MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

No. 16 holds sweet place in history on diamond

With college hoops right on the number, here's a look at those who have worn it

No. 16 holds sweet place in history on diamond

NEW YORK -- In this burg and in few others, evidently, the baseball number No. 16 has unquestioned cache. Whitey Ford wore and distinguished the number for the Yankees. Years later, the shooting star that was Dwight Gooden energized a city as few players had previously in his first two season with the Mets. The Mets and Astros played that scintillating 16-inning Game 6 of the 1986 National League championships. The New York Giants produced a winning streak of 16 games in August 1951, en route to their famous Miracle of Coogan's Bluff pennant, and lyrically-named Van Lingle Mungo wore No. 16 with the Brooklyn Dodgers while winning 101 games in the 1930s.

Sixteen becomes a prime number of a different sort in the Big City this weekend and not because of baseball. For the first time since 1961, New York -- specifically Madison Square Garden -- is to serve as host of a set of NCAA tournament basketball games. The Round of 16, a.k.a. the Sweet 16, takes place not that far from where Ford became the Chairman of the Board and Gooden earned his medical degree.

So now, with the big league season already underway -- albeit in Australia -- and with the season about to begin for 28 teams, we salute basketball's Sweet 16. Hats off to the number Chuck Berry described as "sweet" and "little."

We present herein a series of facts, most of them frivolous, that have one element in common: the number Lee Mazzilli, Rick Monday, eight guys named Johnson and Chipper Jones (in 1993) wore.

Ford and fellow pitchers Hal Newhouser and Ted Lyons of the Tigers and White Sox, respectively, are the only players for whom No. 16 has been retired and the only players in the Hall of Fame whose numerical identity was primarily No. 16.

Rogers Hornsby wore the number for a half-season in 1933 after signing with the St. Louis Browns. Jimmie Foxx wore it in 1942 after the Cubs claimed him on waivers from the Red Sox. And Warren Spahn was No. 16 for one year, 1942, with the Boston Braves, before beginning a three-year hitch in the military. He returned to be No. 21 and proceeded to win 21 games -- no more, no less -- eight times in his 21-year career. But that's a story for another number.

Whatever, history has given us a few 16s worth recalling and even celebrating.

Cookie Rojas wore 16 with the Phillies in the 1960s when he and double-play partner Bobby Wine created the Days of Wine and Rojas. Newhouser wore No. 16 in 17 seasons, more than any other player. But Aramis Ramirez has worn it for 16 seasons with the Pirates, Cubs and Brewers, and he's wearing it these days.

Reggie Sanders wore the number for seven franchises -- the Reds, for eight years, Padres, Braves, D-backs, Giants, Cardinals and Royals. Surprising, isn't it, that a marginal player had enough sway to wear his preferred number with so many clubs? Aside from his rookie season, Sanders wore No. 16 every year except 2003, when he wore No. 19 with the Pirates. Jose Hernandez wore No. 16.

Mike Morgan, who pitched for 12 teams, had 16 uniform number/team affiliation combinations, including wearing No. 16 for the Mariners in 1987. Red Sox center fielder Rick Miller, wearing No. 16 in the 1970s, would shade Thurman Munson to right-center if, by reading box scores, he determined Munson was on a hot streak. He's play straightaway if Munson wasn't.

Bill Bevens was the last Yankee to wear No. 16 before Ford. He wore it when he came so close to pitching a no-hitter against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 3 of the 1947 World Series. Jason Giambi, the American League Most Valuable Player Award winner in 2000, and Newhowser, the MVP in 1944 and 1945, are the only players to wear No. 16 in MVP seasons.

Ford, Jim Lonborg and Frank Viola are the only players to wear No. 16 in seasons in which they won Cy Young Awards. Gus Gil, Bo Diaz and Hi Bell have the shortest names -- six characters -- among those who have worn No. 16. Former Angels and Padres pitcher John Curtis had a degree in journalism. And he chose baseball? Cool names and No. 16: Dooley Womack, Valmy Thomas, Les "Sugar" Cain, Larvell "Sugar Bear" Blanks, Ivy Andrews, and, of course, Mungo. Firpo Marberry should have joined the Marx Brothers. The name Lefty O'Doul is pure baseball.

According to Baseball Reference.com, 15 players have had the first name Fritz. Four wore No. 16 at some point in their careers: Fritz Brickell, Fritz Peterson, Fritz Dorish and Fritz Ostermueller. Bob Kurland of The Record (then of Hackensack, N.J.) regularly identified reliever Ron Perranoski -- No. 16 with the Dodgers, Twins and Tigers and a product of Fair Lawn, N.J. -- as "Fair Lawn's foremost fireman flinger."

Personal aside: After knocking down more than my share of leaners in the spring of 1958, I had amassed more Eddie Bressoud baseball cards than cards of any other player -- 16. Bressoud wore No. 16 for the Giants that year. (I had 21 Willie Miranda cards the following year, but he wore No. 7 in '59.)

And now this: When retired pitchers laugh at the very notion of pitch counts, they may have in mind a St. Louis Browns' game against the Red Sox on Aug. 22, 1951. Browns starter Tommy Byrne pitched 12 2/3 innings and faced 63 batters, nine more than the minimum for two nine-inning games. Facing a batting order that included Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, defending batting champion Billy Goodman and reigning Rookie of the Year Walt Dropo, Byrne allowed one run in the first 12 innings before allowing two in the 13th.

A remarkable aspect of his performance wasn't the Sox's run total but their lack of runs produced, considering Byrne allowed 11 hits -- and 16 walks. Yes, 16. Byrne is one of five pitchers to walk 16 batters in a game, the only one since 1915.

Walks contributed to Boston's run in the top of the fifth inning, but Byrne, a pretty fair hitter, offset that in the bottom of the inning with a run-scoring double. Alas, he walked four straight batters after two were out in the 13th and the Browns lost, 3-1.

More remarkable was this: Byrne pitched in relief four days later, walking two in one inning, and then started on Aug. 28, pitched 10 innings and walked 13. He pitched merely eight innings and walked 10 on Sept. 1.

And finally, Lee Walls, Phil Roof and Matt Stairs wore No. 16. Alas, Bobby Doerr and Tom House did not.

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