A’s Ain’t Nothing But a Number


Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk about numbers.

Though maybe not in the sense that an astute follower of the Oakland Athletics may be keen to. So for a moment let us stray from world of analytics, number crunching, and advanced statistical study to focus on numerals in a form free of algorithms and averages.

Namely the digits on the back. For the first time all winter, the official website of the Oakland Athletics have released an updated version of the 40-man roster with all the trimmings. Most interesting of which involve numerical jersey assignments to the collection of off-season acquisitions brought into the fold since the start of the off-season.

Without further adieu:

#1 Nick Punto, most recently worn by Akinori Iwakauma (’10), Eric Patterson (’10), and Nomar Garciaparra (’09)

Numerical Analysis: There’s something about the intrinsic, minimalistic beauty of the single digit numeral that fits a middle infielder of Punto’s stature. Though neither flashy nor ostentatious, the digit has a distinct vintage quality made popular by the black and white exploits of Phil Rizzuto and Pee-Wee Reese.

Athletics Historical Impact: Basically kept out of circulation from 1977-2009, I’ve always felt the number was unofficially retired in honor of former Oakland manager Billy Martin whose aggressive form of managing coined the term “BillyBall” in the early 80’s. Making a reappearance during the spring of 2003, veteran outfielder Ron Gant briefly wore the number in spring training before opting for his traditional number 5 after camp broke for Oakland. Most recently Manny Ramirez sported the lonely integer in the spring of 2012 during his aborted comeback attempt with the Athletics.

#3 Craig Gentry, most recently worn by Mike Gallego (’11-12), and Eric Chavez (’99-’10)

Numerical Analysis: When the advent of jersey numbers were first introduced to baseball they were assigned to designate where a player hit in the order. Thus, Babe Ruth being the third place hitter and accordingly was assigned number 3 and set forth a tradition of the lineup’s best hitter identifiable by the digit. Times have changed, and though nobody will place such expectations on Gentry and his lifetime .721 OPS, his presence is sure to be felt on the 2014 Athletics all the same.

Athletics Historical Impact: As a child, I proudly donned a glossy number three on the back of my little league jersey for no other reason then I once attended a game where Craig Paquette hit a home run. What can I say? I was young and it was a judgement mistake. The number was later brought to justice by the stellar play of Eric Chavez throughout the early to mid-oo’s, before his body decided to completely self-destruct.

#13 Drew Pomeranzmost recently worn by Jerry Blevins (’08-13), and Donnie Murphy (’07)

Numerical Analysis: In a sport as superstitious as baseball, common knowledge lends a belief that the number 13 would be avoided like the plague. However, popularity amongst Venezuelan shortstops originating with Dave Concepcion have started a tradition that has included such standouts as Ozzie Guillen, Omar Vizquel, and Asdrubal Cabrera donning the 1-3.

Athletics Historical Impact: As one lefty leaves, another enters and inherits the number on his back for good measure. While it’s premature to rule out Pomeranz as a starting pitcher, reports have circulated that the Athletics brass were highly impressed by his smattering of relief outings with Colorado.

#26 Scott Kazmir, most recently worn by Anthony Recker (’11-12), Bobby Cramer (’11), and Matt Watson (’10)

Numerical Analysis: …If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. With the exception of Hall of Fame inductees Wade Boggs and Billy Williams there really isn’t anything amazing or noteworthy of such a number. It’s simply there. It exists in a generic realm to be placed on the back of lowly relievers and unassuming backup outfielders. Kazmir however, has a history with the digits wearing them both last season during his reclamation year in Cleveland and earlier in his All-Star tenure in Tampa Bay. So there’s that.

Athletics Historical Impact: The good, the bad, and the ugly. The good may best be represented by Jermaine Dye, who briefly sported the number after being acquired by the Athletics at the 2001 trading deadline. The former Brave hit .297/.366/.547 before reverting back to his traditional number 24. The bad? Well take your pick, there’s a lovely lot of broken dreams and crushed expectations amongst the likes of Charles Thomas, Cody McKay, and Danny Putnam to choose from.

#44 Luke Gregerson, most recently worn by Chris Resop (’13), Santiago Casilla (’12), and Hiram Bocachica (’06-’07)

Numerical Anaysis: Historically popularized by the slugging triumphs of Hank Aaron, the number 44 has adorned the back of such heralded hitters as Willie McCovey, Reggie Jackson, and Eric Davis. However, a handful of successful hurlers such as David Cone, Jake Peavy, and Jason Isringhausen have given a new meaning to the digits on the other side of the coin.

Athletics Historical Impact: There are very few guarantees in baseball, but it should be a safe bet that Gregerson provides exponentially improved relief over Resop in the Athletics bullpen. In all likelihood, he should also be able to top the mediocre output provided by the pitcher formally known as Jairo Garcia as well.

#45 Jim Johnson, most recently worn by Graham Godfrey (’12), Jeremy Hermida (’10), and Dan Giese (’09)

Numerical Analysis: When asked the significance behind number 45 at the A’s FanFest on Saturday, Jim Johnson calmly replied “because 43 was unavailable”. The reason being that 43 is one of just six retired numbers in Athletics history, in honor of the great closer Dennis Eckersley. 45 however, is a fine alternative for the tall right-hander as the number came to fame as representation for Bob Gibson and Pedro Martinez.