Jimmy, Jay and Retiring Number 15

St. Louis Cardinals fans take their team's uniform numbers seriously, including the number 15, that of former outfielder Jim Edmonds and current player Jon Jay.

When star outfielder Matt Holliday first joined the St. Louis Cardinals via trade last July, he was assigned number 15. A segment of fans anxious for the club to retire the number in honor of former centerfielder Jim Edmonds railed at the decision. This despite the fact that former St. Louis hitting coach Hal McRae yielded the number to Holliday after having donned the digits during the previous two years after the trade of Edmonds.


Following the 2009 season, Holliday admitted he was uncomfortable with wearing it and announced at the signing of his seven-year, $120 million contract on January 7 that he was switching to the number 7 for 2010.


Given all that, it was with a bit of surprise that the 15 jersey was trotted out again so quickly. En route to his major league debut, outfielder Jon Jay received it upon his promotion from Triple-A Memphis on April 26. He had previously worn numbers 88 and 68 in successive Cardinals spring training camps.


The 25-year-old obviously lacks the veteran status of the others who had worn the number in recent years but appreciates its significance.


"Jim Edmonds is a great player," Jay said this week. "I followed him growing up as a left-handed hitting centerfielder myself. He was an All-Star many times (four times in total, including 2000, 2003 and 2005 with St. Louis) and was a great representative of the Cardinals and the city."


Since being dealt to San Diego prior to the 2008 season, Edmonds was released, played a partial season with the Cubs, went unsigned, sat out a season, lobbied unsuccessfully to return to the Cardinals, signed with Milwaukee instead, made the club this spring and is playing well for the Brewers. He turns 40 next month.


Whether or not Edmonds is a Hall of Famer is an open question that will take years to get a firm hold on. Players become eligible for the voting process five years after their retirement.


There are many who believe that if a player is not judged to be Hall-worthy, then his number should not be retired by the Cardinals, either.


Over its history, the club has many more Hall of Famers than retired numbers. Back in 2007, I noted that of the 225 players then in the Hall, 33 had played for the Cardinals at one time, while 13 were with the club longer than any other during their careers.


Edmonds supporters, as did Willie McGee backers previously, could argue a precedent has been established in that there is one number from a non-Hall-of-Fame player from among the group retired by the Cardinals. That is the number 14 of former player and manager Ken Boyer. (In addition to ten ex-players, number 85 was retired for the late owner and non-Hall-of-Famer Gussie Busch and broadcaster Jack Buck was honored without a number designation.) 


Even putting Edmonds' open case aside, there are many deserving Cardinals Hall of Famers who wore non-retired numbers, old-time greats like Jim Bottomley, Frankie Frisch and Ducky Medwick. Then we have Whitey Herzog's induction this summer and Tony La Russa sure to be voted in someday.


In other words, the Cardinals will continue to face a quantity of retirement decisions. Some are and will be more difficult than others.


This is exacerbated by the fact the club lacks a formal retired number policy. During Winter Warm-Up, team president Bill DeWitt III offered encouragement when he disclosed he would be studying the matter. This week, however, a Cardinals spokesman said there is no new news on that front.


I have proposed an alternative, a second, lower-level honor for those not quite at retired-number status. This would allow proper recognition of former Cardinals greats without further compromising the retired number situation, reserving it for the very best of the organization's many Hall of Famers from different eras.


Without any policy, ownership can make controversial decisions like the 2006 retirement of the number of Bruce Sutter despite the player having been with the club only four seasons. Number 42 had already been retired across baseball out of respect for Jackie Robinson, but like the Boyer decision in 1984, the Sutter move established a very questionable precedent.


In addition to the formally-retired numbers, there are the ones not being used out of respect for the player, such as the #32 of the late Josh Hancock and #57 worn by Darryl Kile before his untimely passing. The informally-retired #51 of McGee was once the subject of a fan petition drive to make the move permanent. Number 25 was also in indefinite mothballs prior to the return of Mark McGwire this season.


Obviously, number 15 is not among them. Its newest owner has a history with the number that helps to explain its assignment to him.


"It is a birthday number for me – I was born on March 15. I have worn it for years – back to my USA summer team and most recently with Memphis each of the last two seasons," Jay said.


Jay is coming off an April in which he was named the Cardinals Minor League Player of the Month by both the Cardinals organization and TheCardinalNation.com.


"I had a good start," Jay explained. "All the hard work paid off. There are a lot of very good hitters in that league (the Pacific Coast League). My friend Daniel Descalso (leading the PCL in RBI) also had a great month. I hope he wins it (the award) in May."


Of course, no matter the number, the first-time major leaguer is hoping he isn't required to don the Memphis threads ever again. So far, Jay is doing his part, honoring his current uniform with his solid play, including four straight pinch hits and a .385 average in his first nine games with the Cardinals.  



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog.

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