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Baseball history unpacked: numbers on the Cardinals’ sleeves

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yesterday’s news, today

2015 Dubai International Film Festival - Day 3
They played for Peanuts
Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for DIFF

In one of our yesterdays, we threw some shade on the former Commissioner of Baseball, related a bit of the sordid history of the Brewers that Milwaukee made famous, and celebrated the natal anniversaries of Cubs past.

Today we look at a famous foible of our favorite rival and delve into the secret history of the Peanuts baseball team.

Won’t you join us?

Today in baseball history:

  • 1906 - Rookie owner Charles W. Murphy puts the last pieces of a Cubs dynasty in place, trading rookie infielder Hans Lobert and lefthander Jake Weimer to the Cincinnati Reds for third baseman Harry Steinfeldt. Not a heavy hitter, Steinfeldt completes the Tinker-Evers-Chance infield with more than adequate defense.
  • 1922 - Babe Ruth signs for three years at $52,000 a year. The next-highest-paid New York player is Frank Home Run Baker at $16,000.
  • 1923 - The Cardinals announce players will wear numbers on their sleeves of their uniforms, with the digits corresponding to the player’s place in the batting order. The Redbirds strongly disapprove of the concept implemented by St. Louis manager Branch Rickey, who acted on a suggestion put forth by sportswriter John Sheridan.
  • 1951 - Charlie Brown, who made his debut in Charles Schultz’s Peanut comic strip in last October, appears in his first baseball game. The perennial loser, who served as his team’s pitcher and manager, usually fielded the following lineup: first baseman - Shermy, second baseman - Linus, third baseman - Pig-pen, shortstop - Snoopy, right fielder - Lucy, center fielder -Patty, left fielder -Violet, and catcher - Schroeder.
  • 1971 - Joe Cronin, the AL president, gives in to A’s owner Charlie Finley’s request to allow three balls, rather than four, to constitute a base on balls during an exhibition game against the Brewers. The experiment, designed to add offense and speed up the game, proves to be tedious for both teams when 19 walks are issued as well as six homers being drilled during the 13-9 spring training victory for Oakland.
  • 1973 - In an exhibition game against the Pirates, Larry Hisle of the Twins becomes the first designated hitter in major league history. Hisle makes the new A.L. rule look good by collecting two home runs and driving in seven runs.
  • 1987 - Free agent Andre Dawson signs a blank contract to join the Cubs. The former player for the Expos will win the National League MVP, making him a bargain at $500,000, the amount Chicago decided to pay the All-Star outfielder.
  • Happy birthday: Hal Mauck, Bill Sweeney, Ted Abernathy, Cookie Rojas, Terry Adams, Jake Arrieta, Leonys Martin.

More about the 1923 St. Louis Cardinals:

I’m sure it would come as no surprise to anyone that the notion didn’t pan out.

“The St. Louis Cardinals announced before the 1923 season that their players would wear six-inch high numbers on both sleeves that corresponded to their place in the batting order. Manager Branch Rickey explained, “I think we owe it to the patrons. . . . The fans do not know all the players. Even I, a manager in the same league, when away from home, must often call an usher aside and ask him who this or that player is. And, if I do not know the players, how is an ordinary person to figure it out?” — from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

They wore those numbers during the 1924 and 1925 seasons. After that, they assigned the players “scoreboard numbers” that appeared on the hand-operated scoreboard when they came to bat. The Browns also began doing this, and scorecard sales increased as a result, as the numbers changed from time to time.

That lasted until 1932, when MLB teams all started putting numbers on the backs of the uniforms. More about baseball numbers.

Little-known fact:

Charlie Brown’s team has actually won a few games, mostly when he’s not there.

Thanks for reading.