It’s a Numbers Game / file photo

With the Tampa Bay Rays adding two new players to their roster in the last 24 hours, there has been a hustle and bustle of conversation and negotiations behind the scenes in and around the clubhouse for those two guys to secure their “favorite” numbers that have graced their uniforms throughout their careers.  Newbie to the team, catcher Gregg Zaun has always worn the number “9” his entire career and sees it as the ultimate good luck charm to him. The only problem is that the Rays uniform number “9” was previously assigned to back-up catcher Shawn Riggans, who is on the DL down in Durham right now.

New Rays reliever Russ Springer also had the same situation when he arrived in Seattle last night for his first game in a Rays uniform. For the night he would be wearing number “37” until the Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland could do a fast sewing and manipulation of the “36” jersey in time for the Sunday finale at Safeco Field. In that contest, Springer would be sporting the comfortable “36” he has worn for many years. But that number had been picked out by fellow Bullpen member Randy Choate and he did offer to surrender the number to Springer in time for the last game of the series.

Athletes do feel a  wild kinship to their numbers. I know I always worn a form of the two numerals “1” or “3” throughout my playing days. I even got lucky enough in High School and College to wear “13” and “31” so I had a double whammy of good luck. And to say athletes are not superstitious is  like saying Paula Deen loves margarine on her food. Seriously, I felt a power mentally within me when I had my number on my back. It was an inner strength I could not describe, it was my version of the Superman cape.

Nick Wass / AP

The number’s on a players uniform are as much a part to a players psyche and identity as their names to the fans. The numbers on their back mean so much to some players that they do not seem to play like themselves without their special numbers. So was it any wonder that newly minted Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson once paid $ 25,000 to get his beloved “24” on his back during one of his many team changes in his career.

And changing your number can also change the way the fans see a player. When pitcher Roger Clemens came back, didn’t it seem a bit odd to see him in a “21” jersey instead of the traditionaL “22” that he wore during his glory days. And when Michael Jordan put on that “45” jersey during his return to the courts, did he not look anything like the “23” we grew to love for all those years in Chi-town.

Numbers can universally imprint a player into our minds and memories. I look at Carl Crawford’s early years with the Rays wearing the number “8” years,before he switched to “13”. It was like a night and day comparision as he began to sprint out from under a shadow the minutehe put number “13” on his back. Now you know him by his number from a distance and do not have to look at the name blazoned across his shoulders.

I remember an article by ESPN columnist Jim Caple back a few years ago where he remembers a “Seinfeld” episode that showed how a players number can transform into our daily lives and about how synonymous a player and their numbers can become to us ?

Consider the Seinfeld episode when George Costanza revealed to his fiancé Susan that he planned to name their first child Seven. Seven Costanza?” Susan replied, “Are you serious?”

“Yeah. It’s a beautiful name for a boy or a girl. Especially for a girl. … Or a boy.”

“I don’t think so.”

“What, you don’t like the name?”

“It’s not a name, it’s a number.”

I know. It’s Mickey Mantle’s number. So not only is it an all-around beautiful name, it is also a living tribute.”

We all know the poor George did not stand a chance in that arument and went down on flames. But those numbers do something within us. Those simple cloth numbers. I know as a player I did not want the secondary numbers like “18” or “11”, I wanted that number where I felt safety within, and secure going to battle wearing on my back.That’s right, to me either number “13” or “31” held the powers of the universe plain and simple.

We know that a majority of the baseball world is content with number under 70, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon has worn the number “70” for years and  we can not visual;ize him wearing anything else on his back. But the numbers game goes beyond just numbers at times. Most good pitchers would not even consider wearing a single digit number on their backs. But it can go further than that in the realms of good and bad. A number can end up defining a player just by sight.

So as the Rays take the field today at 4 pm in Seattle, think about it for a minute. Could you imagine Evan Longoria not wearing his customary “3”, or even Rays starter Scott Kazmir not wearing number “19” If those number symbolize who they are to you, then  you get the idea of this blog. Mention to a Yankee fan the number “4” and you get Lou Gehrig. Mention “24” to a San Francisco Giants fan and you get Willy Mays.

The number becomes just as important as what they do on the field or mound. For that number will always symbolize who they are as a player, and what they did while wearing that number. So, you got to wonder, what did Choate and Riggans get for exchanging their jersey numbers with the Rays two veterans. Well, neither are saying right now, but what they did is give their new teammates a sense of comfort and security on their first day on the job.






And it’s not just players! We all have our little quirks involving numbers and sitting in the “right spot” for the game and eating the “right meal”! I think it has to do with us being creatures of habit – and for a player a number is an extension of him or herself. Change the number and you can change who they are.


You telling me I drive the same way home or to the game based on superstition.
You mean I do a hat and finger salute with Scott Cursi after every game as a bit of lucky.
You mean I swirl my hat at least three times in each direction after the National Anthem for good karma.
Guilty as charged!

Rays Renegade

Aww, I wanted Springer. Nuts. Oh, well, he probably has a much better chance at pitching in the post-season with you guys.I’m with you on the numbers thing. Carl Pavano was handed Torii Hunter’s old number (48) and it was kind of weird. I always thought Hunter was overrated as the supposed leader of the team, and hated the way he would call out his teammates in public, but it was surreal watching a mid-season rental wearing his number.-Erin

I kind of felt the same this season seeing someone else beside Rocco Baldelli in the # 5 jersey.
It was weird to see Burrell in it for a few weeks but now seems a bit normal.
But seeing Lance Cormier in my buddy Jonny Gome’s # 31 has not gotten easier yet, but he is doing great.
But that is just a result of the everchaning business of baseball today.

Rays Renegade

This is a lot of really cool info, Renegade. I remember reading in Sports Illustrated once that some Packers player (I don’t remember who) had been given a new house just to trade his number with a newcomer! Cool stories.


The numbers thing can be scary at times, but very important…I guess it’s surprising when one small thing could change the lives of many… and how everyone has that one special number…
Outside the Phillies Looking In

That Seinfeld episode is hysterical! I remember all my numbers from the playing days too…baseball, 33 ; softball, 18 ; basketball 23 (MJ :O) But 33 is still my favorite :O)


Oh man, do I know about those little quirks, last year, when I was watching my Phillies in the World Series, I would never wear Phillies gear the day of the game, but the day after, and I would sit in that certain spot on the couch, I love superstitions, players superstitions too. Does anyone remeber a few years ago that Blue Jays relieve Scott Downs would walk backwards off the right side of the mound after certain pitches? I’m not sure if he still does it, great blog right here.

ive always been a fan of the number 15. i also like 85…Lastings Milledge’s number. he used it in honor of his birth year. Sidney Crosby’s 87 is also his birth year. cool way to line it up that way

Thanks FBC,
I have never had to di it, but I know of a guy in college that bought a dinner for an upper classman every game so he could wear number “5”.
With Shawn Riggans currently at Durham (Triple-A), he is probably going to get some catcher’s gear from Zaun for the exchange.
Thats what I would ask for……..

Rays Renegade

I can attest to the power of wearing my number and thinking I was better for some reason.
But then again, playing at that level most of you are near the same level in skills and abilities, it just might be the mental approach that can get you over you personal “hump”.

Rays Renegade

For some reason I knew you would get it.
But it is also sad if you trade a guy and they come and and take that other player’s number.
Kind of like if you quit dating a cute woman and your best friend asks her out the next weekend.
I always wonder with our team how many of these guys have had the same number all throughout the minors and up, or if they have a similar number, or are within a certain numeral code for their uniform numbers.

Rays Renegade

Pitcher’s duel,
There are so many “rituals” that a player can do.
I know with the Rays, I have a ritual every 4th-6th inning when Rays “closer” J P Howell goes by my seat he points to me.
It is something I started with him 3 years ago and he just keeps it up out of good luck and superstitions. My kinship to helping the team’s karma.

Rays Renegade

You know Lastings is fro this area.
He originally went to HS at Northside Christian here in St. Petersburg before he had a bit of trouble and moved down to the Palmetto area.
Reliever Joe Beimel when he was with the Rays wore number “98” because it was the year the Pirates drafted him in the 18th round.

Rays Renegade

I play first base for my high school baseball team and for the first couple games I wore the number 13, and I couldn’t hit and had problems in the field. I asked my coach if I could switch to the number 22, which is the number I’d always worn previously and my average skyrocketed and all of a sudden all the problems I’d been having on the field went away. I think it’s very much a matter of confidence, but it’s fascinating to see how these things work, isn’t it?

If it makes the players more comfortable/confident then Why not? I can’t actually imagine certain players not wearing their number. It’s just one of many rituals and superstitious things that everyone does… not just the players.
I have a teddy bear that has to wear his hat a certain way depending if the Rays are on the road or at home, a lucky hat and a special pregame pep talk that Colin and I have. It weird, but makes us feel like a part of it all.

I understand that totally.
I guess I got lucky and my number stayed pretty consistent, but I did play the 1982 Baylor Spring game and gave up two TD’s wearing # 22.
I had torn the front of my #13 jersey and it was not ready in time for the game.
The coach got it fixed before the next days practice.
It does take something mentally out of you.

Rays Renegade

It all comes down to simply what makes you comfortable, either on the field or in the stands.
I stay after the game every night and chat with Rays Radio guy Rich Herrera every night in the RF corner for a few seconds.
It is my post game ritual with the Rays.
I used to have a bucket of ribs every sunday, but the rib joint did not come back in 2009. I miss their peach cobbler.

Rays Renegade

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