Thursday, June 18, 2009

What's In a Number? Greatness, If It Is No. 5

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What is the importance of a number on a baseball jersey? How long have they been wearing numbers?

All teams began wearing numbers on their jerseys in 1937 though some wore them inconsistently prior to that.

In 1929, the Yankees started wearing numbers on their jerseys. Their numbers corresponded to their place in the batting order. In other words Babe Ruth batted third, therefore he was No. 3. Lou Gehrig batted fourth so he wore No. 4.

Today, it is quite fashionable for young guys to emulate their favorite player by wearing his number on their little league uniforms. I wore No. 7 for Mickey Mantle in my youngest years, then as an adult player in a softball league I switched over to No. 25 to honor Tommy John.

Many people feel a certain number is the best, if not the luckiest for them to wear on their uniforms. An hour or two of research brought me the knowledge that No. 4 was the most used number for members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion and I must say that No. 5 is probably the most well represented number past and present.

Basically the No. 5 jumped into prominence when Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio began wearing it for the New York Yankees in 1937 (In his rookie year Joe wore No. 9). He was followed by other great players who have made their marks in history, the record books and in our hearts as fans.

Let’s take a look at the greatest players who wore No. 5 and the ones who are still wearing it.


In the beginning, there was Joe.

Joseph Paul DiMaggio, Jr. began wearing No. 5 for the New York Yankees at the beginning of the 1937 season.

During his rookie season of 1936 Joe wore the No. 9. The Rookie of the Year Award was not presented prior to 1947 or Joe would have won it. He batted .323 with 29 HR and 125 RBI, 206 hits and scored 132 runs.

His best year was in 1937. He was runner-up in MVP voting and why he didn’t win it I cannot understand. Joe batted .346 with a league best 46 HR and 167 RBI. He had 215 hits and scored a league high 151 runs, with an OPS+ of 168.

Charlie Gehringer won the MVP trophy that year with a .371 batting average. He hit only 14 HR and drove in only 96 runs.

During a career that lasted only 13 seasons Joe batted .325 with 361 HR and 1537 RBI. He also had 2214 hits and scored 1390 runs.

He batted over .300 11 times, hit over 30 HR seven times and drove in over 100 runs nine times. He collected over 200 hits twice and scored over 100 runs eight times. Joe had two batting titles, two HR titles and two RBI titles.

He holds the Major League record for hitting in 56 consecutive games during the 1941 campaign.

DiMaggio won three Most Valuable Player Awards, and was named to 13 All-star teams.

Joe appeared in 10 World Series with the New York Yankees and batted .271 with 8 HR and 30 RBI, in 51 games.

He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.

DiMaggio began a string of No. 5 players who continued to play with spirit, enthusiasm and greatness.


Hank actually preceded Joe by about three years as he donned that number in 1934. He actually began his career in 1930 sans a number and had number seven on his back in 1931.

He played from 1930 (he actually only had one plate appearance, and didn’t play in the Major Leagues again until 1933) until 1947. Of course, there was time missing as he did his time during the Second World War.

He missed the entire ’42, ’43 and ’44 seasons at the prime of his career.

As with Ted Williams and some of the other greats, we tend to wonder what type numbers he could have put up if he hadn’t taken a hiatus to honor his obligation to Uncle Sugar.

Greenberg won two Most Valuable Player Awards in the American League, in 1935 and 1940. Neither, however was his best work. That was accomplished in 1937 when he finished third in the MVP voting.

In that year Hank batted .337, hit 40 HR, a league best 183 RBI (which is still third all time), had 200 hits and scored 137 runs.

His OPS+ was an outrageous 172. That was the season I alluded to earlier when Gehringer won the MVP with a “third rate” plateful of numbers. Joltin’ Joe came in second.

In his 13 seasons, Hank batted over .300 nine times, hit 30 or more HR six times, three of those for 40 or more and one with 58. He also knocked in over 100 runs seven times, collected over 200 base hits three times and scored over 100 runs six times.

Hank was named to six All-star teams and played in four World Series, where he batted .318 with 5 HR and 22 RBI in only 23 games.

Greenberg was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1956.


Lou Boudreau played from 1938 to 1952 with no breaks for the war effort. He played all but the last two with the Cleveland Indians before being moved to the Boston Red Sox.

When he came up in ’38 he wore number 34 and for the rest of his tenure in Cleveland he was No. 5.

In 1948 Lou won the Most Valuable Player award in the American League. He batted .355 with 18 HR and 106 RBI, with 199 hits and scored 116 runs.

Boudreau won the batting title in 1944 with a .327 average. He batted over .300 four times, had over 100 RBI twice and was named to eight All-star teams. Lou played in the 1948 World Series with the Indians where h

e batted .273 in six games.

Lou was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1970.

Known for his sterling defensive work at the hot corner more than swinging a heavy stick, Brooks Robinson began wearing number 5 in 1957. In 1955 he wore No. 40, in 1956 he was No. 6, and began the 1958 season with number 34 before changing to No. 5.


Brooks was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1964 when he hit .317; 28 HR and a league best 118 RBI. He also finished second in the MVP voting once, was third two times and finished fourth another time.

Robinson won 18 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and was named to 18 All-star teams (some were seasons featuring two games) and played in four World Series with the Baltimore Orioles batting .263 with 3 HR and 14 RBI in 21 games.

He played his entire 23 year career with the Orioles and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.


Johnny’s career overlapped with Robinson’s but he carried on the tradition of greatness from 1967 to 1983, all with the Cincinnati Reds.

He came up in ’67 but didn’t play enough to forfeit his qualification as a rookie in 1968, when he was voted the National League Rookie of the Year.

Bench won the first of two Most Valuable Player Awards in 1970 when he led the league in HR with 45 and RBI with 148. He did the same in 1972 when he won the award hitting a league best 40 HR and 125 RBI.

Johnny hit over 20 HR 11 times and knocked in over 100 runs six times. I

n 1975 he won the Lou Gehrig M

emorial Award and in 1976 the Babe Ruth Award, the same year he won the MVP in the World Series. In 1981 Bench won the Hutch Award.

He won 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and was named to 14 All-star teams. An integral part of the “Big Red Machine”, he played in four World Series with the Reds, batting .279 with 5 HR and 14 RBI in 23 games.

Bench was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.


George played his 21 year career with the Royals in Kansas City. He started out being number 25 in 1973 but changed to 5 in 1975 and stayed with it throughout his career.

Brett won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1980, batting an incredible, league best

.390, with 24 HR and 118 RBI. He also finished runner-up in MVP voting twice and third one time.

George won three batting titles and led the league in hits three times. He batted over .300 11 times, hit over 20 HR eight times and knocked in 100 runs or more on four occasions.

In 1980 George won the Hutch Award. In 1985 he was the MVP of the American League Championship Series and in 1986 won the Lou Gehrig Award.

Brett won one Gold Glove Award, three Silver Slugger Awards and was elected to 13 consecutive All-star teams. He also played in two World Series with the Royals batting .373 with 1 HR and 4 RBI in 13 games.

George was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999.


Nomar has worn No. 5 since he came up with the Boston Red Sox in 1996. Other than part of a season with the Cubs in ’04 (No. 8) he has always worn the No. 5.

Garciaparra hit the ground running in 1997 as he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award with a .306 average and 30 HR, along with a league best 209 hits.

He has batted over .300 nine times, leading the league twice, with averages of .357 and .372. He has hit over 20 HR seven times

and knocked in over 100 runs four times. He also scored over 100 runs six times.

Nomar won one Silver Slugger Award and was named to six All-star teams.

He looked destined for a Hall of Fame spot until after the 2004 season when he became injury prone and has never been the same.


Albert Pujols began his career in 2001, proudly wearing number 5 and being voted Rookie of the Year in the National League. He batted .329 with 37 HR and 130 RBI. He also got 194 hits and scored 112 runs.

It was easy to see at the beginning that Albert was a special player. He won MVP Awards in 2005 and 2008, was runner-up three times and was number three in voting once.

Pujols best year was 2003 when he batted a league best .359, hit 43 HR with 124 RBI, a league best 212 hits and scored a league best 137 and still didn’t win the MVP award.

Albert has batted at least .314 in every season he has played. He has hit at least 32 HR, and driven in over 100 every year.

In 2003 he won the Hank Aaron Award; in

2004 he was MVP of the National League Championship Series; in 2008 he was Major League Player of the Year and also won the Roberto Clemente Award.

Albert has won one Gold Glove Award, four Silver Slugger Awards, been named to seven All-star teams and played in two World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals, whom he has spent his entire career with thus far.

Albert is arguably the best player in the game at this point, and his future looks absolutely sparkling.


Matt entered the Major Leagues in 2004 with the Colorado Rockies and chose the No. 5.

After two so-so seasons Matt turned up the heat in 2006, batting .326 with 34 HR and 114 RBI. He also collected 196 hits and scored 119 runs.

In 2007, I felt Holliday should have been voted the National League Most Valuable Player. He was not however, as that prestige fell into the hands of Philadelphia’s Jimmie Rollins.

That year Matt batted a league leading .340, hit 36 HR and knocked in a league best 137, got a league leading 216 hits and scored 120 runs.

After his numbers fell a little in 2008, Holliday was traded to the Oakland Athletics.

He won the 2007 National League Championship Series’ MVP Award. He has won three Silver Slugger Awards and was named to three All-star teams. He was in the 2007 World Series and batted .294 with 1 HR and 3 RBI in four games.


David came up with the New York Mets in 2004 playing in only 69 games and batting .293 with 14 HR and 40 RBI.

He has batted over .300 each year since and has hit over 20 HR four times. He has also knocked in over 100 runs four times, and scored over 100 twice.

He is viewed by many to be one of the most valuable franchise players in MLB. He has already won two Gold Glove Awards, two Silver Slugger Awards and has been named to three All-star games.

So, from Hank Greenberg in 1930, the greatness of players wearing No. 5 has passed hands to Joe DiMaggio, then to fellow Hall of Famers Lou Boudreau, Brooks Robinson, Johnny Bench and George Brett.

Then the torch was passed to perhaps future Hall of Famers in Nomar Garciaparra, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and David Wright.

What is in a number? When it is No. 5, greatness.

© 2009 Clifton Eastham. All Rights Reserved.

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