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On This Date in Sports January 23, 1929

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Yankeenumbers

The New York Yankees announce that their players will begin wearing numbers on the back of their uniform, becoming the first team in Major League Baseball to go to uniform numbers fulltime. Some of the key players on their team would be assigned numbers based on their position in the Yankees regular batting order, this leads to Babe Ruth getting #3 and Lou Gehrig getting #4.

While the Yankees were the first team to go to uniform numbers permanently, they were not the first team to use them in baseball. They were worn sporadically in the minors as early as the 19th Century. In 1916, the Cleveland Indians became the first team to use numbers on the jersey, wearing them on their sleeves in a few games on an experimental basis. In 1923, the St. Louis Cardinals also tried out numbers on their sleeves, but it proved unpopular with players as they were often mocked by players on the opposing teams.

As the popularity of baseball grew along with radio, there came a sense that there needed to be a way to identify players for fans new to the game. For this reason, Jacob Ruppert, Owner of the two-time defending World Champion New York Yankees announced before the start of the 1929 season they would begin wearing numbers on the back of their jerseys. Numbers had long been a part of football and hockey and only seemed natural for baseball. The Yankees decided to assign their first numbers to players based on the regular spot in the lineup. Pitchers and reserve would follow, with their two big stars Babe Ruth getting #3 and Lou Gehrig getting #4.

After the Yankees debuted their numbers at the start of the season, it did not take long for other teams to begin following suit beginning with the Cleveland Indians. Within three seasons, every team in the American League had begun to wear numbers on the back of their uniforms. In 1932, all eight teams in the National League decided to follow along making the uniform number as much as part of baseball as the team’s hat.

Kluszewski

Three decades later, teams went one-step further as the Chicago White Sox became the first team to put the player’s name on the back of the jersey. It would take longer for the name on the back of the jersey to catch on. As not every team has embraced this policy. In fact, teams have regularly gone from taking the names off their uniform, especially on their home jersey, as the National League mandates that road teams have the players’ names on the back. Curiously, the New York Yankees, the team that first added numbers is the only team to have never put their players’ names on any of their team’s jerseys.