Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Carlos Muniz, currently in the Mets' Spring Training camp at Port St. Lucie, is an outside contender (midnight-pitch black horse, really) for the Opening Day bullpen. Should he somehow make it in, he would do so wearing number 32, thus becoming the Mets' 24th 32-wearer. (Trivia: as of this writing, Muniz is the 821st most popular look-up on the UMDb out of 821 players.)
An ESPN.com article cites #32 as "the most anonymous retired number among the four pro sports leagues"--Jim Umbricht, an Original Astro (or Colt .45), who died of cancer in '64. Another one calls it the most "scientifically" greatest uniform number, citing the sheer talent of past bearers.
Last year, #32 showed up on the backs of MLB players Erick Aybar, Jamie Walker, J.C. Romero, Bobby Kielty, Daryle Ward, LaTroy Hawkins, Virgil Vasquez, Brian Buscher, Shawn Chacon, Chris Young, Kevin Correia, Ron Mahay, Luis Mendoza, Shawn Riggans, Roy Halladay, and Chad Cordero. Meanwhile, Shaquille O'Neal continues to wear #32 in the NBA. These are all the 32s that I know reliably are playing currently.
Three "notable" 32s I have not mentioned previously but are cited by other sources are Bill Walton of the Portland Trail Blazers (NBA), Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders (NFL), and Julius Hodge while on the Denver Nuggets (NBA). Besides Koufax, Carlton and Umbricht, the only 32 retired by an MLB club is that of longtime Yankee coach Elston Howard. The NHL's only retired 32 belonged to Dale Hunter of the Washington Capitals. The NBA has retired the 32s of Kevin McHale, Brian Winters, Billy Cunningham, Sean Elliott, Fred Brown, Johnson, Erving and Walton. Meanwhile, Brown and Al Blozis are the only 32s retired by the NFL.
A list published on SI.com some time after that mentioned in the 16th post rearranged the order of the greatest #32s, dropping Jim Brown behind Magic Johnson and adding Walton to the list of runners-up. Accompanying the original list was an article that notes other standout 32s.
To cap this all off, a story: for Purim of 2001, I had run out of ideas and settled for a quickie costume: wearing a long undershirt transformed via the magic of a black marker into the uniform of my all-time favorite pitcher, Sandy Koufax. Problem was, I had no idea what his number was. Throwing caution to the wind, I hastily scribbled down #32 and went forth to Get Candy. I wore it once more for the next Purim too (below).
Imagine my surprise when, just a year after that, I received the "Baseball: An Illustrated History" book, and found within it a photograph of Sandy tossing a high fast one at the batter, shirt in plain sight, and displaying what else but the number... Thirty-Two!
TODAY'S BOOK: "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch", by Jean Lee Latham ((c) 1955)