Minor League legends
Most of them are not household names, not in the traditional sense when it comes to baseball stars. In small towns across this country, however, their names are legendary.
So are their numbers.
Minor league baseball has existed since the 1870s, giving more than 200,000 ballplayers a chance to showcase their skills in hopes of making it to the major leagues. Only on incredibly rare occasions has one of those players made such an impact in a minor league community that his jersey number was retired by a franchise.
In fact, through contacting every franchise in the minor leagues, the Mirror discovered there currently are only 111 numbers retired, taking into account the 188 teams from rookie ball to Triple-A. The vast majority of those 111 are players or coaches, while a few represent other people or aspects of the local community.
Altoona Curve legend Adam Hyzdu is a member of the select list, having his No. 16 retired in 2000. Hyzdu was back in town Tuesday to play in the Curve’s Eastern League All-Star charity softball game at Peoples Natural Gas Field, giving him a chance to see how much he still means to fans years after playing his final game in Altoona.
“He was like our Ralph Kiner here,” Curve owner Bob Lozinak said.
“For a lot of reasons, people in Altoona just really connected with Adam Hyzdu,” team general manager Rob Egan said.
“He was the whole package,” said former GM Jeff Parker, who came up with the idea to retire Hyzdu’s number.
Many fans around the country may not know Hyzdu’s name, just as fans in Altoona may not recognize the names of others who have had their numbers retired elsewhere. What matters most, though, and what separates the minor leagues from the major leagues, is that any player – not just a superstar – has a chance to leave a lasting legacy in a small town.
That’s what makes them minor league legends.
Legend of Mr. Curve
Timing is everything in life. Had Hyzdu joined the Curve in 2003 or 2008 or any other year, there’s little chance his number would be retired. But he came along at the perfect time, during the team’s inaugural season in 1999, and he became the face of the franchise in a town that loves its baseball and was immensely passionate about finally having a minor league team of its own.
“We were blessed at that time to have him,” Lozinak said. “We really didn’t have much of a ballclub at all. He brought life, he brought people to the stadium and brought enthusiasm to the game.”
The All-American boy who broke Ken Griffey Jr.’s home run record at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Hyzdu was a first-round draft pick in 1990 who had never fully reached his potential in pro ball. He was released by the Boston Red Sox in May 1999 at age 27.
“I didn’t think I was done by any means,” Hyzdu said. “But then after making a couple calls and there weren’t people calling right away, I was like, ‘Wait a minute, maybe this is the end of the road.'”
It wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Hyzdu, sent him to Altoona and he became a local legend. He hit .316 with 24 homers and 78 RBIs for the Curve in 1999, then he surprisingly was sent back here by the Pirates instead of going to Triple-A in 2000.
Hyzdu enjoyed one of the best EL seasons in the past 30 years as he belted 31 homers, drove in 106 and batted .290 for the Curve. He played in all 142 games and committed just one error in right field.
“Those are numbers that you don’t see in the minor leagues very often,” said Egan, the team’s broadcaster back then. “It was amazing. He would step up in a clutch situation, and you almost expected a big hit. He just produced almost every time in big situations”
It wasn’t just the success on the field that made Hyzdu so beloved in Altoona. He was a media darling, a great team spokesman and a willing participant to take part in all the community activities that are asked – but not required – of a minor league player.
“It was his impact all the way around, as a player between the lines and as a community steward outside the lines,” Parker said.
He only played here for nine months over the course of two years, but Hyzdu’s name remains more synonymous with the Altoona Curve than any other player.
Hyzdu’s name reached legendary status in Altoona on Sept. 4, 2000 when the franchise retired his No. 16 following the season finale. He had no idea it was coming, and it was part of a gala fireworks and entertainment show that he still fondly remembers.
“It’s like something you do for Derek Jeter after this season, that’s kind of what it felt like,” Hyzdu said. “My son is 13 right now, and we were pregnant with him during that ceremony. It was just an amazing thing.”
The decision to retire Hyzdu’s number was a no-brainer to Parker and the Curve staff, but it was still highly unusual. The franchise was only two years old, and to this day, the Curve remain the youngest franchise in the minor leagues to have retired a number.
Parker admits there was a slight bit of hesitation on the team’s behalf.
“I remember it coming up in the meetings that there was some concern that some people might be critical of it because of the franchise being in its infancy,” Parker said.
“I don’t think anybody objected to the point that we wouldn’t consider doing it. It was more of, how is this going to be perceived publicly and how is it going to be perceived by the local media, mainly (the Mirror) and television and radio. Don’t take offense to this, but we didn’t care. We thought it was bigger than that.”
Parker had the idea, but as the owner, Lozinak had the final decision about retiring Hyzdu’s number. Lozinak was sold immediately, and he has no regrets about it.
“I really don’t,” the owner said. “In the minor leagues, people aren’t here for several years to establish a baseline that you think of to retire a number. At the time that he played, he was an impact person for the ballclub.”
Hyzdu remains incredibly proud to have been honored by the Curve.
“Everybody would like to be in the major league Hall of Fame or have their jersey retired for the Pirates or Royals or Red Sox, but I would never trade that experience in,” Hyzdu said. “It’s awesome. Here we are 14 years later and we’re still talking about it and coming back.
“There’s thousands of guys that have played that no one’s ever going to remember. And here I am being remembered, so it’s special.”
Hyzdu finally made it to the major leagues with the Pirates at the end of the 2000 season, and for the remainder of his career he remained very closely associated with Altoona for already having his number retired in the minors.
He went on to play 221 games in the big leagues spread out over seven years – hitting .229 with 19 homers and 61 RBIs – and he also belted 273 homers in the minors. His career highlights included a National League Player of the Week honor for the Pirates in 2002 and being part of the Boston Red Sox’s 2004 World Series team.
To this day, many Curve fans still pick Hyzdu as their favorite player in franchise history, even over the likes of current major league stars such as Andrew McCutchen and Jose Bautista.
“Adam’s popularity remains with a lot of Curve fans,” said John Prosperi, president of the team’s booster club. “He is remembered for all his accomplishments in Altoona, his outgoing personality and his example of a good person as well as a good baseball player.”
The Great Potato Caper
It’s perhaps the greatest story in the history of minor league baseball, and it not only led to Dave Bresnahan having his number retired, it gave him a degree of immortality in the game.
“I’m glad it brings some smiles to people’s faces because that was the intention,” Bresnahan said.
Bresnahan was catching a game for the Double-A Williamsport Bills in 1987 when he pulled off what’s known as “The Great Potato Caper.” The opposing team had a runner on third base with two outs when Bresnahan called timeout and went into the dugout to fetch a peeled potato.
He came back out with the potato hidden and, after catching a pitch, he slipped the potato into his hand and fired it into left field trying to fool the runner. It worked. The runner came racing home, only to be tagged out because Bresnahan still had the baseball. (The umps later overturned the call.)
The prank had all been planned, of course, right down to having the potato ready. Bresnahan and some teammates had dreamed up the idea in the bullpen a few weeks earlier, all with the idea of having a little fun with the game.
The consequences for that fun turned out to be enormous for Bresnahan.
The Cleveland Indians were not amused by his antics and released the 25-year-old the next day. He never played pro ball again. He was hitting only .152 that season, so there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have stuck around much longer anyway.
The incident, though, brought Bresnahan an incredible amount of national attention.
“I’m overwhelmed by how much interest people have in that story,” he said. “After all these years, it’s still hard to get my head around.
“I’m thankful the Williamsport fans and baseball fans in general understood the light humor intended in what I did. There was no way that I thought for a second that I would get the notoriety that I did.”
Williamsport wound up retiring his No. 59. Bresnahan, who now owns a real estate company in Arizona, said he’s proud and at the same time a little embarrassed about how he became famous.
But does he regret it?
“No, I don’t regret it at all,” said Bresnahan, who never meant to disrespect the game. “I’m glad that it’s something that when people are passionate baseball fans, they enjoy hearing the story. I’ve told it a million times, and when people do ask me to tell it, I try to give it the enthusiastic energy that the story deserves.”
Heartbreak … and hope
Many sad stories have led to players having their number retired in the minors. The story of Matt LaChappa is indeed sad, but it’s also heartwarming.
“He was a very good pitcher and a really great kid,” said Priscilla Oppenheimer, former director of minor league operations for the San Diego Padres.
LaChappa, a second-round draft pick in 1993, was warming up in the bullpen for a relief appearance at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga on April 6, 1996 when he suffered a heart attack. Fluid had built up around his heart, and CPR was administered at the scene for 20 minutes to keep him alive until the ambulance arrived.
LaChappa, just 20 at the time, went into a coma and suffered another heart attack in the hospital. He survived, but the trauma led to him being paralyzed and wheelchair-bound the rest of his life.
“His mind is there,” Oppenheimer said. “He’s a great kid, he’s still got a sense of humor. He’s just a very special person.”
The Padres then did something special for LaChappa, with Oppenheimer making the decision. The organization has continued to sign him to a minor league contract every year, primarily so he can keep his insurance to help cover costs for his 24-hour care.
“(Then-Padres President) Larry Lucchino was there and told him, ‘You’ll always be a Padre,'” Oppenheimer said. “I took that literally and said to Matt, ‘You will always be a Padre.'”
Oppenheimer is now retired but has been a frequent visitor over the years to see LaChappa at his home on the Barona Indian Reservation in San Diego. Matt’s father is a tribal leader, and Oppenheimer said the family has given him wonderful support over the years.
The bond between LaChappa and Oppenheimer goes far beyond that of a ballplayer and team executive.
“I can understand him when he says, ‘I love you,’ and a few other things,” she said. “His speech isn’t as good as I think it used to be, but he’s very aware of who you are.
“I’m looking right now on my desk, and his picture’s there. He’s just so dear to me.”
It meant a great deal to LaChappa and his family when Rancho Cucamonga retired Matt’s No. 20 jersey.
“It made them feel that they had respect for him as a person and as a player,” Oppenheimer said. “I was there the day they retired his number, and his dad threw out the first pitch and his brothers were there. It was just a great event that they really cherished.”
Notable names and numbers
The most famous non-baseball player to have his number retired is NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, who died racing in the Daytona 500 in 2001. He had just purchased the Single-A team in his hometown of Kannapolis, N.C.
“He was a hero that touched all people,” said former Curve GM Todd Parnell, who was GM in Kannapolis at the time of Earnhardt’s death. “Once you met him and once you knew him, he was the most down to earth person you’d ever want to meet.”
Earnhardt’s No. 3 is retired by the franchise, which bears his nickname, the Intimidators.
Some other unique stories:
* The Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats are the only team that has retired the badge number of a police officer. Michael Briggs was killed in the line of duty in 2006, and the No. 83 is retired by the club in tribute.
* Once-promising New York Mets prospect Brian Cole died in an auto accident in 2001, and his family won a $131 million lawsuit verdict from Ford Motor Company for faulty vehicle design. His No. 6 is retired by the Single-A St. Lucie Mets.
* Greg Halman of the Mariners was stabbed to death by his brother in his native Netherlands in 2011. The brother had been using marijuana that caused him to go into a state of psychosis, and a jury found him not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Halman’s No. 26 is retired by the short-season Everett AquaSox.
* The player most similar to Hyzdu on the retired number list is Jeff Manto, who put up big numbers at Triple-A Buffalo for four seasons and was a fan favorite. Like Hyzdu, Manto didn’t have a great major league career but was very popular in Buffalo and had his No. 30 retired.
“We have the chance to make an impact in the community and for a baseball team, and these are towns that appreciate what we do as players,” Manto said. “You look at what Adam did in Altoona, they’re as passionate as it comes in baseball. They appreciate good product and good people.”
What’s next for Curve?
Altoona’s franchise has no plans to retire more numbers any time soon, but it does intend to start a hall of fame after its 20th season in 2018.
If the Curve do retire a number or choose a player for their hall of fame, what criteria will they use? Will it be based on success and impact in Altoona, such as with Hyzdu, or on success at the major league level? For instance, would the Curve be more likely to honor Brad Eldred or Andrew McCutchen?
Eldred belted 30 homers in only 60 games for Altoona in 2004-05 – the most in such a short span in Double-A history – and he set what is believed to be a minor league record with 50 RBIs in one month in 2004. But he did not enjoy major league success.
McCutchen, on the other hand, is a big league star for the Pirates and 2013 National League MVP. But he’s not close to being one of the best players while with the Curve, hitting .258 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs playing most of a full season in 2007.
Egan said the franchise would like to have a committee come up with selection criteria, as opposed to one person.
“In my opinion they have to have performed very well to excellent here, because it’s what it means to Curve fans,” Egan said. “It would be very easy for us to say McCutchen or someone who had success in the major leagues or with the Pirates. But I think it’s got to be based in how they performed here, first of all, and then maybe you blend in major league performance.”
About this project
The Mirror’s Cory Giger set out to discover how many retired numbers there are among current affiliated minor league baseball teams in the U.S. and Canada. He contacted every franchise in the minor leagues over the past month, and through their cooperation came up with the following thorough list.
There are 188 minor league teams from rookie ball up to Triple-A. Teams in two rookie leagues (Arizona Summer and Gulf Coast) do not retire numbers, but franchises in every other league have done so.
All told, 111 numbers have been retired by 60 franchises, while 128 teams have never retired a number.
The vast majority of minor league franchises, including the Altoona Curve, have a policy of not issuing numbers that have been retired by their parent major league team. This list includes only numbers retired by the franchise itself, not those by the major league club, or Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, which is retired by every team in the majors and minors.
It’s a numbers game
Every number retired by current minor league baseball teams (111 total).
AAA International League
6 Ollie Carnegie: Played there 1931-41 and 1945; International League Hall of Famer; league’s career RBI leader (1,044); held league record for home runs (258) until surpassed this year; played seven pro games at age 23 before appendicitis appeared to end career; didn’t play professionally again until nine years later, at age 32, after losing his railroad job
25 Luke Easter: Played there 1956-59; first black player in Buffalo since 1888; International League Hall of Famer; had at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs three straight seasons starting in 1956, when he was 40 years old; led league in homers and RBIs in 1956 (35-106) and ’57 (40-128)
30 Jeff Manto: Played there 1997-2000; productive player and popular in community; International League Hall of Famer; franchise’s modern-era home run leader (79); led team to 1998 league title; Pirates hitting coach 2006-07
33 Marshall Brant: Played there 1980-83; put up big slugging numbers and was fan favorite for community involvement; hit 86 homers with 302 RBIs for franchise
8 Crash Davis: Retired for both the character from movie “Bull Durham” and real-life inspiration, Lawrence “Crash” Davis, who played there 1948; movie character set fictitious minor league record for career homers; real Crash hit .317 with 10 homers for team and only 51 homers in minors; movie character spent 21 days in majors “the greatest 21 days of my life while real Crash played 148 games in majors
10 Chipper Jones: Played there 1992, hitting .277 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 70 games; future MLB Hall of Famer; NL MVP in 1999 for Braves
18 Joe Morgan: Played there 1963, hitting .332 with 13 homers; MLB Hall of Famer; NL MVP in 1975 and ’76 for Reds
20 Bill Evers: Managed there 1998-2005; franchise’s wins leader; won back-to-back league titles 2002-03; International League Hall of Famer
23 Tommie Aaron: Hank’s older brother, played there 1966-67 and ’71-72; only man to earn International League MVP (1967) and later manage team to league title (1978); league’s first black manager in 1977; International League Hall of Famer; number retired in 1985 when Braves’ Triple-A affiliate in Richmond, Va.; when franchise moved to Gwinnett in 2009, Aaron’s number remained retired; it did not stay retired in Richmond
Rochester Red Wings
26 Joe Altobelli: Many ties to franchise as he played there 1963-66, managed 1971-76, served as GM in 1990s and did color commentary on radio 1998-2008; won two league titles as manager; won World Series as manager of Orioles in 1983
36 Luke Easter: Played there 1959-64, finishing career and retiring at age 48; also coached there and popular local figure; see Buffalo Bisons entry for more on him
8,222 Morrie Silver: He saved franchise in 1957 by coordinating stock drive for members of community to buy into team and keep from moving. Total of 8,222 stockholders bought in, with Silver as majority stockholder; International League Hall of Famer
11 Dave Miley: Has managed there since 2007; International League Hall of Famer; led team to lone league title in 2008; has more than 2,000 wins as minor league manager
14 Greg Legg: Played there 1989-94 and remained in area, becoming prominent member of baseball community; runs scholarship fund for local players
9 Hank Sauer: Played there 1942-43 and 1946-47; Minor League Player of Year in 1947, hitting .336 with 50 homers and 141 RBIs; International League Hall of Famer; NL MVP in 1952 for Cubs
Toledo Mud Hens
1 Gene Cook: GM of team 1978-98 and executive VP 1998-2002; team’s popularity skyrocketed during his tenure; made genius move of convincing Toledo native Jamie Farr (Cpl. Klinger) to wear team gear on hit TV show “M*A*S*H”; Mud Hens were frequently mentioned on show, and their merchandise sails soared; International League Hall of Famer
AAA Pacific Coast League
Las Vegas 51s
15 Mike Sharperson: Played there 1996; was on team and scheduled to be promoted to majors on May 26, 1996, but tragically that same day was killed in one-car accident in Las Vegas; number retired a week later
10 Stubby Clapp: Played there 1999-2002; scrappy, versatile player who became fan favorite for how he played and community service
00 Skeeter Barnes: Played there 1979 and 1988-90; team’s career leader in hits (517) and games (514); ranks among career leaders in every major offensive category
18 Don Mattingly: Played there 1981, hitting .316 with seven homers and 98 RBIs; AL MVP in 1985 for Yankees; now manager of Dodgers
Oklahoma City RedHawks
1 Bobby Murcer: Never played for team but native of city; number retired to honor community standing and humanitarian efforts; 1,862 hits in MLB
Omaha Storm Chasers
5 George Brett: Played there 1973-74, hitting .281 with 10 homers and 78 RBIs; MLB Hall of Famer with 3,154 hits; AL MVP in 1980 for Royals, hitting .390
10 Dick Howser: Never played or managed there; managed Royals to 1985 World Series title
20 Frank White: Played there 1973, hitting .264 with 4 homers and 32 RBIs; was teammates there that year with George Brett, later his teammate with Royals
23 Mike Jirschele: Managed there 1995-97 and 2003-13; led team to league title two of past three years; played there 1988-89; number being retired this week by franchise
Sacramento River Cats
1 Art Savage: Owned team from 1999 until death in 2009; bought team that was in Vancouver and moved it to Sacramento in 2000
AA Eastern League
16 Adam Hyzdu: Played there 1999-2000; dubbed Mr. Curve, he became face of franchise during its first two years; EL MVP in 2000, hitting .290 with club-record 31 homers, 106 RBIs, 96 runs; hit .300 with 55 homers, 184 RBIs in two seasons; number retired on final day of 2000 season
5 Sam Jethroe: Never played there but lived in city after retiring and was well-known member of community until death in 2001; NL Rookie of Year in 1950 for Boston Braves; sued MLB in 1994, claiming he and other Negro League players had their careers delayed by racial discrimination; lawsuit sought pension payments and was dismissed, but MLB later chose to provide yearly payment to Jethro and other Negro League veterans
83 Michael Briggs: Badge number for Manchester police officer Briggs, killed in city in 2006; team held memorial service at ballpark, drawing thousands of mourners, including 4,000 officers from around state
Reading Fightin Phils
9 Robin Roberts: Played there 1967 in final stop of career as he was attempting comeback to majors in 1966; went 5-3 with 2.48 ERA for Reading; MLB Hall of Famer; won 286 games, mostly with Phillies
14 Jim Bunning: Managed there 1972; MLB Hall of Famer; threw perfect game for Phillies on June 21, 1964, and he had number retired by Reading last month on 50th anniversary of feat; former member of U.S. Senate and House of Representatives
24 Mike Schmidt: Played there 1971, hitting .211 with 8 homers and 31 RBIs; MLB Hall of Famer with 548 homers; NL MVP for Phillies in 1980, ’81 and ’86
26 Ryne Sandberg: Played there 1980, hitting .310 with 11 homers and 79 RBIs; MLB Hall of Famer; NL MVP in 1984 for Cubs; now manager of Phillies
2 David Eckstein: Played there 1999; hit .313 with .440 on-base percentage and was heart and soul of team that went 92-50 for best record in minors
5 Nomar Garciaparra: Played there 1995, hitting .267 with 8 homers and 47 RBIs; AL Rookie of Year 1997 for Red Sox; World Series MVP 2006
33 Tony Clark: Played there 1994, hitting hit .279 with 21 homers and 86 RBIs; now executive director of MLB Players Association
AA Southern League
5 Don Mincher: Never played there but native of city; served as president and GM of team 1985-2001; he led group of investors that purchased team in 1994 and kept it in city
44 Hank Aaron: Never played there but native of city; ballpark named after him; MLB Hall of Famer; career record holder in RBIs (2,297) and second in homers (755); NL MVP in 1957 for Milwaukee Braves; record 21-time MLB All-Star
AA Texas League
29 Mike Coolbaugh: Coached there 2007; took job as first base coach July 3, and 19 days later was killed at age 35 when line drive foul ball hit him in neck during game in North Little Rock, Ark.; he was standing in first base coach’s box, and force of line drive caused severe brain hemorrhage; because of incident, baseball adopted rule that all base coaches on field must wear helmets
33 Bobby Jones: Managed there 1991-92 and 1995-2000; winningest manager in franchise history; led team to 1998 league title; served in Vietnam War with U.S. Army and went partially deaf in both ears from combat; awarded Bronze Star; went on to play in majors parts of nine seasons; one of only three players in MLB history who served in Vietnam
High-A California League
Inland Empire 66ers
24 Ken Griffey Jr.: Played there 1988, hitting .338 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs; future MLB Hall of Famer who hit 630 homers; AL MVP in 1997 for Mariners
25 Rich Dauer: Native of team’s city, San Bernardino, Calif.; managed there 1987; 2B on Orioles’ 1983 World Series title team; won back-to-back College World Series titles at USC in 1973-74
43 Chin-Feng Chen: Played there 1999, hitting .316 with 31 homers, 123 RBIs and 31 steals; named league MVP and led team to title
Lake Elsinore Storm
7 Joe Urso: Played there 1994-97; MVP of 1996 team that won team’s first league title; had best year of pro career that season, hitting .291 with 9 homers and 66 RBIs; fan favorite in community
22 Jake Peavy: Played there 2001 and was organization’s first prospect to pitch at home; went 7-5 with 3.08 ERA; NL Cy Young Award in 2007 for Padres; now with Red Sox
1 Fred Anderson: Former owner; paid $2 million of $4 million needed for new stadium to keep team in city; he wasn’t able to enjoy it as he died two weeks before stadium opened in 1977
26 Joe Rudi: Native of city and played for franchise 1966; starting outfielder for A’s teams that won three straight World Series 1972-74
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
20 Matt LaChappa: Played there 1995-96; suffered heart attack while warming up in bullpen for relief appearance during home game on April 6, 1996; later suffered second heart attack in hospital; wound up paralyzed and bound to wheelchair with difficulties communicating; Padres organization has continued to sign him to minor league contract every year for nearly two decades, giving him some money but most importantly allowing him to retain health insurance; had been promising prospect who was second-round draft pick in 1993; went 18-19 with 4.80 ERA during brief pro career
26 Fans: The team’s roster has 25 players, so this number is in honor of the fans for their support of the franchise
28 Kirby Puckett: Played there 1983, hitting .314 with nine homers and 97 RBIs; MLB Hall of Famer for Twins; hit .318 for career, which was cut short by glaucoma in right eye
High-A Carolina League
26 Jim Bibby: Never played there but team’s pitching coach 1985-99; graduated from Lynchburg College and lived in city after retiring; member of Pirates’ 1979 World Series title team
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
2 Rafael Furcal: Played there 1999 and helped team to league title in franchise’s first season, hitting .293; NL Rookie of Year in 2001 for Braves; now with Marlins
43 Bruce Dal Canton: Pitching coach there 1999 until death in 2008; spent more than 25 years as pitching coach in Braves’ system, including with Atlanta 1987-90; began MLB pitching career with Pirates in 1967 after making team through open tryout year before
Wilmington Blue Rocks
18 Johnny Damon: Played there 1994, hitting .316 with 6 homers and 75 RBIs to help lead team to league title; had 2,769 hits in majors
33 Mike Sweeney: Played there 1995, hitting .310 with 18 homers, 53 RBIs; hit .297 in MLB career
36 Robin Roberts: Made pro debut there 1948, going 9-1 with 2.06 ERA; MLB Hall of Famer; see Reading Fightin Phils entry for more on him
High-A Florida State League
53 Evan Chambers: Played there 2011-12; died in his sleep of congenital heart defect at age 24 on Dec. 1, 2013 at his apartment in Lakeland, Fla.; popular and respected played in Pirates’ system; number was retired last week by team; played for Altoona in 2012, and Curve honored his memory at game last month
9 Jackie Robinson: His famed No. 42 with Brooklyn Dodgers is retired throughout major and minor leagues, and this is only other number attributed to him that’s retired in pro ball; he wore No. 9 playing for Montreal in 1946, his only season in minors after departing Negro Leagues; his first spring training game took place in Daytona on March 17, 1946; team’s stadium named after him; MLB Hall of Famer; NL Rookie of Year in 1947 and MVP in 1949 for Dodgers
22 Richie Zisk: Coached there 16 years, 14 as hitting coach and two as manager (2000, 20005); led team to league title in 2005; began MLB career with Pirates and made debut Sept. 8, 1971 when he took over in right field for Roberto Clemente in eighth inning of blowout win
St. Lucie Mets
6 Brian Cole: Played there 2000, hitting .312 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs; died at age 22 in car accident following spring training on March 31, 2001; his family was awarded $131 million verdict in lawsuit against Ford Motor Company; his SUV swerved to avoid another car and flipped, and even though Cole was wearing seat belt, he was ejected from vehicle; family claimed defective design led to SUV flipping, and jury concurred in 2010; huge verdict amount was based on Mets’ claims that he would have been MLB standout; hit .306 with 42 homers and 193 RBIs in 320 minor league games
8 Gary Carter: Managed there 2006 and led team to league title; MLB Hall of Famer who hit 324 homers
Low-A Midwest League
Great Lakes Loons
2 Tommy Lasorda: Never played or managed there but considered an ambassador for franchise and its relationship with parent organization Dodgers; MLB Hall of Famer; managed Dodgers 1976-96
47 Building: Represents historic local landmark as 47 Building was first headquarters for Dow Chemical Co., which is based in team’s city, Midland, Mich.; building was at site near ballpark
Kane County Cougars
35 Charles Johnson: Played there 1993, hitting .275 with 19 homers and 94 RBIs; one of franchise’s most distinguished alums
Lake County Captains
2 Luis Rivera: Managed there 2003-04; team went 97-43 for best record in minors in 2003 but lost in league finals; now third base coach for Blue Jays
6 Wally Joyner: Began career there 1983, hitting .328 with 3 homers and 33 RBIs; first franchise alum to make big impact in majors
17 Mark Grace: Began career there 1986, hitting .342 with 15 homers and 95 RBIs; didn’t wear number there but known for it in majors; led all of baseball in hits in 1990s (1,754); he and Pete Rose are only two players in MLB history to lead baseball in hits for a decade but not be in Hall of Fame
23 Ryne Sandberg: Managed there 2007-08; number retired in his final home game; MLB Hall of Famer; see Reading Fightin Phils entry for more on him
31 Greg Maddux: Played there 1985, going 13-9 with 3.19 ERA; didn’t wear number there but known for it in majors; MLB Hall of Famer with 355 wins; won four straight NL Cy Young Awards, for Cubs in 1992 and Braves 1993-95
South Bend Silver Hawks
4 Jim Reinebold: Former longtime hitting coach there; local baseball coaching legend who won two state high school titles and twice was nominated for national coach of year; member of Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame; never played pro ball
12 Rick Patterson: Managed there 1989-90; led franchise to first league title in 1989, with team going 85-47; club lost in league finals following year
18 Tony Franklin: Managed there 1993 and led team to league title; has been manager of Trenton since 2007, winning two league titles; his Trenton team lost to Curve in 2010 EL Championship Series
51 Mark Haley: Managed there since 2005; winningest manager in franchise history; led team to league title in 2005; never played pro ball; picked by Pirates in 26th round of 1977 draft but went to college instead of pursuing playing career
Low-A South Atlantic League
50 John Henry Moss: Number is retired by every team in league and represents 50 years he served as president of league, which he founded; he went on to become one of most prominent and respected minor league executives ever
20 Joe Mikulik: Managed there 2000-12 and led team to league title in 2012; South Atlantic League Hall of Famer; played there 1985, hitting .267 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs; now manager at Myrtle Beach
14 Larry Doby: First black player in American League history in 1947; never played there but is South Carolina native; was signed to Indians by Bill Veeck, father of Mike Veeck, who is team’s president; MLB Hall of Famer
24 Willie Mays: Played first game in minor leagues at team’s Municipal Stadium in 1950; MLB Hall of Famer; NL Rookie of Year in 1951 and NL MVP in 1954 for New York Giants; NL MVP in 1965 for San Francisco Giants; hit 660 homers; 20-time MLB All-Star, second most ever
3 Dale Earnhardt: Legendary car number of auto racing giant and native of city who purchased team in fall of 2000; he was killed racing in Daytona 500 in 2001 before he ever got to watch team as its owner; franchise is named after him as he was nicknamed “The Intimidator”
19 Cole Hamels: Played there 2003 and dominated, going 6-1 with 0.84 ERA in 13 starts; now with Phillies
29 Ryan Howard: Played there 2002, hitting .280 with 19 homers and 87 RBIs; NL Rookie of Year in 2005 for Phillies; NL MVP in 2006, hitting 58 homers with 149 RBIs; still with Phillies
17 Brian McCann: Played there 2003, hitting .290 with 12 homers and 71 RBIs to help team win league title in inaugural season; now with Yankees
Savannah Sand Gnats
3 Lou Brissie: Began career there in 1947 and went 23-5 with 1.91 ERA to lead team to league title; World War II veteran in U.S. Army who had left leg shattered in 1944 when shell exploded; doctors wanted to amputate leg, but he refused to let them; awarded Bronze Star and Purple Heart; he recovered and was able to begin baseball career despite still being in great pain; played 7 seasons in majors and made All-Star team 1949
Short-season A New York-Penn League
3, 7, 8 Ripken family: Team owned by Cal Ripken Jr., and family is prominent in area; 3 is for Billy Ripken, 7 for Cal Sr. and 8 for Cal Jr.; numbers are located on left-center field wall exactly 378 feet from home plate; Cal Ripken Jr. is MLB Hall of Famer who played in record 2,632 consecutive games; AL Rookie of Year in 1982 and AL MVP in 1983 and 1991 for Orioles; Billy Ripken played in majors 12 seasons; Cal Ripken Sr. was longtime coach in minors and majors who managed Orioles one full season
35 Dennis Holmberg: Managed there 2002-2010 and won league title 2007; led team to playoffs six times; more than 1,300 wins as minor league manager; now manager of Bluefield
14 Gil Hodges: Local legend who played for Brooklyn Dodgers in majors 1943-57; hit 370 homers with 1,274 RBIs in 18 seasons, and many believe he deserves to be in MLB Hall of Fame
Hudson Valley Renegades
45 Kevin Lee Brown: Began career there 1994, hitting .246 with 6 homers and 42 RBIs; first player from franchise to make it to majors
22 Bubba Trammell: Began career there 1994, hitting .298 with 5 homers and 41 RBIs; first player from franchise to make it to majors
41 Dwight Lowry: Managed there first 22 games in 1997 and died of heart attack on July 10 that year in Jamestown; was in first season managing there and fourth managing in minors
25 Ryan Westmoreland: Began career there 2009, hitting .296 with 7 homers and 35 RBIs in 60 games as 19-year-old; rated No. 21 prospect in game by Baseball America entering 2010 season but never played in minors again; experienced numbness in body, and doctors found he needed cavernous malformation removed from brain stem; had to teach himself to play baseball again and attempted comeback in 2012 but was forced to retire
Mahoning Valley Scrappers
13 Jim Wolcott: Member of grounds crew and stadium operations during team’s first few seasons before dying of cancer; he wore number when he played baseball, and franchise honored him for contributions during early years
Staten Island Yankees
6 Brett Gardner: Began career there 2005, hitting .284 with 5 homers and 32 RBIs; hit only inside-the-park homer in team history; now with Yankees
17 Robinson Cano: Played there 2001-02, appearing in just 24 games and hitting .274 with 1 homer and 17 RBIs; helped team win league title in 2002; now with Mariners
19 Jason Anderson: Began career there 2000-01, going 5-1 with 1.70 ERA in second year; first player from franchise to play for New York Yankees
41 Chien-Ming Wang: Began career there 2000 and, after missing season with injury, came back in 2002; helped team win league title both years; now in Triple-A with Louisville
36 David Williams: Played there 1999, going 4-2 with 2.56 ERA; first Williamsport Crosscutter to make it to majors, getting to Pirates in 2001; played for Curve in 2001
41 Geremi Gonzalez: Played there 1994, going 4-6 with 4.24 ERA; first Williamsport Cub to make it majors; died in 2008 when struck by lightning on a beach in his native Venezuela
59 Dave Bresnahan: Played there 1987, hitting .150 with no homers and 5 RBIs in 52 games as backup catcher; gained fame from “The Great Potato Caper” as he took peeled potato onto field and, after receiving a pitch, threw potato into left field to fool the runner at third; he still had ball and tagged out runner at plate, although umps overturned call when they realized what happened; he was released by Indians the next day and never played pro ball again, but his story has become legendary in baseball
Short-season A Northwest League
3 Harmon Killebrew: Never played there but Idaho native; MLB Hall of Famer who hit 573 homers; AL MVP in 1969 for Twins
4 Mal Fichman: Managed there 1987-89 and part owner of team; managed Johnstown Steal to independent Frontier League title in 1995 and managed Johnstown Johnnies in 1999
11 Tom Kotchman: Managed there 1990-2000 and led team to four league titles in five years; more than 1,700 wins and 8 league titles as minor league manager; now manager of rookie GCL Red Sox
26 Greg Halman: Played there 2006-07, hitting .259 his first season and .307 with 16 homers and 37 RBIs his second; played 44 games in majors with Mariners 2010-11; died at age 24 in his native Netherlands when he was stabbed and killed by his brother; the brother was later acquitted on grounds of temporary insanity as a result of psychosis caused by marijuana
35 Marion “Spyder” Webb: Beloved team trainer there who spent 35 years with franchise before retiring at end of 2013 season; he spent 16 years with team in Bellingham, Wash., and 19 in Everett
5 George Brett: Has owned team since 1985, when he and three brothers bought it; MLB Hall of Famer; see Omaha Storm Chasers entry for more on him
Rookie Appalachian League
33 John Stearns: Managed there 1994 and led team to its only league title; No. 2 overall pick in 1972 draft, selected after high school phenom pitcher David Clyde
34 Brad Kelley: Pitching coach on 1994 league title team; managed there 1995, his only season as minor league manager; assistant coach on U.S. Olympic team 1992
Rookie Pioneer League
Idaho Falls Chukars
10 Don Werner: Managed there 1996-2000 and 2002; led team to league titles in 1998 and 2000; a catcher, he caught Tom Seaver’s only no-hitter in 1978 for Reds
16 Billy Butler: Began career there 2004, hitting .373 with 10 homers and 68 RBIs to lead team to playoffs; won league batting title and tied for lead in RBIs; now with Royals
11 Tom Kotchman: Managed there 2005-12; led team to league titles in 2007 and ’09; only manager to have his number retired by two current minor leagues teams (also Boise Hawks)
34 Nick Adenhart: Made one start there in 2005, pitching 6 innings and getting win; pitched 4 games in majors 2008-09 with Angels; died at age 22 in car accident April 9, 2009, just hours after he had pitched 6 shutout innings against A’s; had been passenger in vehicle that was hit by drunk driver who ran a red light