By Freddy Berowski
“He’s a player Major League history will never forget. His records will never be broken. There will never be another Rickey Henderson.”
These were the words spoken by Rickey Henderson’s best friend Dave Stewart last Saturday. Less than one week after his induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Oakland Athletics retired Rickey Henderson’s No. 24 in a pregame ceremony that Master of Ceremonies Ray Fosse called “the start of Rickey Henderson Month.”
Only four days earlier, another member of the Hall of Fame’s class of 2009 also had his uniform number retired. In a pregame ceremony, the man Red Sox manager Terry Francona called “one of the most dominating offensive players in the game,” Jim Rice, had his No. 14 retired by the Boston Red Sox, the team he spent his entire career with. Among those in attendance were Rice’s family and many of his former teammates, including fellow Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley and Carlton Fisk. Boston Mayor Tom Menino dubbed June 28, 2009 as “Jim Rice Day” throughout the city.
Unlike the specific rules for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, there are no specific guidelines provided by Major League Baseball for the honoring of an individual by retiring his uniform number. That decision – with the exception of the universal retirement of Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 – is left entirely up to the teams.
The practice of retiring a number to honor a player began in 1939, 10 years after permanent uniform numbers were first introduced by the New York Yankees. Ironically, it was the Yankees that first retired Lou Gehrig’s No. 4 in honor of their fatally ill Captain. The Yankees have retired 15 numbers to honor 16 players – No. 8 was retired in honor of both Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra – a Major League high.
Freddy Berowski is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.