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An 84th anniversary of numeric proportions

Jan. 22, 1929 was the day Yankees jerseys got numbers
01/22/2013 3:13 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

In 1929, Babe Ruth was given No. 3 to reflect his place in the batting order. (MLB.com)
Sixteen different numbers are retired for 17 men out in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park…and that cross-section of Yankee history is a culmination of a journey that truly began 84 years ago today.

January 22, 1929 is the date on which the Yankees announced that the players would begin wearing numbers on their jerseys, making today the 84th anniversary of the numeration of the pinstripes. Prior to that day, other teams had tinkered with wearing numbers on the sleeves, but the Yankees took it to the next level, instituting not only numbers but also a numbering system that corresponded with the player’s place in the batting order.

Hence, in the 1929 season, No. 3 hitter Babe Ruth was issued No. 3, cleanup hitter Lou Gehrig became the only man to ever wear No. 4, No. 7 was handed to then-Yankees shortstop and later MLB manager extraordinaire Leo Durocher…and No. 10, at least for one season, was property of then-22-year-old catcher Bill Dickey, who was part of a three-way catching platoon; as the catchers hit eighth, Dickey was given No. 10 while Johnny Grabowski wore No. 8 and Benny Bengough got No. 9.

League-wide, only the Cleveland Indians joined the Yankees in numbering their jerseys that year, but by 1931, all American League teams had followed suit, with every team in baseball featuring jersey numbers by 1933.

Of course, nearly a century later, the Yankees are still the only team to never wear player names on their jerseys, but at least they scrapped the lineup placement rule; after all, with seven of the Nos. 1-9 now retired (and No. 8 retired twice), it might get a little confusing in the batter’s box.

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