With the passing of Dodgers legend Don Newcombe one of the topics brought up was why the Dodgers had not retired his number “36”. The reason is that the Dodgers have a policy that basically states that a person must be in the Baseball Hall of Fame to have their number retired. There was an exception made during 1978 when former Dodgers player and then first base coach, Jim Gilliam, died of a cerebral hemorrhage during the playoffs. His number was immediately retired. Other than that, all current number retirees are in the Hall of Fame.
Legends of Dodger Baseball
Starting in 2019 the Dodgers have created the Legends of Dodgers Baseball that will honor Dodger legends. It seems it will only honor the Dodger legends not in the Hall of Fame. Steve Garvey, Fernando Valenzuela and Don Newcombe were selected as the first honorees in September of 2018. I hope this is the beginning of something like a museum at Dodger Stadium. Heck, even the Padres have a museum. All in all, this is a great development and a great honor for these legends.
The big question, is the Legends of Dodgers Baseball a good enough honor for legends like Newcombe, Garvey and Valenzuela? Should the Dodgers change their number retirement policy? The fans lean towards changing the policy:
Should the Dodgers change their policy on retiring uniform numbers? Currently, with one exception, they must be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
— Tim Rogers (SD Dodger) (@SDDodger) February 21, 2019
Numbers To Consider Retiring
The Dodgers have a rich history with many great players who would be under consideration for number retirement or the “Legends of Dodger Baseball”.
- 6 – Steve Garvey
- 14 – Gil Hodges
- 30 – Maury Wills
- 31 – Mike Piazza
- 34 – Fernando Valenzuela
- 36 – Don Newcombe
- 55 – Orel Hershiser
The only one in the Hall of Fame is Mike Piazza while all the others have fallen short. Even though Piazza was elected to the Hall of Fame he chose to go in as a Met. The Dodgers, technically, could still retire his number. Five years after he retires, I expect Clayton Kershaw to be elected into the Hall of Fame and the Dodgers will retire his number 22. The others still could get elected through a Veterans-type committee as they’ve elected players like Jack Morris, Harold Baines and Lee Smith. Many of the listed players above have a better case than those three.
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The Case For Number 36 Being Retired
Newcombe was the last link to Brooklyn player wise. His number should have been retired long ago. We don’t need to be sarcastic about it, and start bringing up players who obviously don’t deserve it.
— Tony (@tnyalvarezz) February 21, 2019
@tnyalvarezz makes a great point about the link to Brooklyn but Newk was also the last true link to Jackie Robinson. Newk followed Jackie to Brooklyn in 1949 and suffered so many of the same obstacles, along with Roy Campanella. Let’s not forget his military service that cost him the 1952 and 1953 seasons. The 1954 season was lost as he was getting back into pitching after missing 2 complete seasons. He was the first player to win the Cy Young Award along with being the first at getting the triple crown of awards, the Cy Young, MVP and Rookie of the Year.
If there is anyone that should get an exception for the number retirement it should be Newk. A self-admitted alcoholic, he helped so many players such as Maury Wills and Bob Welch work through their own addictions. Don Newcombe was so much bigger than just the baseball field as a civil rights pioneer, great player (though a short time) and a great post-playing leader and role model. The real shame is that they didn’t retire Don’s number while he was still alive.
The Other Legends
Currently, there are 10 numbers retired by the Dodgers. There are other teams with more like the Yankees, Cardinals and Red Sox. Every team has different policies so the Dodgers could decide to make certain exceptions of their own policy. However, I doubt this will occur as the creation of the “Legends of Dodger Baseball” seems to try to fill in the void. If the Dodgers were to retire another 6-7 numbers it might seem to water down the honor.
The Dodgers continue to have excellent players and, we’ll have a new Hall of Famer within the next 10-15 years with Clayton Kershaw. Would it diminish the honor of number retirement if 6, 34 or 55 were included? I don’t think so. The Hall of Fame is the ultimate individual honor for a player but is still very subjective. Personally, I’m in favor of changing the policy if the “Legends” program isn’t as good as expected. Honoring our own history does not always have to line up with baseball history.
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