As many National League fans already know, right-handed pitcher Roy Oswalt has worn the number 44 for his entire big-league career, which began with 9 ½ stellar seasons with the Houston Astros before a 2010 deadline trade to the Philadelphia Phillies.
If rumors that the 36-year-old is on the verge of signing with the St. Louis Cardinals for 2012 come to reality, the question will arise as to whether his favored uniform jersey number is available.
Fortunately, the answer appears to be “yes.”
New Cardinals and former Oswalt teammates Carlos Beltran (#3) and J.C. Romero (#16) have settled on different digits. And frankly, having Oswalt, a three-time All-Star and winner of 159 career games sporting those number 44 threads would represent a considerable upgrade from its deployment in recent years.
Last season, the Cardinals broke spring camp with non-roster invitee Miguel Batista donning the number 44. After the 40-year-old pitched himself off the team, the uni was passed on to another high-mileage veteran, outfielder Corey Patterson, one of the throw-ins in the Colby Rasmus deal. Patterson was so unimpressive that he was left off the post-season roster and is unsigned for 2012.
The year before, another outfielder in the twilight days of his playing career, Randy Winn, was assigned 44.
The most famous Cardinal to wear number 44 in recent years is also looking for a place to play in 2012. Of course, that is former closer Jason Isringhausen. The 39-year-old returned to MLB last season with the New York Mets after a year away but is again a free agent. Izzy pitched for St. Louis from 2002-2008 and is the club’s all-time leader in saves with 217.
When I think of number 44, however, my mind goes to “The Zamboni Machine,” Ken Reitz. The defensive specialist manned third base for the Cards while wearing the digits for two stints totaling eight years from 1972 through 1980.
For nine years during the 1960’s, pitcher Ray Washburn, winner of 68 games with St. Louis, donned number 44. Even current manager Mike Matheny wore 44 for a brief time in 2000 (see photo) before returning to his familiar 22.
Of course, until Oswalt’s deal is done, it isn’t, but it appears one minor potential problem will not occur.
Then, there is that issue of six starters for five jobs. That may become a job for number 22 to sort out in Jupiter, Fla. starting in just three weeks…