I randomly typed a number above. Most people probably see it as nine digits. This, off the top of my head, is what I envision …
It’s a disease. A beautiful, awful, weird, funky disease. The number 33 isn’t, for me, two threes. It’s Ken Griffey, Sr. as a Yankee—after his first season of wearing No. 6. The number 1244 isn’t 1244. It’s Roger Staubach, Reggie Jackson. Or Joe Namath, Lenny Dykstra, Lenny Dykstra. 9988 is Mark Gastineau, Al Toon. Or it could be Wayne Gretzky, Drew Pearson. Or Graig Nettles, Graig Nettles, Michael Irvin. A 7 is almost always Ken O’Brien, but it can be Mickey Mantle. A 0 is Al Oliver. Always Al Oliver. I can’t see 24 and not think Freeman McNeil, unless I see 24 and think Rickey Henderson with the Yankees. Or Ken Griffey, Jr. Or Paul Blair, Paul Molitor. Which is weird, because Derek Jeter has worn No. 2 for two decades. Yet, to me, he never figures in. Or figures.
A 41 is Tom Seaver. Always Tom Seaver. A 30 is Ken Griffey, Sr. in Cincinnati, an 85 Wesley Walker, a 3 Babe Ruth.
When I was a kid, the neighborhood idol was Dave Fleming, who wound up winning 17 games for the Seattle Mariners. Dave wore No. 16 in college, No. 35 in the Majors. Both work.
My house number in New Rochelle was 89—a nod to the great Mark Bavaro. Or Yogi Berra, Drew Brees. Now I’m at 28701, which oozes Jessie Barfield, Mantle, Billy Martin.
Or not if you’re talking Barfield’s Toronto years.
When he wore No. 29