What’s in a jersey number? Sometimes the number on a baseball player’s jersey was given to them at random. Other times there’s a specific reason they chose it. And even then sometimes they chose it but only because their preferred number was already taken.
ESPN recently asked a bunch of Major League Baseball players to talk about the reason they wear the number they wear. As you might imagine, inspirations vary.
A lot of players wear a number to honor a baseball hero of theirs. Houston Astros outfielder George Springer wears No. 4 because he wanted to wear a multiple of four to honor Torii Hunter (who wore No. 48). Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker wears No. 12 to honor hero Tommy Davis. Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana wears No. 41 as a tribute to Victor Martinez. Boston Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts and Baltimore Orioles’ J.J. Hardy both wear No. 2 in part in honor of Derek Jeter (but maybe they shouldn’t play up that fact to their hometown fans).
Other guys wear their number to honor their fathers in some form. Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon’s Dad was born on May 3rd, hence No. 3. Miami Marlins’ speedster Dee Gordon’s dad wore No. 9 so that’s what he wears. Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi wears No. 16 because his dad was 16 when he played in college.
New York Yankees pitcher Dellin Betances? He wears No. 68 because he’s 6-foot 8.
Aaron Judge’s already-iconic No. 99? That was the jersey the Yankees gave him and, as he puts it, “I don’t think you’d turn down a jersey from the New York Yankees.”
Chicago Cubs’ outfielder Albert Almora Jr. wears No. 5 because, well, he just doesn’t think he’s the kind of guy who can rock a double-digit number.
“I think I’m a single-digit guy. I don’t think I’m big enough to wear two digits. It was between 5 and 8, and I chose 5. I just don’t think I’d look good in two digits.”
No one has a better story than Washington Nationals slugger Anthony Rendon, who basically wears No. 6 out of spite at this point.
“I actually hate the No. 6, but they gave it to me when I got here. I was 23 in college, and I was always 24 growing up for [Ken] Griffey [Jr.]. But 24 was taken in college, so they gave me the closest number. Everywhere we used to go, they called me Jordan. My birthday’s in June, so there are some ties to six. I don’t hate it, it’s just not my favorite. It’s a single number, too. That’s weird. I’ve never had a single number.
“I was going to switch for this year. I could’ve taken 24, but MLB makes you buy all of the inventory, and it would’ve been like 40 grand. I told them, ‘Don’t make any more then. Just sell it and get the total down, and maybe I’ll change it next year.'”