"You know my name, look up the number"
January 11, 2009 4:12 AM   Subscribe

Sports jersey questions: Why is the baseball pitcher with a single-digit number such a rarity? Why do hockey goalies usually wear 1, or something in the 30s? And why are 2-7 usually worn by defensemen?

Apparently only Josh Towers (#7) and Shawn Chacon (#1) wore single-digit numbers as late as last season. I can see the old traditional numbering system in baseball attributing to this in some way (when single digits were assigned to position players), but why would it still be virtually in effect? The only thing I can think of is how prominent a pitcher's back is in a televised game, and for whatever reason, seeing a pitcher alone on the mound with a low number just "looks" weird.

From what I can tell, the NHL used to have a strict numbering system, with forwards starting at 9 on up. But like with baseball, I'm not sure why the pattern would continue to this day. Is it a matter of each successive generation of hockey players picking numbers of their idols from previous generations? Or do they just want to stick to tradition, perhaps even subconsciously?

And since forwards are often smaller than D-men, you'd think you'd see more and more of the latter straying away from the low numbers for their bigger jerseys. And surely there'd be a lot of forwards (or pitchers) who grew up liking a low number (esp "lucky 7") and would want to wear it as long as possible?

Any insights on these (esp if you play in a league), or general numbering trends in baseball, hockey, or other sports?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total)
The Wikipedia entry on Squad Number explains this pretty well for most sports. It certainly does a much better job than I could at this hour.
posted by ChazB at 5:10 AM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

In hockey some teams have retired many of the popular lower numbers.

The pattern I see in hockey a lot now is goalie's still use #1 and 30-39. D-men wear 2-5 commonly. Then after that is free game for any forwards.
7 is used a lot by guys who are scorers. 12, 9, 17, and 22 are pretty popular too. (I'm speaking for outside the NHL as well)

I see a lot more Dmen and Forwards dressing in the 30's now though. There are also some goalies in more recent NHL history picking crazy numbers for a goalie.

A lot of guys play with what number is open when they get on a team and then just keep that number while going up and through the system. The number that is dealt to them usually follows the traditional numbering system.

I use 33 as my hockey number. It started with me playing in goal and then I use it when I play defense too in my summer house leagues.

In turn, I used 8 and 18 a lot as kid because that's just what was given to me so I stuck with it before changing positions to be a goalie.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:01 AM on January 11, 2009

It appears some of the originals go back to position assignment.
posted by furtive at 11:54 AM on January 11, 2009

I've always wondered if there is a correlation with date of birth and jersey numbers increasing, e.g. Sidney Crosby was born in 87 and wears 87.
posted by furtive at 11:56 AM on January 11, 2009

And some more observations...
Of the senior 2000-01 NHL goalies - Damian Rhodes (Atlanta Thrashers), Arturs Irbe (Carolina Hurricanes), Jamie Storr (Los Angeles Kings), Mike Dunham (Nashville Predators), Sean Burke (Phoenix Coyotes), Johan Hedberg (Pittsburgh Penguins), Roman Turek (St Louis Blues) & Craig Billington (Washington Capitals) all wore the #1 jersey and six rookie goalies also went with #1 - about half of the NHL. Five other NHL teams have retired the #1, for Glenn Hall (Chicago Blackhawks), Terry Sawchuk (Detroit Red Wings), Jacques Plante (Montreal Canadiens), Ed Giacomin (New York Rangers) and Bernie Parent (Philadelphia Flyers). We have all come to regard the #1 shirt as a goalie shirt number.

Ok, there are others - #39 Dominik Hasek, #33 Patrick Roy and #35 Tommy Salo who all had the "goalie range" of their current era - anything in the 30s seems to be used (#20 Ed Belfour ?, well it is Eddie Belfour!).

Other unusual goalie numbers include #2 - Hardy Astrom with Skelleftea AIK, Jiri Holecek with Czechoslovakia in the 1976 Canada Cup & some of his eight World Championships, Dominik Hasek in the 1984 & 1987 Canada Cups - #3 Pavol Svitana with Czechoslovakia in the 1976 Canada Cup and #7 Zdenek Ortc with Ak Bars Kazan.

But this section of the Unusual is about non-goalies wearing the #1. This may grow into quite a list as we will update it as and when but here goes ...

Marty Burke (1928-29) with the Montreal Canadiens.
Herb Gardiner (1926-27 & 1927-28) with the Montreal Canadiens.
Albert 'Babe' Siebert (1936-39) with the Montreal Canadiens.
from A-Z Hockey
posted by furtive at 11:59 AM on January 11, 2009

Why is the baseball pitcher with a single-digit number such a rarity?

If you look, you'll notice that single-digit numbers are fairly rare in baseball, period. Many teams retire the numbers of very good/very popular players (usually formally, sometimes just 'we don't give that number out anymore').

Baseball has, afaik, never really had a 'number by position' rule, although there used to be a 'number by batting order' policy (and pitchers, not being in the batting order everyday, tended to not get 1-8). By the time that policy relaxed, many of the single and low double digit numbers were retired.
posted by jlkr at 1:37 PM on January 11, 2009

I don't know a lot about the sports you ask about, but in others (for instance, basketball), in youth leagues, number is based on size: smaller size, lower number. So if people like to keep "lucky" numbers for a while, they will aim at a certain point, giving you, in basketball, centers with much higher numbers that point guards.
posted by dame at 4:32 PM on January 11, 2009

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