By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) The Chicago Bears are retiring the retirement of numbers.
On May 24, the team announced that next season Mike Ditka will become the 14th Bear to have his jersey number retired – and that he will also be the last.
With more retired numbers than any NFL franchise, the Bears apparently need to make sure that they have enough numbers to field a team in the future, something that Hall of Famer Dan Hampton understood.
“It’s simple math,” said Hampton, whose No. 99 isn’t retired – and apparently never will be. “This is a franchise with so many great players. If everybody’s number got retired, it would diminish the honor in a way. I understand. The trap of it all is that if you played for the Bears, you’re one of many. If you played in Tampa, what is there, a handful of guys?”
Two, actually. Lee Roy Selmon (No. 63) and Warren Sapp (No. 99, like Hampton) are the only Buccaneers who have had their jerseys taken out of rotation. Perhaps you knew that, or perhaps you didn’t. But either way, here are some other things you might not know about retired numbers.
Retiree No. 1
In professional sports, the first number retired by a team was that of defenseman Lionel Hitchman, whose No. 3 was hung by the Boston Bruins way back in 1934.
After his hockey career, Hitchman served with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a sergeant. No word on if the Mounties retired his uniform, too. Maybe his horse.
Strength in low numbers
The Bears may feel like they’re running low on numbers, but no team is running lower on low numbers than the New York Yankees.
The most celebrated sports franchise in America has retired No. 1 (Billy Martin), No. 3 (Babe Ruth), No. 4 (Lou Gehrig), No. 5 (Joe DiMaggio), No. 7 (Mickey Mantle), No. 8 (Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey), No. 9 (Roger Maris) and No. 10 (Phil Rizzuto), and will surely retire Derek Jeter’s No. 2 once the Yanks’ current captain hangs up his cleats.
Twice as nice
Most sports figures would be proud enough to have their number retired by one team. But some guys have theirs retired by two.
For example, manager Casey Stengel’s No. 37 was retired by both the Yankees and the Mets – no small trick.
Hank Aaron, meanwhile, had his No. 44 retired by the Braves and the Brewers. Frank Robinson’s No. 20 got the same treatment by the Orioles and Reds, as did Rollie Fingers’ No. 34 (Brewers and A’s) and Rod Carew’s No. 29 (Twins and Angels). Greg Maddux’s No. 31 is retired by both the Braves and the Cubs, who also have retired the number in honor of Fergie Jenkins, as well.
And then there’s Nolan Ryan, who played so long and for so many teams that his No. 34 was retired by three of them: The Angels, Astros and Rangers.
Numbers beyond the game
Not all numbers are retired by sports teams for what people do on the playing field. For example, the Los Angeles Angels honored former owner Gene Autry by retiring No. 26 to represent the 26th man on a 25-man roster.
In another instance, the St. Louis Cardinals retired No. 85 to honor longtime owner August Busch Jr. back in 1984 in conjunction with his 85th birthday. He died five years later in 1989 and the age of 90.
At the University of Michigan, Gerald Ford’s No. 48 was retired by the football team more to honor his career as the 38th president of the United States than his career on the gridiron with the Wolverines.
Interestingly, some franchises have been known to take numbers out of circulation without formally retiring them. One prominent example is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have retired only one number in their history – Ernie Stautner’s No. 70 – but have never reissued the jersey numbers of several their all-time greats, most notably Terry Bradshaw’s No. 12, Franco Harris’ No. 32 and Joe Greene’s 75.
On a similar note, the Green Bay Packers haven’t handed out Paul Hornung’s No. 5 since he left the team in 1966. And while the Cowboys don’t officially retire numbers, they also haven’t let any other player wear Roger Staubach’s No. 12, Troy Aikman’s 8 or Emmitt Smith’s No. 22.
Sweet (retirement) home, Chicago
Besides the Bears, there are a number of other retired numbers in the Windy City.
As previously mentioned, the Cubs have retired 31 for Maddux and Jenkins, while also honoring Ron Santo’s No. 10, Ernie Banks’ No. 14, Ryne Sandberg’s No. 23 and Billy Williams’ No. 26.
The White Sox, meanwhile, have retired nine players’ numbers with Nellie Fox (No. 2), Harold Baines (No. 3), Luke Appling (No. 4), Minnie Minoso (No. 9), Luis Aparicio (No. 11), Ted Lyons (No. 16), Billy Pierce (No. 19), Frank Thomas (No. 35) and Carlton Fisk (No. 72) all getting the royal treatment.
The Bulls have retired just four numbers, with Jerry Sloan’s No. 4, Bob Love’s No. 10, Michael Jordan’s No. 23 and Scottie Pippen’s No. 33 all hanging in the rafters.
And as for the Blackhawks, they have retired six – Glenn Hall (No. 1), Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson (No. 3), Bobby Hull (No. 9), Denis Savard (No. 18), Stan Mikita (No. 21) and Tony Esposito (No. 35) – and surely will retire more if they keep winning Stanley Cup championships.
Or is that when they win?
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.