It’s time for the Tigers to retire more uniform numbers

Five of the six numbers the Detroit Tigers have retired can be seen on this wall in deep center field at Comerica Park.

Take a look deep into center field at Comerica Park and you’ll see the uniform numbers that have been retired by the Detroit Tigers. There aren’t many – only six – but there should be more. The Tigers have several players for whom they should retire numbers to honor their significance to team history.

The six numbers: 2, 5, 6, 11, 16, and 23, are retired for Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Sparky Anderson, Hal Newhouser, and Willie Horton. The greatest player in team history – Ty Cobb – played before the introduction of uniform numbers. Other players: Harry Heilmann, Heinie Manush, Hughie Jennings, Sam Crawford, Mickey Cochrane, and George Kell, have their names on the wall out there but their numbers have not been retired. Just six men have had their uniform numbers retired by the team, which is the smallest amount for any of the original 16 teams that date back at least to the 1901 season.

The first retirement ceremonies occurred in 1980, when Kaline’s #6 was honored. Three years later, Gehringer and Greenberg’s #2 and #5 were retired at Tiger Stadium. Newhouser’s #16 was retired by the team in 1997; Horton followed in 2000, and in 2011, finally, Sparky’s #11 was retired. By the time the team honored Sparky by retiring his number, the former Tiger manager had been dead for several months.

For some reason, even though Sparky had been a Hall of Famer for a decade before he died, the team did not retire his number. Well, the reason is not hard to guess – team owner Mike Ilitch was still holding a grudge against Anderson for having refused to manage replacement players during a dispute between the owners and players in the 1990s. As a result, Tiger fans never got to see and hear Sparky accept his much deserved honor. It was a shame.

Three players who Sparky managed for many years deserve to have their numbers retired: Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, and Lou Whitaker. None of them are in the Hall of Fame, and only Morris and Trammell even have a chance to be voted in by the baseball writers, but all three rank among the greatest to wear the Old English D. The #47 of Morris, Trammell’s #3, and Whitaker’s #1 should all be written  on the brick wall at Comerica Park.

The Tigers should rectify that situation now, because stubbornly clinging to their policy of only retiring numbers of players who have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is shortsighted. It denies fans the opportunity to celebrate the careers of great Detroit players while they are still alive.

It’s also not really a policy, considering the franchise retired #23 for Horton, who is not in the Hall of Fame at all. Horton was honored just as much for having grown up in Detroit as he was for his playing career (which was excellent). Horton has been an employee of the Tigers for several years in the front office, and his relationship with the Ilitches most certainly helped him get his number retired.

But let me be clear – I have no problem with Horton having his number retired, it’s just that if the Tigers can make an exception for Horton, why not for Morris, Trammell, and Whitaker? And while we’re at it, what about two superstars from the ’68 Tigers: Norm Cash and Mickey Lolich? Lolich won more than 200 games for the Tigers, won three in the ’68 Series, and still holds the record for most strikeouts by a left-hander in American League history. He’s frequently on the veterans committe list for consideration for the Hall of Fame. Cash has at least as much a claim to having his number retired as Horton, if we base it solely on performance on the field. Cash hit more homers and drove in more runs as a Tiger than Horton did. His #25 and Lolich’s #29 deserve to be honored. Unfortunately, Cash is gone, but Lolich is still with us and Tiger fans deserve to see him be honored.

If the Tigers wish to make a distinction between Hall of Famers at Comerica, they can reserve the statues in left center field for those enshrined in Cooperstown. Again, Horton already has a statue there, but going forward the policy could be followed.

Retiring uniform numbers is a celebration of the team’s history, of the city history, and it also allows fans to remember special moments from their history with the team. It’s an honorable thing to do. It creates another special day where we can all talk about the National Pastime. Nothing is more special in Detroit.

27 replies on “It’s time for the Tigers to retire more uniform numbers

  • takman

    I think it was put very well. I agree that the head office should change their policies on whose numbers get retired; I think that
    even those Tigers that didn’t have numbers that their uniforms or at least what they would have looked like should be in left center field. I am a huge Tigers fan and think everyone should get their due.

  • james kennedy

    Statues of Tram & Sweet Lou turnin a dp would be awesome & retiring thier numbers would be great too. No 2 teammates ever played 20 years together in MLB history, much less turned doubleplays . Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 80`s and Gibson, being from Detroit and we all know what he did as an athlete should be considerations.

  • Jeff

    Bill Freehan also deserves to be honored, in my opinion. He’s a local guy who spent his entire 15-year career with the Tigers and was an 11-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner. He’s the franchise’s best catcher of all-time.

  • Mark Goldberg

    With all due respect, there are too many numbers retired in all sports. This should be a singular honor reserved for the best in their sport, which is not to say that the likes of Lolich, Cash, and Horton were not good players.

  • KalineCountry Ron

    I agree with everything in the story. I can also understand about certain players uniform number retired if/when getting into the HOF. So why not have a “Ring of Honor Names/Fame all around Comerica, with the very good/excellent/to near great players of all eras in the Tigers history. Going back to Cobb’s era, players like Bobby Veach, George Mullin, right on through to the recent past. 40/50 Tigers players names around the ball park.

  • Dan Holmes

    Ron – The Ring of Honor really makes sense, I like that idea a lot.

    Mark – I agree that some teams have way too many uniforms retired, but the Tigers aren’t one of them. Do we really want any player to ever wear #1 or #3 again?

  • Michael Chase

    They shouldn’t retire numbers, they have all the numbers they want to retire.
    Just put their names on the wall and remember the players as they were.

  • Johnp

    When norm cash retired after 15 yes as tiger first baseman he was number 4 all time left-handed home run hitter in the American league. The 3 ahead of him were babe Ruth Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. That alone should have forced the tigers to retire his number. Having Ryan Rayburn wear number 25 is a disgrace to norms memory.

  • Nick Paniccia

    All of those players gave thousands of Tiger fans like myself many great memories. Who’ll ever forget 1984. The 35-5 start, Morris’ no hitter against the White Sox, Sweet Lou in leadoff with Trammel second in the order to bat Lou around. Tram should have been League MVP that year but, lost out to George Bell of the Blue Jays. If stats were comparable, Sparky always professed that honor should go to a guy from the winning team!

    The Tigers should honor these guys!

  • @slstone1

    I totally agree. Last night I was at Petco Park and noticed that the Padres have six numbers retired. Wow, six for a team that has only been to the Series once and never won a championship! Beyond Tony Gwinn who with the exception of Hoffman deserves to have their number retired? Tram, Whitiker, and Morris for sure deserve the honor. Hopefully Morris will make it in to the HOFFMAN in the next year or two and we will see his up on the wall.

  • Cliff Parker

    Not only should the Detroit Tigers have Norm Cash, Mickey Lolich, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, and “Black” Jack Morris’ numbers retired, they should be in the Hall of Fame up in Cooperstown. These fine men won World Series Championship for the city of Detroit and should be honored for their great efforts of their play on the baseball diamond; PERIOD!!!!!!! To not honor these fine men in this fashion is a slap in the face of baseball, because if these men had played for the Yankees, they would have a statue of them in Yankees stadium with their numbers retired and a room in Cooperstown next to the other greats that played the game such as Ruth, Reggie, and Mantle. Cash, Lolich, Whitaker, “Tram,” and “Black Jack” played “For Love Of The Game” of baseball; I know this in part for a fact, because I watched Whitaker, “Tram,” and “Black Jack” play back in the 80’s; as a matter of fact, both “Tram” and Whitaker played 19 years together at Tigers Stadium and set the record for making double plays against the teams that they played against at home and on the road. I know this for a fact, because I checked this out on; these guys were the best of the era of baseball back in the day!!!!!!

  • Jimmy Kemp

    Amen to that! Always frustrated me at the lack of numbers retired by the Tigers. Then when Willie Horton’s number was retired, which I have no problem with, but hows his number retired and not Mickey Lolich, Bill Freehan, Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell? Come on, give us fans another great ceremony, imagine how special it would have been if Sparky was actually alive to accept this honor. This policy goes beyond Ilitch, Tigers have been slow to retire numbers for years.

  • Truetiger

    I am all for honoring former star performers, but for retiring numbers. It should be an honor for current players to wear the uniform number of a former great player. Former players would be honored to have current players want to wear their numbers. I would love to see a number 6 or 5 on the field for the tigers.

  • Truetiger

    I am all for honoring former star performers, but not for retiring numbers. It should be an honor for current players to wear the uniform number of a former great player. Former players would be honored to have current players want to wear their numbers. I would love to see a number 6 or 5 on the field for the tigers.

  • Alec Rogers

    Scoolboy Rowe is another player I’d like to see honored on the wall even if his number isn’t officially retired. He was a staff ace of the back to back pennant winners of the 1930s.

  • Rick Roenicke

    Wow, too many homer fans here! Sparky (may he rest in peace) was one of the most over rated if not the most over rated manager of all-time. He was GIVEN a team of hof’ers in Cincinnati and should have won more title’s with them. If he hadn’t over managed so badly they probably would have. Then the Tiger’s dumped Les Moss who had coached all the kids in the minors and gave the team to Sparky. If not for career years by over half of the 84 team they would have never won a series. Sparky reminds me of an old movie line. “When the legend becomes fact print the legend”. Sparky’s greatest gift was his mouth he knew how to work people. I don’t mean any disrespect as I know I’m in a GREAT minority but if you look at it objectively it is what it is. He said Dan Driessen of the Reds would hit over 300 every year but his first. He hit over 300 his first year and never did again. Gibson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. Was he? Not even close but he was a terrific clutch hitter. Just saying, Sparky had a gift of gab but really other then his longevity which created his numbers he was just an ordinary manager unless he had hof’ers or teams who had players have career years. Trammell and Whitaker hof’ers? Not even close. Morris? Debatable due to the fact for 6 weeks every year you couldn’t hit him but there was also 6 weeks a year he would be lit up. His biggest drawback with voters is his e.r.a. which would be the highest of any hof’er. Trammell really? Would you honestly compare him to Ripken, Ozzie or Yount? Whitaker? Would you compare him to Sandberg or Morgan? These guys were not hof worthy. I understand hometown heroes but be real. I do agree that Bill Freehan should have his number retired and be in the hof. The best catcher in ALL of baseball during the 60’s. I also agree with a statue for him and Mickey Lolich but doubt Lolich is a hof’er. I also agree with Norm Cash and Dick McAulliffe. Last but not least Ryan Raburn is a disgrace to ANY number! Just Jim Genius’s boy!

  • Gary Steinke

    Rick Roenicke wants to call everyone giving a feedback homers which is OK because when it comes to feedbacks there really just opinions and opinions aren’t right or wrong. He doesn’t care for Sparky because (Ric thinks) the best thing Sparky did was run his mouth. Something Ric is good for, because he sure didn’t check his facts. You want me to compare Alan Trammell to Smith, OK I will. You did mean Ozzie Smith didn’t you Ric (most people spell your name with a K after the c, a little stupid are we, Ric?). If there is one HOF member who doesn’t belong in the Hall, its Ozzie Smith. A life time BA of .262 to Tram’s .285. OS will be Ozzie Smith & AT will be Alan Trammell (trying to make this easy for you Ric, because I’ve found that most people who run their mouth’s are not very bright) HR’s OS 28 (was Smith a pitcher?) AT 185, RBI’s OS 793 AT 1003, Hits OS 2460 AT 2365. Well Ric Ozzie Smith did have more hits then Trammell did, but Tram have a better BA, more HR’s and RBI’s. I’ve compared Trammell to Smith just like you said to do and I my opinion Alan Trammell’s numbers are way better then Ozzie Smith’s. If a hack like Smith is in the HOF (since you like to run your mouth Ric I’m sure you have the answer) why isn’t Alan Trammell? Ric take the time and look up the facts and you will also find that Lou Whitaker and Joe Morgan’s number ARE comparable. Whitaker got screwed by a group of people (baseball writers) he chose to stay away from when he was playing.

  • BigD

    Mr. Holmes Did say Kaline was the first to have his number retired. Before Kaline came along The Tigers thinking was if they couldn’t retire the number of the greatest Tiger ever (Ty Cobb), then nobodies number would be retired. Kaline never wanted his number retired. He wanted someone else to wear #6 with the thinking they might play as good as Kaline. The Tigers put his #6 uniform in cased in a picture frame and Kaline left it on a table and walked away without his #6. I think it should be left up to the player if his number should be retired.

  • John Vernier

    Burns my butt every time I see Rayburn disgrace the #25 uniform. Tigers should have retired Norm Cash’s number years ago.

  • John Vernier

    Wore my #25 Tiger jersey to a Piston game that I went to after attending a Tiger day game. Walking through the Piston parking lot, a lady commented on my Cash jersery, saying outside of her kids wearing it, she hardly ever saw them around any more, she thanked me for wearing it. I asked who she was, her name was Karen Cash, Norms daughter. I did not believe her, but her husband assured me it was true. Hugs and pictures ensued, I blubbered about the injustice her dad suffered, then the magical moment was over, a memory that will last forever.

  • wayne orlando

    Norm cash’ s number 25 as he was one of the games best hitters and first basemen of the 60’s and had a lot of years with the tigers.

  • Steve

    Look, you can’t retire every number in 500 years players will be using 3 digits on their uniforms. Stop retiring numbers and just honor the name. It’s going to be a problem eventually (y2k sound familiar)?

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