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Jack McCallum
February 24, 1986
For athletes and fans alike, the name of the game often isn't a name at all, but lots of digits
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February 24, 1986

By The Numbers

For athletes and fans alike, the name of the game often isn't a name at all, but lots of digits

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Not surprising, really. But sometimes things can be worked out amicably, as when Frank Howard yielded No. 9 to Ted Williams when the latter became manager of the Senators in 1969. "I don't give a damn what number I wear," Howard told equipment man Fred Baxter. He got 33. Jim Beauchamp willingly, not to mention wisely, gave up 24 when Mays came to the Mets in '72. Herschel Walker's number situation at Georgia was a little more complicated. He had worn 43 at Johnson County High School, but that was taken by a veteran Bulldog linebacker, Keith Middleton. So Walker was promised the reverse of his old number, 34, which at the time was being worn by freshman fullback Chris McCarthy. "They told him he could have it, but they didn't tell me," said McCarthy. "I would have gladly given him the number, but I was a little mad about it at the time." McCarthy later became one of Walker's closest friends and—as No. 46—also his chief blocker in 34's Heisman Trophy-winning junior year.

When quarterback John Hadl was traded by the Rams to Green Bay in 1974, he discovered that 21, his number in L.A., was on the jersey of Charlie Hall, a veteran defensive back. "I offered him $2,000 for the number," remembers Hadl, "but all he'd take was a case of beer." That didn't work for Dave (Tiger) Williams when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks by Toronto six years ago and found defenseman Bob Manno wearing his No. 22. Williams offered $10,000 for the number, but Manno said no. Williams settled for 26, got 22 back when Manno went to the minors, lost it again last season when he was traded to Detroit (where Brad Park had it), but reclaimed it after being purchased by the L.A. Kings.

One of the first celebrated number conflicts involved Ruth's 3, which was on the back of Wally Berger when Ruth signed with the Boston Braves in 1935. Berger was one of the Braves' leading hitters and didn't want to give it up. Guess who won that one? Sometimes a number is lost so fast it makes a player's head spin, as Frank Quilici discovered in March of 1971, when he was released by the Twins. Bill Rigney had a change of heart overnight and asked Q to stay on as a coach, but his No. 7 had already been given to Steve Brye. So Quilici went to 43 because its sum equals 7.

When Rick Barry was signed by Houston, he couldn't get 24 because Moses Malone was wearing it. (Do you want to ask Moses Malone to give up his number?) So Barry took to wearing 2 at home and 4 on the road. Later, when Malone went to Philly, Bobby Jones was wearing No. 24. That's when Moses switched to 2, which fits him like a bad suit.

Likewise, when Julius Erving came to the Sixers, he wanted to stick with his familiar 32. But when he looked up he could see it already hanging from the rafters—it had been retired in honor of the man who would soon became his coach, Billy Cunningham. The Doc has been No. 6 ever since.

Staten Island construction worker Pasquale (Pat) Consalvo's first choice of numbers for the Jan. 18 New York State Lottery was 12, 14, 22, 32, 34 and 44. But then he got to thinking about his son, Michael, a quarterback and safety in an amateur football league. Michael wears No. 43 on his jersey, so Consalvo changed the last number to 43. And won $30 million, the largest payoff in state lottery history.


He wasn't alone. George Selkirk, Allie Clark and Bud Metheny also wore the famed 3 before it was retired by the Yankees on June 13, 1948. "Tiger" Mapes, a lifetime .242 hitter, had the further distinction of wearing No. 7 before Mickey Mantle, as did Bob Cerv, Leo Durocher and Charlie Dressen. Mantle's first number was 6—he took 7 after Mapes was traded.

Now dazzle your friends with these additional Yankee numbers trivia:

Joe DiMaggio broke in with No. 9 before switching to 5. While Joltin' Joe was in the service in 1943, first baseman Nick Etten wore 5.

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