Retired Numbers: Pittsburgh Pirates

(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)

The Pittsburgh Pirates have retired nine numbers, seven for players and two for managers. Six of the nine had no bandits; the other three had a ton of them.

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Billy Meyer, 1

Meyer managed the Pirates for just five years. In his first season, 1948, he helped the Pirates improve from seventh place to fourth. Things went back downhill from there, with the team finishing sixth, eighth, seventh, and eighth in the eight-team league his last four seasons. In 1952, his final season, the Pirates went 42-112, capping off his managerial record at 317-452. He resigned after the season.

For some reason, the Pirates retired Meyer’s number 1 in 1954. He suffered a stroke the next year and died two years after that at the age of 64.

Ralph Kiner, 4

Kiner is one of the ultimate what-might-have-been stories. He debuted in 1946 at age 23 and proceeded to lead the National League in home runs. In each of the next six years after that, he led not just the NL but both leagues in home runs. After seven seasons, Kiner had 294 home runs, a record that still stands today. In fact, Kiner holds (or shares) the record for most home runs after a player’s third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth seasons.

The Pirates traded Kiner to the Chicago Cubs in 1953, with general manager Branch Rickey famously telling him, “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.” He played through 1955, and then a back injury forced him to retire at the age of 32. In his ten seasons, he batted .279/.398/.548 with 369 home runs and 1,015 RBIs. He later went on to a long and successful career in the broadcast booth for the New York Mets.

It took a long time, but Kiner was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975. The Pirates retired his number in 1987, and he died in 2014. Between Kiner’s departure from Pittsburgh and the retiring of his number, it was worn by Sid Gordon, Bob Skinner, Rex Johnston, Jerry May, Bill Virdon, George Brunet, Charlie Sands, Jim Campanis, Dale Berra, Mike Brown, and Mike LaValliere.

During Kiner’s time as an announcer, he was famous for his occasional malapropisms, including calling people by the wrong names. (He once even referred to himself as Ralph Korner instead of Kiner.) Here is a video of some of his highlights. Skip to about 4:48 to hear Kiner attempt to explain why a pitcher did not get a save. (The video says it is nearly three hours long, but it’s actually only about 22 minutes.)

Willie Stargell, 8

Stargell played his entire 21-year career with the Pirates, coming up as a left-fielder and moving to first base later in his career. He hit 475 career home runs despite playing the first eight years of his career in Forbes Field, which was very deep to right-center and center fields. When the Pirates moved to Three Rivers Stadium, his power picked up dramatically — after averaging 27 home runs per year the last five years at Forbes, Stargell averaged 39 the first four years at Three Rivers.

Stargell won his only MVP Award in 1979, sharing the honor with St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez. He never played another full season, retiring after the 1982 season. He hit 14 home runs in 179 games after winning the MVP.

The Pirates retired Stargell’s number in 1982, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988. He died of complications related to a stroke in 2001.

Bill Mazeroski, 9

Mazeroski is proof that defense and one big World Series moment can eventually get you into the Hall of Fame. He played his entire 17-year career for the Pirates, with his biggest moment being his walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

Maz had a career batting line of .260/.299/.367, good for an OPS+ of 84. He never had a season in which he was even a league-average hitter. But he made seven All-Star teams and won eight Gold Gloves, and he had more value on defense than on offense over the course of his career. According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, Mazeroski is the 50th-best second baseman in baseball history, behind such non-Hall of Famers as Robby Thompson, Davey Lopes, Placido Polanco, Ben Zobrist, Chuck Knoblauch, Cupid Childs, Fred Dunlap, and Tony Cuccinello, among others. The next-lowest Hall of Famer on the list is Johnny Evers, who ranks 28th and is only in the Hall because someone wrote a famous poem about him once.

Mazeroski was on the Hall of Fame ballot for 15 years, topping out at 42.3 percent in 1992. He was elected by the Veteran’s Committee in 2001. The Pirates officially retired his number 9 in 1987, but it had not been issued to anyone else since his retirement in 1972.

Paul Waner, 11

Waner played alongside his brother, Lloyd Waner, for the Pirates of the 1930s. He played 15 years for the Pirates, amassing 2,868 of his 3,152 career hits with the team. His batting line of .340/.407/.490 was good for a 136 OPS+ with Pittsburgh, even in the offense-rich environment of the time period.

The Pirates released Waner after the 1940 season, and they traded his brother early in the 1941 season. The brothers were later teammates with the Boston Braves and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Both were elected to the Hall of Fame, although Paul (72.8 career WAR) was much more deserving than Lloyd (24.1). The voters agreed, electing Paul in 1952 while Lloyd had to wait for the Veteran’s Committee to elect him in 1967.

Paul Waner died in 1965, and the Pirates retired his number 11 in 1987, but not before he had set a record for most Retired Number Bandits in baseball history. After his departure from Pittsburgh, his number was worn by 32 other players: Spud Davis, Jimmy Wasdell, Tommy O’Brien, Chuck Workman, Al Tate, Lee Howard, Billy Herman, Dixie Walker, Danny O’Connell, Nanny Fernandez, George Metkovich, Howie Pollet, Toby Atwell, Paul Smith, Bill Hall, Dick Schofield, Jose Pagan, Jerry McNertney, Dal Maxvill, Mario Mendoza, Alberto Lois, Tony Pena, Kurt Bevacqua, Jim Smith, Lee Mazzilli, Joe Orsulak, Glenn Wilson, Don Slaught, Mike Kingery, Jose Guillen, Dale Sveum, and Humberto Cota.

Pie Traynor, 20

Traynor was teammates with the Waners, playing for the Pirates from 1920-35 with a cameo in 1937; he also served as the team’s manager from 1934-39. He batted .320/.362/.435 in his 17 seasons, which was actually only a 107 OPS+. He had a reputation for being the best-fielding third baseman in baseball, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1948.

Traynor died in 1972, and the Pirates retired his number 20 a month later. After Traynor, the number was worn by Lee Handley, Bob Klinger, Ray Starr, Boom-Boom Beck, Ken Heintzelman, Tiny Bonham, Hal Gregg, Vern Law, Bill Werle, Jim Dunn, Ron Kline, Paul Pettit, Jim Mangan, Sam Jethroe, Red Swanson, Bill Bell, Red Munger, Hank Foiles, Hardy Peterson, Gino Cimoli, Walt Moryn, John Gelnar, Frank Carpin, Jesse Gonder, Al Luplow, and Richie Hebner.

Roberto Clemente, 21

Clemente played 18 years in the big leagues, all with the Pirates, finishing his career with a .317 .359 .475 batting line. He had exactly 3,000 hits, including 440 doubles, 166 triples, and 240 home runs. He won the 1966 National League MVP Award, made the All-Star team 12 times, and won 12 Gold Gloves. JAWS ranks him as the sixth-best right fielder of all time.

And he could have done more. Clemente never got the chance to get old and retire. Although he was struggling with injuries, he had 4.8 WAR at age 37, and he probably had two or three seasons left in him. But on December 31, 1972, he was flying to Nicaragua to deliver supplies to earthquake victims when the plane he was in crashed, killing everyone on board.

After Clemente’s death, he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in a special election. He was the first Latin American and the first Caribbean player to be inducted, and his death established the precedent that the five-year waiting period for retired players does not apply to a player who has been deceased for at least six months. The Pirates retired his number 21 on April 6, 1973.

Honus Wagner, 33

Wagner is one of the best hitters of all time, batting .328 .391 .467 in the Deal Ball Era for an OPS+ of 151. In the 11 seasons from 1899-1909, he hit .350/.415/.507 (172 OPS+) with 417 doubles, 161 triples, and 58 home runs.

Wagner was also a great defensive shortstop by all accounts, and JAWS ranks him as the best shortstop in baseball history. It’s not even close — the only player anywhere near him is Alex Rodriguez, who has played almost as much at third base as he did at shortstop.

Wagner played 18 of his 21 seasons with the Pirates, but that was before uniform numbers. After his playing career, he spent 39 years as a coach for the Pirates, including 20 years as hitting coach. During his time as a coach, he wore number 14 and number 33. It was the latter that the Pirates chose to retire in his honor.

Wagner was the second-highest vote getter (behind Ty Cobb, tied with Babe Ruth) in the first Hall of Fame election in 1936. Cobb, Ruth, Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson were the first class elected. His time as a coach ended in 1952, and he died in 1955 at the age of 81. The Pirates retired his number 33 in 1956. He is the only person ever to wear the number for Pittsburgh.

Danny Murtaugh, 40

Murtaugh managed the Pirates for a total of 15 seasons across four different stints. After managing them from 1957-64, a stretch that included a World Series championship in 1960, he retired for health reasons and took a job in the Pirates front office. When Harry Walker was fired during the 1967 season, Murtaugh took over for the final 79 games of the seasons, then returned to the front office.

Larry Shepard was fired as manager near the end of the 1969 season, and Murtaugh asked to have his old job back. After being medically cleared, he took over again as manager for the 1970 season.

Pittsburgh won the National League East in 1970 and 1971, going on to win the World Series in the latter year. After that series, Murtaugh stepped down (again) as manager, with the job going to his hand-picked successor, Bill Virdon, who had played center field for the Pirates during Murtaugh’s first stint. When Virdon was fired near after less than two seasons, Murtaugh once again stepped into the role for the remained of 1973 and the entire 1974-76 seasons. He retired for good after 1976.

Two months after his final retirement, Murtaugh had a stroke and died at the age of 59. The Pirates retired his number 40 in April 1977. While Murtaugh was the last person to wear the number for the Pirates, it was worn by Dave Wickersham and Dock Ellis between his first two stints as manager.

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