Most likely you didn’t notice when the Colorado Rockies assigned uniform No. 35 to Butch Huskey after acquiring him from the Minnesota Twins last month. But Uni Watch noticed, because Huskey belongs to a very select group: He’s among the handful of big leaguers permitted to wear uniform No. 42. Major League Baseball required all teams to retire the number in 1997, in honor of Jackie Robinson, but players already wearing 42 were allowed to continue doing so. Huskey was wearing it for the Mets at the time, and kept it when he moved on to the Mariners, Red Sox, and Twins. So why did he switch numbers upon joining the Rockies?
“Huskey asked for 42, but we’ve decided to keep that number out of circulation,” says a Rockies publicist. “It’s out of respect for Jackie, and it comes right from [team owner] Jerry McMorris.” In fact, it turns out that the Rockies have invoked this policy before—Scott Karl had been wearing No. 42 for the Brewers but had to give it up when the Rockies acquired him last winter. With Colorado single-handedly decimating the 42ers, the dwindling club is now down to the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, Anaheim’s Mo Vaughn, and Houston’s Jose Lima.
Although Robinson’s number was the first one retired on a league-wide basis by any major sport (the NHL has since retired Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99), individual teams have been retiring numbers ever since the Yankees immortalized Lou Gehrig’s No. 4 in 1939. The Yanks have gone on to retire 14 numbers—more than any other team. At the other end of the spectrum are the Devil Rays, who retired Wade Boggs’s No. 12 last season even though the team had existed for only two years and Boggs had played 16 of his 18 seasons for other clubs—a move Uni Watch opts not to dignify with further discussion.
As for the remaining 42ers, Lima’s disastrous season has put his career in doubt, and Rivera has hinted at early retirement after another year or two, leaving Vaughn as the only player likely to wear No. 42 well into the new millennium. Unless, of course, the Rockies trade for him.