Visualizing Declining Standards for Retired Uniforms

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Are MLB franchises exercising less discretion when retiring player uniforms? A look back at the history of retired uniforms—and the contributions of those who filled them—suggests that they are.

By combining the data used in last week's post on retired uniforms with Rally's Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) values, I produced the chart above. Prior to 1970, it was rare that a team would retire a uniform that belonged to a player who contributed less than 80 rWAR to that particular team. By 1990, teams were regularly honoring players who produced less than 50 rWAR.

In 1999, the 10-year moving average for a player's contribution in a retired jersey bottomed out at 41.1 rWAR. The cumulative mean contribution currently sits at an all time low of 53.9. In 2000, the Devil Rays retired the uniform of Wade Boggs, who produced a whopping 0.4 rWAR while wearing a Tampa Bay uniform.

While it's important to recognize that on-field value is not the only variable teams consider when retiring a player's number, it's undeniable that teams are lowering their standards when they decide whom to honor.

More charts and analysis after the jump.

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This second chart uses the same data as the first, but de-emphasizes the long-run trends in favor of individual retirements. Note above the separate retirements of Hank Aaron's jersey as a Brave and as a Brewer. Note also the retirements of Willard Hershberger and Jim Umbricht, two players whose careers (and lives) ended in tragedy.

Finally, vigilant reader Daniel Watkins alerted me to the fact that the Washington Nationals have recently flip-flopped on their decision to omit the four retired Expos' uniforms from their history. I have updated my original chart accordingly. See the new version below.

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Methodological Notes: As I implied, I only counted contributions by players for the team(s) that retired their uniform. Therefore, players like Nolan Ryan are listed multiple times for the various teams that have honored them in this way. The contributions of players such as Babe Ruth and Wade Boggs only include the Yankees and Rays, respectively.  I do not count the retirement of Jackie Robinson's #42 (beyond, of course, the Dodgers) in the rWAR values and averages, as he did not play for those other teams. For managers whose teams have retired their uniform, I counted them only if they also played for that team, e.g. Billy Martin.

Peruse below an inclusive table of players whose uniforms have been retired and their team-specific rWAR contributions.

Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
1937 Rogers Hornsby n/a Cardinals 88.3
1939 Lou Gehrig 4 Yankees 118.4
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
1940 Willard Hershberger 5 Reds 2.0
1944 Carl Hubbell 11 Giants 64.4
1948 Babe Ruth 3 Yankees 149.3
1949 Mel Ott 4 Giants 109.3
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
1952 Joe DiMaggio 5 Yankees 83.6
1956 Honus Wagner 33 Pirates 134.5
1957 Bob Feller 19 Indians 63.3
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
1962 Robin Roberts 36 Phillies 82.7
1963 Stan Musial 6 Cardinals 127.8
1965 Warren Spahn 21 Braves 89.0
1965 Jim Umbricht 32 Astros 3.4
1969 Eddie Mathews 41 Braves 92.7
1969 Mickey Mantle 7 Yankees 120.2
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
1970 Lou Boudreau 5 Indians 54.6
1972 Willie Mays 24 Giants 153.0
1972 Frank Robinson 20 Orioles 35.1
1972 Pie Traynor 20 Pirates 37.1
1972 Sandy Koufax 32 Dodgers 48.7
1972 Roy Campanella 39 Dodgers 36.2
1972 Jackie Robinson 42 Dodgers 63.2
1972 Yogi Berra 8 Yankees 61.9
1972 Bill Dickey 8 Yankees 54.4
1973 Roberto Clemente 21 Pirates 83.8
1973 Gil Hodges 14 Mets 0.5
1974 Harmon Killebrew 3 Twins 61.4
1974 Whitey Ford 16 Yankees 56.8
1974 Dizzy Dean 17 Cardinals 38.6
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
1975 Bob Gibson 45 Cardinals 91.8
1975 Juan Marichal 27 Giants 63.5
1975 Willie McCovey 44 Giants 60.6
1975 Earl Averill 3 Indians 45.1
1975 Luke Appling 4 White Sox 69.3
1975 Don Wilson 40 Astros 29.0
1976 Nellie Fox 2 White Sox 42.7
1976 Hank Aaron 44 Brewers 0.4
1977 Hank Aaron 44 Braves 141.6
1977 Brooks Robinson 5 Orioles 69.1
1978 Jim Gilliam 19 Dodgers 39.1
1979 Richie Ashburn 1 Phillies 52.3
1979 Thurman Munson 15 Yankees 43.4
1979 Lou Brock 20 Cardinals 37.8
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
1980 Duke Snider 4 Dodgers 66.5
1980 Al Kaline 6 Tigers 91.0
1982 Willie Stargell 8 Pirates 57.5
1982 Ernie Banks 14 Cubs 64.4
1983 Minnie Miñoso 9 White Sox 42.7
1983 Ted Lyons 16 White Sox 62.9
1983 Billy Pierce 19 White Sox 48.0
1983 Charlie Gehringer 2 Tigers 80.9
1983 Hank Greenberg 5 Tigers 53.7
1984 Phil Niekro 35 Braves 86.7
1984 Bill Terry 3 Giants 55.4
1984 Ken Boyer 14 Cardinals 53.5
1984 Joe Cronin 4 Red Sox 26.9
1984 Ted Williams 9 Red Sox 125.3
1984 Pee Wee Reese 1 Dodgers 66.7
1984 Don Drysdale 53 Dodgers 69.8
1984 Roger Maris 9 Yankees 27.9
1984 Elston Howard 32 Yankees 28.7
1984 Johnny Bench 5 Reds 71.3
1984 Luis Aparicio 11 White Sox 31.5
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
1985 Jim Palmer 22 Orioles 63.1
1985 Phil Rizzuto 10 Yankees 41.8
1986 Billy Martin 1 Yankees 7.2
1987 Ralph Kiner 4 Pirates 42.0
1987 Bill Mazeroski 9 Pirates 26.9
1987 Dick Howser 10 Royals 9.8
1987 Rod Carew 29 Twins 62.7
1987 Billy Williams 26 Cubs 55.2
1988 Christy Mathewson n/a Giants 91.1
1988 Bobby Doerr 1 Red Sox 47.7
1988 Tom Seaver 41 Mets 76.4
1989 Steve Garvey 6 Padres 35.9
1989 Steve Carlton 32 Phillies 66.1
1989 Carl Yastrzemski 8 Red Sox 88.7
1989 Harold Baines 3 White Sox 23.3
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
1990 Catfish Hunter 27 Athletics 26.8
1990 Red Schoendienst 2 Cardinals 32.8
1990 Mel Harder 18 Indians 38.3
1990 Mike Schmidt 20 Phillies 108.3
1991 Tony Oliva 6 Twins 42.4
1991 Rod Carew 29 Angels 16.4
1992 Nolan Ryan 30 Angels 41.0
1992 Rollie Fingers 34 Brewers 7.7
1992 José Cruz 25 Astros 49.0
1992 Mike Scott 33 Astros 21.3
1993 Rollie Fingers 34 Athletics 11.0
1993 Rusty Staub 10 Expos 18.3
1993 Reggie Jackson 44 Yankees 16.9
1994 Dale Murphy 3 Braves 45.7
1994 George Brett 5 Royals 85.0
1994 Robin Yount 19 Brewers 76.9
1994 Larry Doby 14 Indians 41.5
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
1995 Frank White 20 Royals 26.9
1995 Kent Hrbek 14 Twins 35.3
1996 Ozzie Smith 1 Cardinals 58.3
1996 Enos Slaughter 9 Cardinals 48.8
1996 Nolan Ryan 34 Rangers 13.8
1996 Nolan Ryan 34 Astros 22.9
1997 Andre Dawson 10 Expos 43.6
1997 Randy Jones 35 Padres 19.6
1997 Kirby Puckett 34 Twins 44.8
1997 Hal Newhouser 16 Tigers 56.6
1997 Don Mattingly 23 Yankees 39.8
1997 Carlton Fisk 72 White Sox 29.6
1998 Frank Robinson 20 Reds 61.5
1998 Joe Morgan 8 Reds 61.3
1998 Eddie Murray 33 Orioles 54.8
1998 Bob Lemon 21 Indians 51.0
1998 Ted Kluszewski 18 Reds 29.7
1998 Jim Fregosi 11 Angels 44.1
1998 Don Sutton 20 Dodgers 48.7
1999 Paul Molitor 4 Brewers 60.6
1999 Orlando Cepeda 30 Giants 28.9
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
2000 Ty Cobb n/a Tigers 153.8
2000 Wade Boggs 12 Rays 0.4
2000 Tony Perez 24 Reds 43.8
2000 Willie Horton 23 Tigers 25.0
2000 Carlton Fisk 27 Red Sox 37.7
2001 Grover Cleveland Alexander n/a Phillies 54.5
2001 Chuck Klein n/a Phillies 30.9
2001 Dave Winfield 31 Padres 30.4
2001 Jim Bunning 14 Phillies 30.8
2001 Cal Ripken, Jr. 8 Orioles 89.9
2002 Larry Dierker 49 Astros 34.0
2002 Tony Gwynn 19 Padres 68.4
2003 Gary Carter 8 Expos 52.6
2003 Ron Guidry 49 Yankees 44.4
2003 Ron Santo 10 Cubs 68.5
2004 Reggie Jackson 9 Athletics 49.2
2004 Tim Raines 30 Expos 46.5
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
2005 Jimmy Wynn 24 Astros 44.4
2005 Gaylord Perry 36 Giants 36.8
2005 Dennis Eckersley 43 Athletics 15.8
2005 Ryne Sandberg 23 Cubs 62.1
2006 Bruce Sutter 42 Cardinals 7.3
2007 Paul Waner 11 Pirates 69.4
2007 Dave Concepción 13 Reds 33.6
2007 Jeff Bagwell 5 Astros 79.9
2008 Craig Biggio 7 Astros 66.2
2008 Johnny Pesky 6 Red Sox 30.6
2009 Greg Maddux 31 Cubs 31.7
2009 Ferguson Jenkins 31 Cubs 53.7
2009 Greg Maddux 31 Braves 61.7
2009 Jim Rice 14 Red Sox 41.5
2009 Rickey Henderson 24 Athletics 75.3
2010 Monte Irvin 20 Giants 18.1
2010 Tom Glavine 47 Braves 58.9
Year Player # Team rWAR w/tm
2010 Luis Gonzalez 20 Diamondbacks 25.6
2010 Frank Thomas 35 White Sox 70.6
2011 Bert Blyleven 28 Twins 44.8

 

Retired number list courtesy of Wikipedia. rWAR data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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