This is the first in a series of examinations of baseball-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the baseball legends.
BASEBALL LEGEND: The New York Yankees were the first Major League Baseball team to regularly use uniform numbers.
STATUS: False, Technically
First off, let’s get it straight that I’m not talking about the first team to EVER use uniform numbers, because that would be the Cleveland Indians in 1916 who wore small numbers on the left sleeves of their home uniforms.
No, I’m talking about the first team to use the back of the uniform numbers that have become so ingrained in the game of baseball.
And that honor has been given to the 1929 New York Yankees for many, many years.
Just do a quick search for “yankess first team to wear uniform numbers” and you’ll see a lot of results (one even has “1939″ as the date, which is silly, as Babe Ruth was retired by then) crediting the 1929 Yankees.
Here’s a good one (from a “this date in Yankees history” site):
April 16, 1929 – Yankees become the first team to wear uniform numbers
Well, just for kicks, let’s see, did the Yankees PLAY on April 16, 1929?
A quick look at Baseball Reference, and we learn that no, they did not.
Their game on the 16th was rained out, so their first game was April 18th.
And by virtue of that rainout, the first team to wear uniform numbers was the Cleveland Indians, who DID play on April 16th (they were to play later in the day than the Yankees) and wore uniform numbers on the backs of their jerseys…
So while yeah, it was a technicality, it was still a fairly important one, no?
So give the Indians their due, people!
BASEBALL LEGEND: Charlie Kerfeld sought to commemorate his uniform number when it came time to renegotiate his contract after the 1986 baseball season.
Charlie Kerfeld was a big surprise for the Houston Astros in 1986 (just his second year in the majors, and his first full season – he was still considered a rookie).
The young righthander went 11-2 with a 2.69 ERA and seven saves to form a dynamite relief tandem with Astros closer Dave Smith.
The Astros bullpen was a big part of the Astro success in 1986, a season where they made the playoffs and almost went to the World Series (mostly due to their great starting pitcher, Mike Scott, who won the MVP of the series even though the Astros lost!) if those pesky Mets didn’t manage to beat the Astros in two of the most amazing games in National League Championship Series history (a 12-inning Game 5 victory in New York followed by a 16-inning Game 6 victory in Houston, where the Mets scored one run in the top of the 14th only to see Houston tie it in the bottom of the 14th, then the Mets scored three in the top of the 16th and the Astros scored two in the bottom half and had the tying run on third base when the game ended).
Kerfeld was a gregarious, fun-loving guy.
Here’s a popular video of him in a post-game celebration after the Astros clinched the pennant (Mike Scott pitched a no-hitter to clinch the pennant) to go to the playoffs…
After seeing that clip, this following legend will not be hard for you to believe.
Fellow Houston Astro rookie pitcher Jim DeShaises (who also had a fine season, coming in 7th in the Rookie of the Year balloting while Kerfield finished 4th) renegotiated his contract after the 1986 season to go from making $65,000 to making $110,000.
With that in mind, Kerfeld, who wore the uniform number 37, went in with the following demand – that he make $110,0….37!
And 37 cents!
The Astros agreed, and for the 1987 season, Kerfeld made $110,037.37.
Sadly, injuries plagued Kerfeld the next season and really, his career soon fizzled and he was out of baseball by 1990.
But he will always be remembered fondly in Houston for his great 1986 season and his fun-loving ways!
Thanks to halstead21 for the clip!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org