Thursday, May 16, 2013
The number game
I'm not all that great with numbers.
As you might guess, math has never been my thing at school. I've managed to pull decent grades in the subject thus far, but the topic hasn't been my forte.
For whatever reason, my brain in general just doesn't cooperate with anything number-related.
Jersey numbers included.
Although I have hundreds of cards of his and have seen highlight clips of the Hall-of-Fame hurler over and over again, I'd have to think for a minute if you asked me what number Tom Seaver wore for the majority of his career. (Don't tell me...#41.)
Yet, despite my lack of expertise on the subject, I am able to tell when something is just, well...a little off when it comes to the number game in baseball.
While probably not that new of a topic in the world of cardboard, quite a few strange jerseys of the sort currently reside in my cardboard collection.
Rookies, as you might guess, are most likely to appear with unfamiliar numbers. As has become custom, most "bushers" are given relatively high jersey numbers during spring training.
According to "Baseball Reference", Mark Grace never wore #53 during his career. Topps chose to use what I'm guessing is a pre-big league shot of "Gracie" for his '89 issue.
Still, he's far from the only "high number" victim.
Despite what 1990 Fleer might have you believe, Jim Abbott never wore #60 in the majors.
Presumably, this is a shot from his 1989 spring training tenure with the Angels. Abbott would jump straight to the bigs without playing a single game in the minors that year.
He'd switch to his now-famous #25 before the season began.
Without baseball cards, though, his unfamiliar #60 would be long forgotten.
Even more recent rookies are still privy to the "high number" treatment from time to time.
While I recently decided to chase his cardboard with more vigor, I've long admired Matt Kemp's 2006 Turkey Red issue.
Much like Grace and Abbott, Kemp never wore the unfamiliar #65 in the bigs.
To date, he's never sported anything other than #27 during his star-studded career.
As far as jersey numbers go, unfamiliarity isn't limited to the younger crop.
While far more rare than the typical rookie "high number" situation, a few seasoned veterans have sported their fair share of downright strange jerseys.
The little bio on the front of Dante Bichette's 1997 Upper Deck issue makes note of the "unfamiliar number 8" he wore in spring training games the year prior.
From what I could find, Bichette briefly wore #8 during his 1992 campaign with the Brewers. Still, he never once sported it with the Rockies.
So, then, what's with the #8 in spring training?
Dodger fans could probably speak to this one a little more, but the #5 on Gary Sheffield looks insanely odd to me.
Unlike all the prior features in this post, however, "Sheff" did indeed wear the number for a brief time in the bigs.
"Baseball Reference" once again comes to the rescue, noting that Sheffield wore #5 for a portion of his first season with the Dodgers in '98.
At some point that year, he reverted to the more well-known #10.
While I only navigated a fraction of my collection in search for these "number game" pieces, this has to be the best one I've come across thus far.
With only a year of big league experience under his belt, Trevor Hoffman was still a "young gun" when his '94 Collector's Choice issue was released.
As I've mentioned before, Mr. Hoffman split his first season with the Marlins and Padres. And, again thanks to "Baseball Reference", I found that he wore his famous #51 during his brief stint in Florida.
After he was dealt to San Diego, however, Hoffman sported #34 for the remainder of the '93 season, which is evidenced by this card. (Incidentally, Gary Sheffield went back to the Marlins in that trade.)
I don't know about you, but my mind just can't seem to process the name "Hoffman" with #34 below it.
My mind may be a little number-deficient, but anything other than the famous #51 just doesn't look right.
Still, that doesn't stop me from loving this particular piece.
If anything, the unfamiliarity makes me appreciate it all the more.
I guess I'm just a sucker for anything "out of the ordinary" when it comes to cardboard.