Friday, September 22, 2023

my retired number collection - may the 4s be with you

i mentioned awhile back that i was starting a retired number mini-collection after being inspired by the retired numbers display at dodger stadium that featured a variety of topps cards. well, i've been working on amassing the collection since then and am finally ready to start sharing this latest endeavor. note that i've tried to find cards featuring photos with the number visible. major thanks to comc and all who sell cards there as once i exhausted my collection, i used their database to find suitable cards for this effort. you will see that not all cards show the number, so i would be very happy if someone were to suggest an alternative card for my collection.

there are approximately 240 numbers retired across major league baseball, including the league-wide retirement of 42. some teams have retired numbers twice and some teams have retired numbers in honor of executives and fans who didn't wear a number. in addition, there are a number of players, managers, announcers, and executives who are similarly honored but without a number. this collection only includes uniformed staff - so players and managers only.  there's a full list of retired numbers along with what this collection will entail over at my want list site.

several years ago, i thought about starting a retired number mini-collection that featured retired numbers in the background on cards, but ultimately decided that would mean a bunch of giant, cardinal and white sox cards mostly, as they featured or feature retired number references on their outfield walls.  other teams feature their numbers elsewhere in the stadiums (if at all) and rarely appear on cards. there are some exceptions, like the wonderful 2010 topps card shown below.
that card shows the first eight numbers retired by the yankees, in the order in which they were retired. it all started with lou gehrig, so it makes sense to me to start these posts with number 4, a number that is retired by seven teams as of now.

lou gehrig (retired by the yankees in 1939) - 2000 upper deck yankees legends
lou gehrig was the first player in professional sports to have his number retired. the yankees gave him that honor as part of "lou gehrig day" on july 4, 1939 which was also the day of his famous "luckiest man" speech. gehrig was given number 4 when the yankees began wearing numbers as that was his place in the lineup, and so he was the only yankee to ever wear the number. 

the card i've chosen for gehrig also lists out the numbers retired by the yankees at that point in time. they've added to the list in subsequent years. the photo used shows gehrig shaking hands with babe ruth, who is shown on a card of his own - i put the cards together (somewhat haphazardly) in a post a few years ago.

mel ott (retired by the giants in 1948) - 2010 topps history of the world series
the new york giants retired mel ott's number during the 1948 season (july 17 to be exact) following his 23-year tenure as a player, player/manager, and just plain old manager. when he retired, his 511 home runs were third most all-time (behind babe ruth and jimmie foxx) and the highest total for any national leaguer. ott was the second (bill terry was the first) and final giant to wear number 4, and he was elected to the hall of fame in 1951. 

the giants used to have big circular placards on the outfield wall at candlestick for their retired numbers, so i would see "ott 4" quite a bit on tv and on some cards. there is no denying that those placards helped spark my interest in retired numbers in general.

luke appling (retired by the white sox in 1975) - 2002 upper deck sp legendary cuts
here we have the first example of a card that does not show the player's number, unfortunately. appling wore number 4 for the white sox for the entirety of his playing career which spanned from 1930 through 1950. appling led the american league with a .388 average in 1936, and then again with a .328 average in 1943. he retired with 2,749 hits and was voted in to the hall of fame in 1965. 

while appling's number was the first to be retired by the white sox franchise, five players wore number 6 after appling and before it was retired on june 7, 1975. the last of these players was ron hansen in 1969. 

duke snider (retired by the dodgers in 1980) - 2001 fleer greats of the game
the duke of flatbush had his number 4 retired by the dodgers on july 6, 1980 following his election to the hall of fame as is the dodger way (for the most part). snider spent the first 16 seasons of his 18-year career with the dodgers, and was a huge part of their 1955 world series title. his 11 world series home runs is still the record for a national league player, and he hit four homers in a single fall classic twice. he retired with 407 home runs which was good for ninth place all-time at the time, and his 389 home runs as a dodger is still the franchise record. 

three dodgers wore number 4 after snider left the team prior to the 1963 season, the last of which was bill north in 1978.

earl weaver (retired by the orioles in 1982) - 1972 topps
here's the first non-player to be featured, and also the first card from their active years to be shown. weaver was, of course, the orioles' manager for most of the 1970s and much of the 1980s. he took over during the 1968 season and led the team to american league pennants in each of his first three full seasons at the helm. that run included the world series title in 1970 and a 109-win team in 1969. weaver also guided the club to another pennant in 1979 and retired from managing after the 1982 season with 1,354 wins having never had a losing team. 

weaver was the last oriole to wear number 4, as the team retired it number on september 19, 1982 upon his retirement. however, they gave it back to weaver when he was convinced to return to the orioles' managerial post during the 1985 season. weaver retired for good after the 1986 campaign, having suffered the first losing season of his career. he was inducted in to the hall of fame in 1996.

joe cronin (retired by the red sox in 1984) - 2001 upper deck sp legendary cuts
here's another "numberless" card. cronin spent 11 seasons with the red sox as a player, a tenure that largely overlapped with his 13 years as their manager. he followed that up with several years as an executive for the team, but it was his playing career that got him elected to cooperstown in 1956. he owns a .301 lifetime batting average with 2,285 hits, 515 doubles, and an obp of .399. as a manager, he was the club's winningest leader until passed by terry francona, and he led them to the world series in 1946, his penultimage season at the helm.

cronin's number was retired in the same ceremony as ted williams' in may of 1984, so numerically he was first, i guess. the last red sox player to wear number 4 for the red sox was carney lansford in 1982.

ralph kiner (retired by the pirates in 1987) - 2002 upper deck sweet spot classics
kiner's number 4 is mostly visible on his back, although the design of the card camouflages it a bit. i think of kiner mostly for his home run hitting prowess which makes sense as he led the national league in homers for each of his first seven seasons. he played only 10 seasons (8 for the pirates) but amassed 369 long balls for his career along with a .946 ops.

for some reason, the pirates waited until september 19, 1987 to retire number 4 for kiner, despite his induction to the hall of fame in 1975 and the fact that the team had retired other numbers prior to that. the team literally took it off of the back of mike lavalierre, who became the last pirate to wear the number. and, since i am not including broadcasters here, i will mention that the mets "retired" kiner's microphone in 2014 in a fashion similar to that of a player whose number was retired, so he is honored by two franchises for his baseball career.

paul molitor (retired by the brewers in 1999) - 1984 donruss
the brewers retired molitor's number 4 on june 11, 1999 less than a year after he retired from the game. he had been away from milwaukee, however, for several seasons after spending time with both the blue jays and the twins. i was really hoping he would have great success as the twins' manager so that they might also retire his number based on that success and the three solid seasons he put up as their dh prior to his retirement. that was not meant to be for the st. paul native. as for the brewers, they gave number 4 to pat listach in 1996, so he became the last (and only) brewer to wear the number after molitor left.

as a brewer, molitor had over 200 doubles, 400 stolen bases, and 2200 hits en route to reaching the 300, 600, and 3000 milestones for each of those categories and becoming a first-ballot hall of famer in 1999. while he was always among my favorite non-dodgers, he moved in to the top spot following steve garvey's retirement and stayed there until the 1995 season when shawn green really hit the scene.

not too long ago i sold off my 1984 donruss duplicates, so i only have a few cards outside of my complete set and dodger team set rattling around in my mini-collections. i am very happy to have this card representing molitor in this collection.

that's it for number 4!

i am going to track a few things as we go, even though the information is already available elsewhere.

retired numbers by team (shown in chronological order of their first number retirement):

yankees - 4
giants - 4
pirates - 4
red sox - 4
orioles - 4
dodgers - 4
white sox - 4
brewers - 4
major league baseball
blue jays

retired number frequency:

4 - retired by 8 teams

running total of unique hall of famers: 8

running total of non-hall of famers:


  1. This seems like a fun project. You still have cards you need for it? Seems like the sort of thing TCDB can be helpful with, I can look at my trade list for each player and see thumbnails of the cards, have a sense of which ones will have numbers on the back.

    1. thanks bo. i've gone through my "extras" and the comc database (and then sportlots) to curate this collection. the only cards i would be looking for now are ones that would replace cards like the appling or cronin above because they show the number on the front or back.

  2. What a neat, and somewhat different, looking collection. I never knew that Lou Gehrig was the first to have his number retired. Now that I do, it seems very fitting. Looking forward to more of these :)

  3. Carney Lansford wore #4 for the A's. Although he's a fan favorite, it's unlikely he'll have his number retired by the franchise.

    Looking forward to seeing more retired number posts. This is a fascinating topic.