Of all the great players that have worn a Red Sox uniform, only ten men have earned the honor to have their uniform number retired by Boston. Besides Jackie Robinson, whose number 42 Major League Baseball retired universally in 1997, Ted Williams (9), Joe Cronin (4), Bobby Doerr (1), Carl Yastrzemski (8), Carlton Fisk (27), Johnny Pesky (6), Jim Rice (14), Pedro Martinez (45), Wade Boggs (26), and David Ortiz (34) have all witnessed their numbers posted on the façade above the right field grandstand.
Originally, Boston posted the numbers in the same order in which the club officially retired them; after retiring Yastzemski’s number in 1989, the sequence went 9-4-1-8. Later, someone pointed out that the sequence might be interpreted as September 4, 1918 – the day before the first game of the 1918 World Series, which witnessed the last world championship won by Boston before they finally tasted victory again in 2004. With the retirement of Fisk’s number 27 in 2000, the team quietly rearranged the numbers in numerical order; however, in 2012, the numbers went back to sequencing them in the original order of recognition.
The Red Sox initially employed one of baseball’s strictest policies related to the retirement of uniform numbers; a player had to have (1) played a minimum of ten years with the team, (2) been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and (3) finished his career with the team. After Fisk’s election to the Hall, the Sox dropped the final requirement from its policy in order to honor their former backstop, who had finished his career with the White Sox.
The club has made more and more exceptions in recent years. In 2008, the team abandoned its policy altogether with the retirement of Pesky’s number; although he played only eight of his 10 seasons in the majors with Boston and was not elected to the Hall of Fame, management felt that his long years of service with the club, including time spent as a coach and manager, were enough to bestow the honor upon him. In 2015, the Red Sox retired Martinez’s number, despite the fact that he played only seven seasons with the club, based on his contributions as a player and the fact that his Hall of Fame election happened on his first appearance on the ballot.
Ahead of his final regular season on 02 October 2016, the club announced plans to retire Ortiz’s number 34 in 2017; the ceremony was eventually held on 23 June 2017. This marked the first time that the Red Sox retired a number immediately following the end of a player’s career, with Ortiz not being eligible for election to the Hall of Fame until the 2022 ballot. Management cited his immeasurable contributions both on and off the field over his 14 years with the team as the reason for honoring “Big Papi” so soon after his retirement.
One notable player whose number was not retired for several years per the club’s legacy policy was Boggs, a former All-Star third baseman who played 11 seasons with Boston and received his recognition by Hall voters in 2005. Several players wore his number after he left Boston for the New York Yankees as a free agent following the 1992 season, the most recent being Brock Holt. However, in December 2015, the team announced that it would retire his number in a pregame ceremony the following season, which was held on 26 May 2016.
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