Revisiting Toronto’s stance on retired numbers

I like Paul Simon, but I love the album Graceland.

Songs like ‘The Boy In The Bubble’, ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes’, ‘Under African Skies’, and even ‘You Can Call Me Al’ send me to a place that other songs just don’t. It’s a happy little corner filled with terrific memories of being a kid in the eighties.

(If you think Graceland sucks, that’s totally cool – it’s not even a guilty pleasure. I feel no guilt at all.)

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A good friend of mine absolutely loathes this album and makes sure to identify all of its flaws whenever I go on about how much I enjoy listening to it on a Sunday afternoon. He’s a bit of a critic – totally cynical.

This past December, I decided to walk over to Sonic Boom on Spadina and buy him Graceland for Christmas – not a cheap album. I obviously asked for a gift receipt knowing that he would return it.

Now, the reason that I’m sharing this little story is because it relates to this article, specifically how we feel about certain things from our past.

Earlier in the week Alen Hanson, who was traded to the Blue Jays on Tuesday, asked to wear No. 19, which he wore for the Giants back in ’18. The Jays accommodated his wish. He would return it for Tony Fernández’s No. 1. But, before he stole Tony’s number, Jays fans howled into the bat-flipping wind.

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And I get it.

We hold baseball players close to our hearts – or something like that. I mean, we really don’t hold anything in our actual hearts, so I don’t get the metaphor – to be honest with you. The heart is a muscular organ in most animals, which pumps blood (not feelings) through the blood vessels of the circulatory system.

Maybe it’s a metaphor for that untouchable place that exists in all of us. That sacred place that we put things in and carry with us until we join the dirt. That same place where Paul Simon’s Graceland lives in me. The baseball players that I fall in love with live there, too.

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(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) 

This whole ‘what Jays numbers should be retired topic’ can turn into a great big giant debate that I’m not about to get into with anyone – that’s for sure. I’m not typing this up to argue that Tony Fernández’s No. 1 should hang in the rafters, which it, of course, should. I am not going to scream into the internet and say that Dave Stieb’s No. 37 should fly beside Tony’s. I’m not typing this up to say Carlos Delgado, George Bell, or Joe Carter’s numbers should be added to the list, too. Or that the Level of Excellence should be the place where numbers should be forever immortalized and worn by no one else. There’s no reason to argue or whatever with anyone about this topic because it’s as simple as the Jays need to retire these numbers.

It’s as simple as that.

The Jays have a history, and, sure, it’s not as rich as an organization like the Yankees. But, the franchise is at a point in time where the front office should consider retiring numbers. To date, as you all know, only Roberto Alomar’s No. 12 and Roy Halladay’s No. 32 fly forever.

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When I interviewed Mark Shapiro many moons ago, I asked him about Jays statues. Here’s what he had to say:

We did statues at Progressive Field in the last five years. We kind of added one statue every year, as we renovated the stadium, and I really like that, ya know, kind of celebrating the icons of the team. I feel like the Blue Jays history is just getting deep enough now that you’ve got those types of players that you want to celebrate. Ya know, you don’t want to do it too early in your history because you’re going to keep getting great players, but we’re getting to that point, and I think that I would welcome that, and it would be a good addition when we start to think about the exterior. I would imagine that once we start our renovation, the interior will be the first place we start though.

A few months ago, I walked around the ol’ concrete box and put on my Ron Swanson ‘Parks and Rec’ hat, as I tried to figure out where the best place would be for those statues. Unfortunately, we might have to wait a bit longer before our favourite players are lionized in bronze. But, that doesn’t mean that certain numbers can’t be celebrated sooner rather than later. And it doesn’t mean that Mark Shapiro isn’t considering this, especially with all the attention Bautista’s No. 19 has gotten lately.

The fact is that no player will ever come along and wear No. 19 better than José. No player will wear No. 25 like Delgado and rip baseballs off the Hard Rock Café windows. There’s no reason for Teoscar to be wearing Stieb’s 37, or for any player to be wearing Fernández’s No. 1.

It’s time to celebrate the players who have driven baseball in Canada from the late seventies and early eighties to where we are today. There are 11 names on the Jays’ Level of Excellence, but Alomar and Halladay are the only two players whose numbers fly forever in the rafters. Maybe it’s time for the Jays front office to do something about this.

It shouldn’t be a matter of Carter or Fernández, or Delgado, Bell or Stieb, but more a matter of when. The fact is that no other player should wear No. 19. No player should wear No. 29, No. 1, No.25, No. 11, or No. 37, too. No future player should touch ’em at all. More iconic numbers need to hang in the rafters. A place where legends fly forever – a sacred place for all of us.

  • dolsh

    I’m totally cool with a player wearing one of the numbers you mention. BUT, I’d want them to earn it. It bugs me more that an iffy player can come in via trade and take a number that’s important to the history of the team. Hanson wearing Tony’s number just shouldn’t happen. Stroman? I’d be ok with that.

  • Ianawesomo

    Retired numbers are an honour only to be bestowed upon the very best. The only player that should even be considered would be Stieb.
    Edwin, Jose and Carlos were good players but aren’t Hall of Famers and didn’t bring home a championship. That should be the criteria.

  • Oz Rob

    We could have some interesting statues. George Bell doing a karate kick. Dave Stieb grabbing his crotch. Todd Stottlemyre doing a face plant into 3rd base. John Gibbons asleep in the dugout. The Parrot and the Bat Flip. Colby Rasmus holding a hot dog. Really there is unlimited potential here.

  • El Cabeza

    You can’t be retiring numbers unless they’re hall of famers, or at least hall of fame calibre.

    That being said Alen Fucking Hanson is like ‘oops – didn’t realize Bautista wore 19, I’ll just take TONY’S NUMBER INSTEAD!’ GRRRRRRR

    Where’s the staff on this? Wasn’t anybody like ‘uh Alen, you probably shouldn’t take that one either’?

      • Ryan Di Francesco

        Yeah….pretty bad. I still think the Jays could be a little more lenient when it comes to this stuff. I think 19, 37, and 1 should definitely be retired. I don’t see a problem with the Level of Excellence type of players having their numbers retired, tbh.