MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

All in the numbers: Players get attached to theirs

Just as No. 42 is identified with Robinson, so too are jersey digits of many others

All in the numbers: Players get attached to theirs

LOS ANGELES -- Dusty Baker was eight years old, living in Riverside, Calif., when the Dodgers played their first game in Los Angeles on April 18, 1958, at Memorial Coliseum, a magnificent structure designed for football and track and field. The Dodgers beat the Giants, 6-5, in front of 78,672 sun-splashed fans.

Two years later, a rookie from Brooklyn broke in with the team that was as beloved as that borough's "Bums" before they and the Giants moved Major League Baseball west. Tommy Davis caught and held the attention of young Johnnie B. Baker.

"Dusty told me the story," Davis recalled on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium, where he was part of ceremonies honoring the Dodgers' 1963 World Series champions. "He used to sneak into the Coliseum, and I was the guy he saw in the outfield. He liked my No. 12."

A two-time National League batting champion who hit .294 across 18 Major League seasons and drove in 153 runs in 1962, Davis is too modest.

"Tommy D. was my favorite player," Baker said. "I loved his style, how he always seemed to come through in the clutch. Tommy D. could hit, man, and he could run. And he was cool. I wanted to be like him. So, naturally, I wanted 12 as my number."

Baker was wearing No. 12 when he broke in with the Atlanta Braves at 19 years old in 1968, idolizing teammate Hank Aaron, and he's wearing it today as manager of the Reds. It has been part of his identity through 44 years in the game as a player, coach and manager.

"I have to smile whenever I see Dusty," Davis said. "That's an honor, that he chose my number."

The number Major League Baseball celebrates every year at this time is also the title of a much-anticipated movie, "42," released nationwide Friday. Every player in the Majors will wear No. 42 on Monday, the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's barrier-crashing debut as a Brooklyn Dodger in 1947. In 1997, under the direction of Commissioner Bud Selig, Robinson's No. 42 was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute.

Only Mariano Rivera, the matchless Yankees closer, wears No. 42 every day. And he'll be the last player to wear it on any day -- except April 15, Jackie Robinson Day -- when he removes it for the final time this year.

Young players around the game searching for a hot new number might want to consider No. 27. It is worn by Dodgers superstar Matt Kemp and two of the sport's brightest young talents: Mike Trout of the Angels and Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins.

In all three cases, their receiving that number happened by pure coincidence. Kemp, Trout and Stanton were handed jerseys with No. 27 on the back. They've grown attached to their number, an emotion that almost always accompanies success.

"It's funny," said Trout, whose 2012 rookie season was the stuff of legend. "Matt and I have a running thing going about 27. Whenever we play them, he'll come to me say, 'There's only one real 27 in L.A.' I'll just laugh."

Trout wears the number "because it was in my locker when I showed up [at Angel Stadium in 2011]. I wore 23; 20 in the Minors. In high school, I was No. 1. They asked me this winter if I wanted to switch to 20, and I told them that I'll stick with 27. It's kind of grown on me. It feels right."

Mitch Poole, the Dodgers' clubhouse manager, tossed Kemp No. 27 when he arrived on May 28, 2006, and he never gave it back.

"James Loney was wearing 27, and we had no names on the uniforms at the time," Poole said, recalling the first baseman's rookie year with the Dodgers. "He got sent down, and Matt Kemp came up when we were in Washington. I just took Loney's jersey and gave it to Matt. His first three at-bats, he struck out. Then he went off."

Kemp singled in his fourth at-bat in that debut and was hitting .400 when the Dodgers returned home after a series in Atlanta. In his first Dodger Stadium appearance, Kemp launched a three-run homer against the Phillies' Gavin Floyd. A star was born.

With Kemp quickly making No. 27 hugely popular at Dodger Stadium, Loney took No. 29 when he came back in July and No. 7 the following season.

Stanton, who hits the excitement meter on the same scale as Trout and Kemp, came to No. 27 in the same serendipitous way.

"I wanted a number in the 20s," he said, "and that was the best number available. I originally wanted 22, but now I like 27 better. So it all worked out. I didn't want a single number and I didn't want a number with a 1 in front of it."

In the Minor Leagues, he'd worn 53, 40 and 20.

"The bigger you are," said Stanton, who has a tight end's frame, "the less size availability you have. No. 1 is a baby shirt."

Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann also wears No. 27 with distinction.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly made No. 23 magical in his glory days with the Yankees in the 1980s, just as Mickey Mantle did with No. 7 in the '50s and '60s. Mattingly now wears the No. 8 previously graced in L.A. by Johnny Roseboro and Reggie Smith, among others. Adrian Gonzalez, a first baseman in the Mattingly mold, has No. 23.

"When Derek Lowe left [in 2009], we offered 23 back to Donnie," Poole said. "He said, 'Let's do it.' But then a week later he calls back and says, 'I don't want to do it. What year was Yankee Stadium built? '23. When did they tear it down? '08. It's a new era. I'll keep [No.] 8.'"

Maury Wills was the NL's Most Valuable Player during that golden season of 1963, revolutionizing the sport with a record 104 stolen bases. Wills, like Kemp, was given his No. 30 the old-fashioned way.

"They gave me 30 because it was the number Bob Lillis had when I replaced him," Wills said. "I wanted No. 1, but Pee Wee Reese was coaching and still had it. When he retired, I could have taken 1 -- they hadn't retired it yet for Pee Wee -- but by then 30 was part of who I was."

Along with No. 42, retired by every Major League team, the Dodgers have retired No. 2 for Tommy Lasorda, No. 4 for Duke Snider, No. 19 for Jim Gilliam, No. 20 for Don Sutton, No. 24 for Walter Alston, No. 32 for Sandy Koufax, No. 39 for Roy Campanella and No. 53 for Don Drysdale. Each is a Hall of Famer except Gilliam, who followed Robinson to Brooklyn as an exemplary player and was a Dodgers coach in 1978 when he died at age 49 on the eve of the postseason.

There are those who strongly believe exceptions also should be made for Wills' No. 30 and Fernando Valenzuela's No. 34.

"They meant so much to this franchise, to the fans and the game," Dodgers first-base coach Davey Lopes said. "Maury and Fernando definitely are Hall of Famers, in my opinion."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia was shocked when, as a young, unproven catcher, he was handed No. 14 by longtime Dodgers clubhouse manager Nobe Kawano.

"I couldn't believe it," Scioscia said. "That was Gil Hodges' number. Why would they give it to a kid like me? I took it, of course, but I didn't feel I deserved it."

Scioscia caught Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, dominant starters for World Series champions in 1981 and '88. Hershiser wore No. 55, now adorning the slight frame of the Giants' Tim Lincecum, two-time NL Cy Young Award winner and two-time World Series champion.

"It's a pretty cool number," Lincecum said. "I'm into numbers, and I like having one that not that many guys have worn. Orel was pretty cool, right?"

Giants ace Matt Cain wears No. 18 because of a guy named Colby Paxton, who pitched for Houston High School in Germantown, Tenn., and Auburn University.

"He was the guy when I was a freshman in high school," Cain said. "He wore 18, so when I got a chance, I took 18. I've tried other numbers, but this is the one for me."

Giants manager Bruce Bochy gave up his No. 15 for Carlos Beltran in 2011, then took it back when Beltran departed.

"I'm not superstitious about numbers," Bochy, a former catcher, said. "I wore 13 when I came up with the Astros [in 1978]."

There is no superstition attached to No. 13 among Latin American players, for whom Roberto Clemente's No. 21 always has held special meaning.

The magical number in Giants history is Willie Mays' 24. Nobody else has worn it for the San Francisco franchise.

Reigning NL MVP Buster Posey is making No. 28 immensely popular in the AT&T Park stands.

"They gave it to me, simple as that," said Posey, who wore No. 8 at Florida State University. "It becomes more meaningful the more you wear it."

Two future Hall of Famers wore No. 28 in the Giants' early days in California: Gaylord Perry and, believe it or not, Duke Snider, in 1964.

Along with Mays' No. 24, Barry Bonds' No. 25, Willie McCovey's No. 44 and Orlando Cepeda's No. 30, No. 27 also holds special meaning for Giants fans. It belonged to the great Juan Marichal, an artist who would have presented a formidable challenge to Trout, Kemp and Stanton.

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