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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

One Less Cardinals Retired Number is Good

I was asked in the comments section on Friday whether I was surprised that the St. Louis Cardinals re-issued Mark McGwire’s number 25. The recipient is recently-promoted bench coach David Bell, who moved off number 23. (That was news first disclosed here at The Cardinal Nation Blog back on February 9th, by the way.)

My reply became so long, I turned it into this post instead of a comment.

The short answer is “No, I was not surprised.”

I suspect this occurred due to a number of factors working in concert.

Of course, the first gate to pass was for the Cardinals to allow it by removing number 25’s unofficially-retired status, where it had been from 2002-09 and again during the last two seasons. Why did they do that, though?

First of all, it is very clear that McGwire is not going to be elected to Cooperstown any time soon. Holding aside his number for those related celebrations is clearly unnecessary.

That is a bad reason, anyway, in my opinion. As fans may remember, the most recent Cardinals inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame immediately had their numbers retired as well – Bruce Sutter, Whitey Herzog, Tony La Russa, to name three. I am not sure all of those number-retirement decisions will fully stand the test of time.

I remain against number-retiring having become “automatic.” I think at least five more years should pass until a number is forever taken out of service. I am sure glad the recent practice was not followed all the way back to when the Hall opened or there would be a lot of current Cardinals wearing three-digit numbers on their uniforms and the entire Busch Stadium outfield wall would be covered with names, images and numbers.

Better instead to reserve the use of retired numbers for the very best of the best – the most exclusive of clubs. My view is very straightforward. If there is the slightest hint of a question about the selection, we then have our answer. The number should not be retired.

Back to the Hall of Fame celebration, which seems a long way away for McGwire. In fact, not that a retired number would be attached, because it is not and should not, but it looks like it will be a number of years until Big Mac even is selected for his own team’s Hall of Fame.

The next reason for releasing Cardinals number 25 is another obvious one – McGwire is no longer wearing it himself. As opposed to Willie McGee, whose number 51 remains unofficially retired and donned by him alone as a special instructor, McGwire is a Los Angeles Dodger. His “25” is now blue.

As an aside, I suspect that now that McGee has been inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame, if he later leaves the organization to coach for another club, his number 51 might someday be eased back into service. I do not expect either to happen any time in the foreseeable future, however.

Finally, Bell reportedly requested the number. With the bench coach coming from a three-generation Major League Baseball family, 25 has been long associated with the Bell clan, including David himself.

Interestingly, Bell had to wait two decades to get his old Cardinals 25 back. As a rookie in 1995, Bell was assigned the number, but was soon returned to Triple-A. By the time Bell was called up again to St. Louis in 1996, things were different.

New manager Tony La Russa had named George Hendrick as his hitting coach, with “Silent George” re-claiming the 25 he had worn as a Cardinals outfielder. Bell settled for number 27. Hendrick was then trumped himself in 1997, ceding 25 to McGwire when the slugger arrived from Oakland in trade.

During his second stint with the Cardinals, McGwire rarely donned his actual uniform jersey, apparently preferring to wear more generic garb, often a team windbreaker, while coaching.

As hard as it would have been for anyone to believe in 1998, it has now been affirmed that Cardinals number 25 will not be McGwire’s forever. And I am ok with that.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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14 Responses to “One Less Cardinals Retired Number is Good”

  1. crdswmn says:

    I am just curious, which of the currently retired numbers do you believe were rightly retired?

    I don’t have a dog in this fight, as I have never articulated an opinion on this subject.

    • Brian Walton says:

      OK, you asked for it! Here are the ones that bother me.

      Ken Boyer for sure. He is the only non-Hall of Famer to be recognized and his was done in the emotions of him passing away prematurely.

      Bruce Sutter is another. I wrote about it here.

      I have always questioned Gussie Busch ahead of Branch Rickey, for example.

      I felt Whitey Herzog’s was questionable. At the time, I explained why I believed a team Hall of Fame would have been a better approach.

      I was not even that thrilled they did TLRs so fast as it continues a bad precedent of moving too quickly.

      I also took a lot of heat at the time for arguing against retiring McGee’s and Edmonds’ numbers from fans who apparently want about every number retired.

      Few people care about the old timers passed over who are more deserving than many of the current favorites. Going back to Herzog, look at Billy Southworth’s success in comparison. Yet when Billy went into the Hall seven years ago, the Cards basically ignored it. Why? Because Southworth is dead and buried.

      If the Cards hadn’t wasted a decade tying up the Hall of Fame idea with the Museum, which was tied up with Ballpark Village, some of this could have been done right in the first place.

      • crdswmn says:

        So those are the ones you don’t agree with? Since my question was about those you do agree on, then you approve of the ones not listed above?

        • Brian Walton says:

          Yes, I answered in reverse.

          It is sacrilege to many, but I also think had there been a team Hall of Fame at the time, it would have been better to recognize Jack Buck in that manner. I just think that retiring numbers should be more special than it had been, especially for non-playing personnel. Maybe that will change going forward.

          P.S. Of the 14 recognized with retired numbers (including Buck and Hornsby without digits), five of them made their primary fame as non-players and just nine on the field. That seems out of balance to me.

          Again, this was caused by having no team Hall of Fame, in my opinion. Retiring numbers was all they had.

          • crdswmn says:

            Okay. Would you have an issue with retiring Albert Pujols’ number at some point in the future?

            I can’t say I disagree with you. I get your point and I think it is valid. I guess I just don’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other.

            • Brian Walton says:

              This has obviously been a hot button issue for me for a long time.

              I don’t think a Pujols decision should be made until at least five years after he is done as a player. Check back with me in about 12 years. Of course, it will be written about eight jillion times between now and then. 😉

            • blingboy says:

              We should tell Albert we will retire his number right now – for $10M. For $20M we will make his number bigger than everybody else’s. Arte will offer to do it for less so we won’t end up having to.

  2. blingboy says:

    I was surprised to read that MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark says that there were discussions about holding some ST games in Cuba this year. It took a bit of searching to find a quote.

    “I can simply tell you that there were conversations and dialogue this off-season about the possibility of having spring training games in Cuba, but because everything was relatively new, because nobody was really sure what it meant, we weren’t able to put those pieces in play this go-round,” said Clark. “I will say to you that it is conceivable somewhere down the road that there may be a spring training game played in Cuba, but it is hard to tell at this point in time.”

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