Since I took advantage of another snow day today to finally update my NumerOlogy website, I currently have uniform numbers on the brain. Now I'm thinking about retired numbers, or more to the point, unretired numbers.
I've only heard of two instances in which a team retired a player's number to honor his contributions, only to put the number back into circulation later. Both times, the team in question was the Chicago White Sox, and both times the previously honored player was a former Oriole.
In 1989, the White Sox sent Professional Hitter (TM) Harold Baines to the Rangers in a midseason trade. To commemorate his decade of service to the team, during which he hit 186 home runs and was a four-time All-Star, Chicago took the rare step of retiring his number while he was still an active player. Baines' career took him from Texas to Oakland to Baltimore, and back to the South Side of the Windy City in 1996. Rather than ask him to take a new number, the Pale Hose "unretired" his #3 just for him. The Sox traded him away once more the following season (back to the O's), but re-reacquired him in 2000 via another trade with Baltimore and once again reissued #3 to him. He retired as a White Sox player (as it should have been) the next year. His uniform number went back into mothballs...until 2004, when he joined ex-teammate Ozzie Guillen's coaching staff. Clear as mud, right?
Well, the Sox have done it again. Luis Aparicio was a Hall of Fame shortstop who was best known for his play with the White Sox (1956-1962, 1968-1970). "Little Looie" won nine Gold Gloves and nine straight American League stolen base crowns, and was a ten-time All-Star. He was the first real major league star to come from Venezuela, and generations of his countrymen have have followed in his footsteps at shortstop (Davey Concepcion, Guillen, Omar Vizquel, etc.). Naturally, Aparicio's #11 was retired by the ChiSox in 1984, just weeks after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Fast forward to the present, and Vizquel (who will celebrate his 43rd birthday in April!) has signed with the White Sox for the 2010 season, which will be his 22nd in the majors. Since debuting with the Mariners in 1989, he has worn the #13 that Concepcion made famous. The only problem is that his new manager Guillen has also worn that number since the 1980s and refused to cede it to the shortstop. So Omar met with Aparicio over the winter and asked the Hall of Famer (now 75 years old) if he could pay tribute to him and perhaps educate a new generation of fans by wearing #11. After giving it some thought, Luis agreed and the White Sox honored his wishes.
Just hashing all of that out makes me glad that the O's retire a select few numbers...and keep them retired.