Zero single-digit numbers in the Bronx? Actually, there's still one left

ByAndrew Marchand ESPN logo
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

NEW YORK -- Now that No. 2 is about to be officially retired in honor of Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees will no longer have any single-digit jersey numbers available for players.

Well, except for one, but it's a number nobody's worn in the team's 115-year history: Zero.

So would a Yankee ever don No. 0? Maybe, but among the current group in the Bronx, the answer appears to be a resounding no. After surveying seven members of the Yankees' roster, as well as manager Joe Girardi, it's safe to say none of them is going to wear the uniform anytime soon.

However, we did find one player who likely would -- if he were ever to become a Yankee. (More on that in a New York minute.)

So what's wrong with the No. 0? If you're going to start anywhere these days in the Yankees' clubhouse, it has to be with Aaron Judge. Not only is he possibly baseball's biggest and best story thus far, he wears No. 99.

"If they gave it to me, I guess I'd wear it, to be honest," Judge said. "It wouldn't be the first number I'd pick, but if they gave it to me and I got to wear the pinstripes, I'd wear it."

Growing up, Judge's favorite numbers were 35, his dad's number, which is currently worn by Michael Pineda, 44, 7 and 9. Those last three are out of commission. Judge ended up with No. 99 by chance.

"They gave it to me my first spring training and I've worn it ever since," Judge said. "They gave it to me, why change it?"

None of these Yankees is racing to become the first to wear a zero on his back. The injured Greg Bird wears 33, but it has nothing to do with Celtics legend Larry Bird. As a kid, he liked Babe Ruth and he put his No. 3 together. He said he would decline No. 0.

"Personally, no," Bird said. "It is technically a number, but it is not a number, right? I never wore zero. I would never wear it. I was never a zero guy. I wore 25 when I was little because of Mark McGwire. I've never been a zero guy. I feel like you are or you aren't."

Wait, why are you a zero guy or not a zero guy?

"I don't have many zero theories," Bird said.

Others aren't even sure the Yankees would hand out zero if someone wanted it.

"I don't know why nobody has tried yet," left fielder Brett Gardner said. "I don't know if that is something that they really want to do, but I don't know if they have tried. Judge has 99 on."

Girardi said he wouldn't stop anyone from wearing zero, though he never had the desire to take the plunge himself.

"I personally wouldn't do it, but I don't have a problem if someone wants to do it," Girardi said. "We have a 99. I hate to see the day that we have like 103 on the back of the uniform."

Yankees GM Brian Cashman said he grew up watching Al Oliver, who wore zero, and would allow one of his players to wear it, too.

"I have no issue with No. 0," Cashman said. "To me, it is just a number."

Cashman is generally not involved in handing out numbers, as that falls to equipment man Rob Cucuzza. Cashman would chime in only if there is a free agent who requests a certain number, and he might start the conversation to see what the team can do.

Lefty CC Sabathia is a big hoops fan. He noted that the Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard and former NBA player Drew Gooden wore zero in tribute to their hometown of Oakland, California. Sabathia said if he wore zero, there would need to be two of them.

"Double zero, but not zero," Sabathia said with a laugh. "A single digit for me is not good."

It takes a unique personality to wear the No. 0. The Tampa Bay Rays have one in outfielder Mallex Smith. In high school, Smith always wore No. 13 because he loves horror movies.

"I'm a fan of Jason so I've got a jersey to be your worst nightmare," Smith said. "That's the idea behind it."

Wherever he has gone in professional baseball, though, No. 13 is often taken by someone with more seniority, so he has switched to zero.

"The backstory is, I was sitting around one day and I just thought, 'I want to wear zero,'" said Smith, who went from the Atlanta Braves to the Rays this winter. "New team. New look. Different spice. I feel like zero is a weird number and I feel like I'm kind of a weird cat. I'm going zero."

Maybe one day Smith or another "weird cat" will show up in the Bronx. As for now, it appears there will only be double digits on the backs of Yankees.