About three years ago, I did some whining about how the New York Yankees, having retired more numbers than any other Major League Baseball club, actually might not have enough numbers to outfit their spring-training squad.
There was one angle I apparently missed:
All told, the Yankees need 97 uniform numbers, give or take, in order to field a spring training team, and they only have 101 to choose from, even if they distribute 0 and 00, which seems cheeky for a team that won’t let its players wear beards.
Except, they don’t only have 101 numbers to choose from. Here’s MLB rule 3.03 (a), which is the only official instruction in the rulebook about uniform numbers: “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs.”
That’s it. Doesn’t that seem crazy? Almost every other sport lays out specific instructions as to which uniform numbers can be worn, but not MLB. Everyone freaked out about Eddie Gaedel’s one stunt plate appearance, but it’s a historical footnote that it was 100 percent legal for him to wear 1/8 on the back of his jersey. It doesn’t say they have to be one or two digits, or integers, or even Arabic numerals.
Gaedel, three foot seven, pinch-hit for the St Louis Browns in one game in 1951; Detroit Tigers pitcher Bob Cain, more amused than annoyed, walked him on four pitches. (Duh.) Gaedel was then pulled for a pinch-runner. (Duh squared.)
The Yankees obviously aren’t going to play any dwarves, even in spring training, but triple digits, fractions, and even irrational numbers are open to them:
The story goes that Yasiel Puig wears No. 66 because Dodger clubhouse manager Mitch Poole said he was a “little devil,” but there is nothing stopping Puig from wearing No. 666 if he so chose. If you can fit Avogadro’s number on your back, it’s within MLB uniform regulations to take the field wearing it.
Hmmm. 6.02 × 1023, rounded off. That’s a lot of six-inch digits.