Having your number retired is the highest tribute a team can pay you. It says “You distinguished yourself while wearing the number and no on else could ever hold a candle to what you accomplished.” Traditionally, it is a teams way to thank a player who meant something to the franchise. Next time you’re at Fenway, look up at the rightfield grandstand and you’ll see the retired numbers of great Sox stars. The first thing most fans do when they go to the Garden is look towards the heavens and try to name the players who have had their numbers retired by the Celtics. Even the Yankees have that tradition, I hear. Baseball decided that they would pay the ultimate tribute to Jackie Robinson by retiring his #42 throughout baseball, forever.
The practice of retiring numbers just took a shot to the heart in Chicago. The White Sox are going to “un” retire the number 11 that had been put in moth balls in honor of the great shortstop Luis Aparicio. The Venezuelan who spent part of the tail end of his career in Boston was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1984. That same year, his number was retired. The 1956 American League Rookie of the Year was a nine time Gold Glove winner and a ten time All Star and this is how they thank him. Omar Vizquel is the man who’ll wear the number this summer and Aparicio said all the right things in a recent interview. “I have known Omar for a long time. Along with being an outstanding player, he is a good and decent man.” Vizquel is a compatriot of Aparicio and a borderline potential Hall of Famer at best. Vizquel has played more games in the Majors at shortstop than anyone else ever has, and is a 3 time All Star.
Who’s to blame? Let’s start with Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen. He wears the number 13, which was the number Vizquel has worn throughout his career, no doubt a tribute to yet another great Venezuelan shortstop, Dave Concepcion. Any other manager would put a player ahead of his own needs. Not Guillen. He basically told the media in the Windy City that 13 was his number and there was no way he’d give it up to Vizquel. Very mature. Never liked Guillen, never will. How about Omar, himself? Grow up and wear any old number. Do you really think it makes a difference? How is this a tribute to Aparicio? The tribute was when you retired the number. This is an anti-tribute. Poor old Luis Aparicio. He was in a no-win situation. If he said he didn’t want his number worn again, he’d have been villified as a poor sport. Inject Aparicio with truth serum and he has to be ticked off. Wouldn’t you be upset if your former team yanked the rug out from under your feet? “Sorry Mr. Ruth, but David Wells wants to wear the number 3. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind. Thanks for being the greatest player ever, but you’re dead now and Wells could win a few games for us, and after all…” It just isn’t right.
Maybe the White Sox should think twice before retiring a number. Maybe they should just say they are putting it down for a nap. Maybe they could invoke a Brett Favre or a Jay Leno clause. Anyway, no matter how you slice it, Luis Aparicio deserves better treatment.