpetuated as theirs.
"They didn't retire my number," says McCarver. "They just got tired of it."