Last Monday Night fans watched the Chicago Bears soundly defeat the Dallas Cowboys at frozen Soldier Field. During halftime of that contest the home team Bears had a moving ceremony in which they retired the number 89 jersey that belonged to Mike Ditka. It was the 14th one that Chicago has put into the archives, more than any other NFL team. The San Francisco 49ers are second with 12, the New York Giants have eleven.
On the other side of the coin we have teams that have never retired a number which include the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys. The Washington Redskins have put only one number on the shelf, 33, in honor of Sammy Baugh who hasn’t played in over 60 years. The Seattle Seahawks also only have one, 12, in honor of their fans, “The 12th man”. The Cleveland Browns have retired five numbers including that of Ernie Davis, a man who never played a down for the team but passed away as a result of lukemia between the day he was drafted and opening day of the 1962 season.
In the NBA it’s the Boston Celtics with the most, 21 numbers that will never be worn again, followed by the Portland Trailblazers, with 11, which is strange since they didn’t enter the league until 1970 and have won only one title, that was in 1977. Wilt Chamberlain has had his 13 put away for three different teams (four counting the Harlem Globetrotters), but the most interesting is that the Miami Heat have retired the number 23 in honor of Michael Jordan, an opponent.
To no one’s surprise it’s the New York Yankees that leads Major League Baseball with sixteen. Their number 4, worn by Lou Gehrig, was the first ever number retired in pro sports history. All numbers from 1 to 10 are accounted for with the exception of 2, which currently belongs to Derek Jeter, and the number 6 which was worn by Joe Torre as manager. The team chose not to honor him so it looks like that digit will still be open for the next Yankee superstar.
The great Ty Cobb never had his number retired because he never had one. The Detroit Tigers didn’t put them on their uniforms until several years after his retirement. Nolan Ryan, like Wilt Chamberlain, had his number retired by three teams, 34. The defunct Montreal Expos have three numbers retired honoring four players, Gary Carter (8), Rusty Staub (10),Andre Dawson (10) and Tim Raines (30). When they left town, the Montreal Canadians held a ceremony on October 18, 2005, and lifted them up to the rafters of the Bell Center, their home arena, where they still are on display.
The number 5 was retired by the Miami Marlins in honor of Carl Barger the first team president. Barger died in December of 1992, four months before the first game in team history. They chose that number because it was the same as his favorite player, Joe DiMaggio. However, the number was unretired at the start of the 2012 season and given to Logan Morrison who wanted it to honor his father who had recently passed away. He chose that number because it was that of his father’s favorite player, George Brett.
The number 5 was also retired by the Cincinnati Reds after the 1940 season in honor of Willard Hershberger. Hershberger is the only player in MLB history to commit suicide during the middle of the season. He was a back-up catcher to Ernie Lombardi and when Ernie got hurt Willard got his chance to play in August during a heated pennant race. The team lost several games while he was catching. Even though he hit .308 for the season, he apparently took the losses seriously and slashed his own throat. The Reds then dedicated the rest of the season to “Hershie” and won the World Series. They voted him a full winners share of $ 5,803 and gave it to his grieving mother. The number was put back into circulation two years later but is now permanently retired since it was on the back of Johnny Bench during his entire career.
Last but not least, the number 42 has been honored by all teams to show respect for the great Jackie Robinson, the first black athlete to play on a Major League Baseball team.
By Richard Harris