Thursday, June 28, 2012
Uni Watch's comprehensive Heroes of Zero
By Paul Lukas
Robert Parish is the ultimate rarity -- the only person ever to wear 0 or 00 to have his jersey retired.
There are currently 750 active Major League Baseball players. And as we've recently discussed, many of them have some unusual uniform-related quirks. But there's one oddity that's missing from the game: Not a single current big leaguer is wearing number 0 or 00.
Is hasn't always been like this. Over the past 40 years, at least eight MLBers have worn 0, another 13 have worn 00, and one player has worn both.
Zero and double-zero have been hot topics lately here at Uni Watch HQ -- not just for baseball, but across all sports -- because they signify differently than any other numbers. As slugger Jack Clark quipped when explaining why he chose to wear 00 late in his career, "It's not your basic number. It's your basic non-number." So today we're going to take a detailed look at 0 and 00. You know how "Seinfeld" was famously described as "a show about nothing"? This is a column about nothing. (And double-nothing.)
One interesting thing about 0 and 00 is that there's no standard physical or positional profile for them. Players who wear number 1, for example, are usually small or agile: a spark-plug shortstop, or a point guard, or a placekicker, or a goalie. But players of all shapes, sizes and positions have worn 0 and 00.
Another thing about 0 and 00 is that they're never randomly assigned -- a player has to ask for them. And what kind of player wants to wear 0 or 00? One who doesn't mind standing out, who likes being a bit of a curiosity. Some players have worn these numbers for specific reasons (most commonly because their first and/or last names started with the letter O), but others have done so just to be a little different.
So let's take a look at players who've worn these most enigmatic of numbers in the four major pro sports, with one quick ground rule: We won't count players who've worn 0 or 00 in spring training, training camp, preseason games or anything else that doesn't count in the standings. OK? Here we go.
Aside from one isolated instance in the 1940s, 0 and 00 didn't start circulating on the diamond until the mid-1970s. The primary ambassador of 0 has been Al Oliver, who wore the number for six different teams, and his 00 counterpart is pitcher Rick White, who had two zeroes on his back with four different clubs. Also worth noting: Benito Santiago never wore 0 or 00, but he did wear 09, because he didn't like how his single-digit 9 was being bisected by the vertical strap on his chest protector.
Still, 09 isn't the same as 0 or 00, so Santiago isn't included on the Uni Watch list of zero-clad ballplayers, which shapes up like this:
Only MLB player to have worn both 0 and 00. While with the Cardinals, once pinch-hit for So Taguchi, who wore 99, thereby creating history's largest uni-numerical spread between a player and his pinch-hitter.
Wore 00 to honor his father, who wore 00 when playing softball.
In 2006, free agent center LeCharles Bentley signed with the Browns and wore a 00 jersey to the press conference announcing the deal. He wanted to wear 00 on the field too, but the league wouldn't permit it, because 0 and 00 have been off-limits in the NFL for the past three decades. That's a pity, because 0 and 00 make the gridiron look more interesting, as you can see from the handful of players who've worn them:
Wore 00 to match the pronunciation of his name -- "aught-oh."
Pro basketball is a stronghold of zero heroes, with dozens of players having worn 0 or 00 (and three players who wore both). The most famous of the bunch is probably Robert Parish, whose 00 has been retired by the Celtics -- the only such honor ever bestowed on a zero-clad player in the four major North American pro sports. Here's the full rundown of players who've worn 0 and 00 on the court:
Also wore 00 at Centenary College and at Woodlawn High School. According to "The Little Giant Book of Basketball Facts," he wore 00 at Woodlawn because "they ran out of ones with numbers on them." The Celtics retired his 00 in 1998, the only such honor ever given to a zero-clad player in the four major North American pro sports.
His favorite number, which he wore in high school, is 4. But that number was already taken at UCLA and again with the Thunder, so Westbrook chose 0 because "it's not a normal number, so I like it." Also said, "You go with the zero when you've been through something and you are looking to get a new beginning. It helps you get going again. It helps you get the swag[ger] back."
As you can see, Uni Watch hasn't been able to divine the backstories for most of the zero-clad NBAers. If you know why a particular hoops player wore 0 or 00, do tell.
Current NHL rules don't allow 0 or 00 to be worn, and maybe it's just as well. In the past, zero-clad players were even rarer on the ice than they were on the football field. As you can see from this list, most of the zeroic heroics came from goaltenders:
Wore 0 because he'd worn it in the minors and all his top number choices were already taken. Enjoyed telling people, "It's the furthest number from 99, and talent-wise I'm furthest from Wayne Gretzky."
Countless past and current college basketball players have worn 0 or 00 -- far too many for Uni Watch to keep track of. Interestingly, NCAA rules stipulate, "Team rosters can include 0 or 00, but not both.”
Zero and double-zero are both off-limits for college football, just like in the NFL. Given that college rosters often total more than 100 players, forcing teammates to wear duplicate uniform numbers, you'd think they'd want to use every number available, but 0 and 00 are apparently just too weird, too cryptic, for the NCAA.
But there are some sports where zero does not compute. In rugby, for example, the players' numbers are determined by the positions they play, which doesn't allow for 0 or 00. And in horse racing, each horse's number is determined by its position at the starting gate, and there's no such thing as the 0 position.
Are there any players (or entire sports) that we overlooked? Send your zero-centric nominations here.
(Special thanks to the many Uni Watch Blog readers and ESPN.com writers and editors who contributed tips and suggestions for this column.)
Paul Lukas has never worn 0 or 00 in any of the leagues he's played in. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch web site, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.