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One more take on retiring numbers: two recent Phillies are worthy

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Plus one old-timer without an actual number

Earlier this week John Stolnis laid out Why the Phillies should change their policy on retiring numbers. It’s a half-baked policy that essentially abdicates the decision and leaves it to the BBWAA and the veterans committees that vote for the Hall of Fame.

There was no such policy until the 1990s, and even then it appears to have been put in place only to cushion the blow to Del Ennis’ family and supporters. Presumably the four numbers retired prior to that time (Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, and Mike Schmidt), were based on the player’s perceived historical importance to the Phillies franchise, without considering their Hall status. With Ashburn in particular, there was certainly no guarantee he would ever get in, and in fact it would take another 16 years for him to eventually get voted in by a veterans’ committee. That is the methodology the organization needs to return to.

John correctly points out that the Phillies have been relatively stingy (or conservative, one might say) in retiring numbers, and the table below bears that out.

One thing to note is that more than a quarter (27%) of the numbers retired are for players (or managers, execs, etc.) who are not in the Hall. With a few of them it’s just a matter of time (Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, etc.), but it’s clear that for most teams the Hall is not much of a criterion.

(In addition to being included in the Dodgers’ count above, Jackie Robinson’s 42 has been retired by all teams.)

The Phillies have been around for 137 years, making them one of the oldest franchises in MLB, but for the first almost 50 of those years, uniforms didn’t typically have numbers. The Yankees began the practice in 1929, based on their batting order (which is why Ruth wore 3, Gehrig 4, and so on). It didn’t become common across MLB until 1932, so it’s been 88 years that the Phillies and most of the 16 original teams have been issuing numbers.

Even with that shorter time frame, five in 88 years makes the Phillies the 6th most reticent of the 30 franchises to retire them, in terms of years per number.

Among the original 16 teams, the Phillies are tied with the A’s for fewest. The A’s though have already named Dave Stewart as the next to be retired, which will leave the Phils alone at the bottom. Granted, someone has to be at the bottom, and the Phillies have had relatively few stars, and also not much success, and it could be argued that they should have the fewest retired numbers.

Regardless, I completely agree with John’s main point in that piece:

This doesn’t have to be that hard. These are rules that can be changed, and they should be changed. After all, these types of ceremonies are for the fans, and the fans want to see at least some of these numbers retired.

Recent Phillies

As to the specific candidates, below is how I view those from the 2007-2011 run, roughly in order of the strength of their case for having their number retired:

Chase Utley (26): Utley’s number should be retired at the earliest opportunity. He has support for the Hall from national writers and sites like the Hall of Stats, and has the 3rd highest WAR total of any non-pitcher in Phillies franchise history.

Jimmy Rollins (11): Rollins is a tougher call IMO. He doesn’t have as a good a case for the Hall as Utley, though his better counting stats will still garner some support. However his importance to the Phillies is as great. He is by far the best shortstop in franchise history, its all-time hits leader, and one of the leaders and faces of the 2007-11 run.

Cole Hamels (35): There’s a valid argument for Hamels. He’s 4th all-time in Phillies pitching WAR, behind only three men who have already had their number retired: Carlton, Roberts, and Alexander. And obviously with his World Series MVP and importance to the 2007-11 teams, he merits strong consideration.

Ryan Howard (6): Howard was a one dimensional player, but that one dimension made him a star. Still, is that enough? There is something to be said about his six finishes in the top 10 of the MVP voting, and it speaks to how well a lot of writers thought of him.

Howard is a tough down vote. “Rollins, Utley, and Howard” has been a short-hand way for fans to refer to the leaders of arguably the Phillies’ best era in franchise history (with competition from the late 1970s). And for many fans, Howard was seen as the Big Piece, the player more responsible than anyone for their success. Honoring Utley and Rollins but not Howard will feel odd in anything but a purely WAR-based discussion. Regardless, retiring a number is a big deal, and a player should check a lot of the boxes in order to have that honor bestowed on them.

Roy Halladay (34): Doc has already had his number retired by the Toronto Blue Jays (32). That in itself is not a deal breaker, as 11 players and managers have had their numbers retired by multiple teams (below). But Halladay’s success here was relatively short-lived — two great seasons, including two historic games, a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter. His tragic early death is another consideration.

Other Candidates

The core from the recent run is currently top-of-mind, but we also need to be somewhat consistent across history. This is just one measure, but below are the Phillies franchise leaders in career WAR, for both position players and pitchers. Those with their numbers already retired are in red, including Alexander and Klein:

(Ryan Howard has 19.6, and Roy Halladay 16.8)

Jim Bunning is somewhat of an outlier. He had an excellent four-year peak with the Phillies in 1964-67, but otherwise doesn’t rank high in career Wins, or WAR. His presense helps the case for Hamels, certainly (not to mention Schilling, perish the thought).

Dick Allen (15): Allen may be the next Phillie to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. He fell only one vote shy of induction when the Golden Era Veterans Committee voted in 2014 (for 2015 induction). The committees have reorganized and Allen will be considered by the Golden Days committee in December of this year, for induction in 2021.

Or how about some of the greats from the turn of the last century? They played before there was widespread use of uniform numbers and would be included only for the honor, in the same way as Pete Alexander and Chuck Klein:

Ed Delahanty: Delahanty is already in the Hall of Fame, inducted in 1945, and spent almost his entire career with the Phillies, from 1888 to 1901.

Sherry Magee: During the time Magee spent with the Phillies (1904-14), the only players with more WAR were Wagner, Cobb, Nap Lajoie, and Eddie Collins.

Miscellaneous Notes

Below is the complete list of retired numbers:

Random observations from those lists:

  • The Astros have retired 9 in their brief history, making them second only to the Yankees in relative frequency (i.e. years per number retired)
  • The Marlins had retired #5 for team president Carl Barger, but reversed that when they re-branded from “Florida” to “Miami”.
  • The Nationals started with a clean slate when they moved from Montreal to DC, and have not retired any since.
  • We know Jim Fregosi as the manager of the 1993 Phils, but he is one of only five players to have their number retired by the Angels. Fregosi was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career with the Angels before foot cancer derailed him.
  • As players who first wore uniform numbers went on to retire, retiring numbers started in earnest in the 1960s, and took off in the ‘70s. After a dip in the 2000s, this last decade saw 44 retirements, the most yet in any decade.
  • Of those 44 players who had their number number retired in the 2010s, 16 (36%) are not in the Hall of Fame yet.

In Summary

As John Stolnis advocated this week, the Phillies should change their ill-conceived “policy” of only retiring numbers of players that have been inducted in the Hall of Fame.

Strong Cases:

Chase Utley (26)
Jimmy Rollins (11)
Ed Delahanty

Maybes:

Cole Hamels (35)
Bobby Abreu (53)
Ryan Howard (6)
Dick Allen (15)
Sherry Magee