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Number Zero is anything but

The New York Yankees retired the number of Derek Jeter in a heart-warming ceremony on Sunday. Jeter wore the number two on the back of his jersey during his 20 major league seasons from 1995 to 2014.

With number two off the market for the Yankees, there is no single digit number remaining for any future Bronx Bombers—unless of course you count the number zero.

Zero is personified as a rarity in Major League Baseball, both on and off the field. There’s always an air of anticipation when a no-hitter or a shutout is in progress. Fans want to see history made, whether it’s a star pitcher going for a shutout or a rookie wonder attempting to pitch a perfect game.

Since numbers were formally introduced on the back of all team jerseys in 1929, there have been just 18 players in Major League history to wear the number zero—and none of them have been Yankees. That’s a small amount. For comparison’s sake, there have been 553 players to wear the number five. In fact, 598 different players have worn the number three.

The first player to regularly wear number zero was Al Oliver, who first donned the uniform in 1978. Oliver played 18 seasons in the major leagues from 1968 to 1985. He played with seven different clubs during his MLB career, including ten of his 18 seasons with the Pirates. The former outfielder and first baseman was a part of the Pirates’ 1971 World Series championship club.

However, Oliver didn’t wear the number until being traded from the Pirates to the Rangers in December of 1977. He was a part of the four-team deal that sent future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven to the Pirates. Determined to prove himself with a new club, Oliver showed that he was anything but a zero. Over the next six seasons, Oliver complied a .316 batting average and averaged 35 doubles and 83 RBI per year. In fact, Oliver was the 1982 National League Batting champion. He led the National League with a .331 batting average, 204 hits, 43 doubles and 109 RBI. All the while, he wore the number zero with pride on his jersey.

Al Oliver

Al Oliver at the plate (Courtesy of SportsLogos.net)

Oliver’s name has come up in discussion for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He retired with 2,743 hits, 219 homers, 1,326 RBI and a lifetime .303 batting average. He was also a seven-time All-Star.

Oliver was not the only notable player to wear number zero. Former Mets’ shortstop Rey Ordonez had zero stitched to his back during his first two MLB seasons in 1996 and 1997. Ordonez spent nine seasons in the majors from 1996 to 2004. Though his offensive skill set was limited (a career .246 hitter with 12 home runs in 973 games), Ordonez was a skilled defender. The slick fielding shortstop was a three-time National League Gold Glove award winner.

Former Yankee outfielder Oscar Gamble also wore the number during his final major league season with the White Sox in 1985. He struggled in his last season with Chicago, batting just .203 with four homers and 20 RBI in 70 games. However, his last home run was the 200th of his career. It came against the Yankees on August 3 in the Bronx. With Chicago trailing 8-3 in the top of the eighth inning. He stepped to the plate and smacked a homer off of Yankee reliever Ed Whitson. Though it wasn’t enough to give the White Sox a victory, the home run was a momentous milestone in the respected career of Oscar Gamble.

Yunel Escobar

Yunel Escobar celebrating (courtesy of sbnation.com)

There have been three players to wear number zero in the 2017 season. Yunel Escobar of the Angels, Mallex Smith of the Rays, and Terrance Gore of the Royals have each continued to wear number this season. Who knows? Maybe a future Yankees prospects such as Clint Frazier,
Gleyber Torres or Justus Sheffield will one day wear number zero with pride at the House that Ruth Built. Maybe it’ll be someone who hasn’t even been drafted yet—or even someone who’s existence has yet to begin.

Only time will tell.

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