MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

They're No. 1, in our minds and our Hart

They're No. 1, in our minds and our Hart

They're No. 1, in our minds and our Hart
All right, all right; so the nickname by which Harold Henry Reese was most widely identified had more to do with his skill with marbles than with his size. Acknowledged. Pee Wee applied to his physical stature, nonetheless. Mr. Reese never was one of the big guys, not in his early seasons playing in Brooklyn, nor in his heyday or his later years. Among the Dodgers, Gil was taller, Campy was wider, Jackie was thicker and Duke was more muscled. So though Reese's nickname was derived from his playing deftly with peawees, pearls and catseyes, it fit him also because he was 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds with 25 marbles in his pocket.

Reese's informal ID, as readily recognized in the game as Babe, Dizzy or Yogi, also was consistent with his uniform number: 1. If baseball ever had a No. 1, it was Pee Wee. The number fit him, as it did Richie Ashburn, the man who led the world in one-base hits in the 1950s; Bobby Richardson, the contact man among the Mantles, Marises and Mooses in the '60s; and Ozzie Smith, whose uniform shirt would have been overwhelmed by any integer other than 1. (Moreover, the No. 1 worn by The Wizard remained recognizable even in mid-execution of one of his celebratory flips.)

No. 1 was so right for those guys and for the likes of Bobby Doerr, Bobby Knoop and Bobby Avila, Eddie Joost and Eddie Yost, Tyler Pastornicky, Buddy Biancalana and Steve Lombardozzi, Cookie and Mookie (Rojas and Wilson), Otis Nixon and Oddibe McDowell, Salty Parker and Pepper Martin, Earle Combs and Elvis Andrus, Al Bumbry and Bump Wills, Lou Whitaker, Dick Green and Tony Fernandez. And you know that, if players wore numbers when 5-foot-4 Wee Willie Keeler was active, he would have hit 'em where they ain't as a No. 1.

A NO. 1 LINEUP
A starting nine of players with uniform No. 1:
POS. NAME
CF Richie Ashburn
SS Ozzie Smith
2B Bobby Doerr
1B Jim Bottomley
RF Corey Hart
C Bengie Molina
3B Pepper Martin
LF Al Bumbry
P Matt Young
MGR Billy Martin (to be succeeded by
Fred Hutchinson upon his inevitable dismissal)

Most of the 1's seemingly have come from the same genetic pool. They have been players of quickness who most often were assigned to the top or the bottom of the order and to the middle of the field. And all could hit their weight if only because No. 2 rarely was the first digit on the scales' readings. Biancalana, one of David Letterman's favored targets, batted .205 in his career and weighed 160. But who was counting?

Many of them could fit under the seat in front of you and were not threats to pin Prince Fielder or out-rebound Jon Rauch. Even Jim Bottomley, a slugger in the 1920s who wore No. 1 in the '30s, was merely 180 pounds.

Now, with so much sameness among the No. 1s noted, this question must be posed: What, in the name of Billy Martin, is Corey Hart doing, wearing on his back the one number that George Washington, "Hey Jude," John Wooden's teams and Jacques Plante have in common? Corey Hart wears No. 1. How can that be? He doesn't fit the profile.

He wears it as Obama would wear a GOP cap or Fonzi would wear a buzz cut -- wrongly. He shouldn't wear a No. 1 any more than the Red Sox should be in last place, Ford should have manufactured the Edsel and Coca-Cola should have created New Coke. But there he is -- in right field and batting in the middle of the order for the Brewers, No. 1 Corey Hart, 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, 1 singular exception.

RETIRED NO. 1 UNIFORMS
Seven uniform No. 1s have been retired in Major League Baseball:
PLAYER/MANAGER YEAR
Billy Meyer, Pirates 1954
Fred Hutchinson, Reds 1965
Richie Ashburn, Phillies 1979
Pee Wee Reese, Dodgers 1984
Billy Martin, Yankees 1986
Bobby Doerr, Red Sox 1988
Ozzie Smith, Cardinals 1996

The uniform fits him; the number doesn't. Hart's numerical identity stands out like a tabloid headline in the book of Deuteronomy. His wearing No. 1 is as incongruous as Goldwater would have been at a Kennedy clam bake, as Miller Park would be standing among Wrigley, Fenway and Parc Jarry.

Multiple choice, folks: Which is different -- Chihauhau, ferret or Kodiak? Hart would stand out as a bear among Lilliputian house pets. He ought to be in the Packers' locker room, slipping into a No. 88 jersey or on Marquette's basketball roster with Jerome Whitehead's No. 54 assigned him.

Moreover, the number is lost on his back, like an unemployed flagpole in the middle of the Mojave. His one-syllable surname and his number occupy so little of the available space on his back that enough room exists for Cal's consecutive-game-streak total, Jeter's hit total and the surname of Boston's starting catcher.

No. 1 observations
The Braves' Del Crandall probably wore No. 1 more than any other catcher, and his number was blocked from view -- by the strap of his chest protector -- probably more than any player in history. ... Ozzie Smith, then of the Padres, and Garry Templeton, then with the Cardinals, were traded for each other in 1982. They traded numbers as well. Each was No. 1 before and after the deal.
Billy Meyer managed the Pirates from 1948-52. His teams produced one winning record, two last-place finishes, one next-to-last-place finish and a .412 winning percentage. Meyer played in 113 big league games, none with the Pirates. They retired his No. 1 in 1954. ... Infielder Jerry Terrell wore No. 1 with the Twins (1975-77) and the Royals (1978-80). He didn't play after 1980. But he retained voting rights as a member of the players' union in 1981 and voted against a strike, for religious reasons -- the one player of 968 to say nay.
How could Freddie Patek not have been a No. 1 at some point? He profiled as a No. 1 -- 5-foot-4, 148 pounds. He was No. 2 with three teams. ... Bobby Valentine wore No. 1 with the Mets after he was acquired with Paul Siebert from the Padres for Dave Kingman as the midnight trading deadline approached on June 15, 1977. ... Billy Martin wore No. 12 in 1950, his first season in the big leagues. Martin became No. 1 in 1951. He wore No. 1 in three other tours as a player, with the Tigers, Indians and Twins, and during each of his 10 incarnations as a manager and his lone tour of duty as a coach. ... Bobby Murcer, No. 1 with the Yankees from 1969-74, had to accept No. 2 when he returned to the club in 1979 with Martin managing.
Rare is the team with a first baseman wearing No. 1. The Mets had two in 1963. Duke Carmel and Cliff Cook played at least five games each at first, wearing the number Richie Ashburn had left behind. ... Carl Sawatski, a catcher wearing the Cardinals' No. 1 in the early '60s, had a cool ID, the Sultan of Sawat-ski. He hit 35 home runs in 680 at-bats in four seasons with the Cardinals.

Without question, Hart is the 1 that can't be explained.

So here's the explanation: "I was given No. 87 my first year after I signed," Hart said Wednesday morning from the Brewers' clubhouse. "But my first year in [big league camp], I was given No. 1. I never asked for it. But I guess I just assumed I'd get a lower number if I made the team. I had no idea I'd get 1. No one came over and asked me what I wanted."

As long-time equipment manager Tony Migliaccio recalled, Hart had genuine big league promise and other single-digit numbers already had been assigned. "When I started working in the clubhouse [in 1978] was before there were names on the uniforms," Migliaccio said, "we used to assign uniforms based on size until a player was established and asked for a number."

Names on uniforms and players professing preferences complicated the process. "There was a core group who came up together -- including Corey and J.J. Hardy," Migliaccio said. "We tried to give lower numbers to the guys we thought would play a lot. No. 1 was available; I gave it to Corey." Not that Hart was opposed to the number. He had played quarterback in middle school in Kentucky, wearing No. 1 because he favored Warren Moon, the eventual Hall of Fame quarterback who wore the same number."

At times, Hart took some good-natured heat from fans for the incongruity of his number and body size. Ya know, "What's a guy like you doing with a number like that?" or variations on that theme.

He didn't hear it too much when he was more slender. And the comments didn't bother him anyway. Nonetheless, Hart asked the Brewers about changing his number three years ago. "But they wouldn't let me. They said it was all set with the yearbook, and the team store had No. 1 jerseys with my name on them.

"No big thing. I'm fine with it."

So today, Hart happily remains 1 for the books.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.