There are many accolades awarded to players, regardless of what sport they play. All players strive for team honors such as a Super Bowl Championship or a Stanley Cup, to be a part of a team that achieves excellence. Players also appreciate personal honors such as MVP or All-Star titles, which tell them they’re at the top of their game, perhaps regardless of any struggles their team may be facing. The ultimate honor, however, is when a player’s jersey is retired. It’s essentially their sport/team recognizing that they have been so incredible that no other player deserves to wear the jersey they once wore. They hang it and it becomes something to honor and remember that player by, from the time of jersey retirement until they’re old and only capable of watching sports on television. It’s an immense honor.
You would think that every jersey retired belongs to an insanely well known player who completely dominated throughout his entire career, but this is not the case. Some jersey retirements are useless or even, at times, a bit baffling. Some of these strange jersey retirements are because the player himself is mediocre at best, someone that no one except perhaps a few die hard fans of the team even remembers five years after his retirement. Others are useless because they retire a player’s jersey on a team he’s spent comparatively little time playing for, or for an individual who hasn’t even played the sport in question. Some jersey retirements are arguably because of the player's popularity rather than actual skill.
Whatever the reason, some of the jerseys that are chosen for retirement merely lead fans to scratch their heads in confusion. Here are ten of the most useless jersey retirements.
10 Rusty Staub – Montreal Expos
Yes, Rusty Staub was a six time All-Star, three of which were during his time with the Montreal Expos. Yes, he had some admirable milestones in his career. However, at the end of the day, he only donned an Expos jersey for a paltry three years. His jersey, number 10, was retired simply because he was incredibly popular. Montrealers loved “Le Grand Orange,” the lovable redhead who graced their fields, and he eventually became the Expos’ first retired jersey because of that affection. He had a great career, and was even the first Expo to win the Expos Player of the Year Award, but at the end of the day, three years is such a short fraction of any athlete’s career.
9 12th man - Seattle Seahawks
In football, it’s pretty common to refer to a team’s fans as the 12th man. The term helps fans feel connected and like all their cheering and stomping in the stands has a real impact. The Seattle Seahawks took their fan appreciation one step further when they decided to retire the number 12 in 1984. Here’s the thing. No one is saying that fans aren’t an integral part of any sporting event – and Seattle’s fans in particular are notoriously loud, an onslaught which may very likely be quite intimidating for the opposing team entering the Seahawks’ stadium. However… fans aren’t on the field itself. Fans do not score touchdowns or earn their own records. It’s a lovely gesture, yes, but it’s also a bit insulting to those star athletes who train tirelessly to improve themselves over the course of their career that some couch potato kind of has a jersey retired just like them.
8 Michael Jordan – Miami Heat
No one is arguing that Michael Jordan's ability as a basketball player. He was – in Chicago. When the Chicago Bulls retired #23, no one batted an eye – it was pretty much expected given his career and accomplishments. When the North Carolina Tar Heels retired #23, it was a nice nod to his college start. However, when Miami did it, a lot of people were wondering why on earth they also made the decision to retire Jordan’s number. He never played for Miami – the only times he played there was as an opponent against the Heat. Despite this, they made the baffling decision to retire his number in 2003. It’s a nice gesture, and Pat Riley’s acknowledgement of Jordan’s skill and the legacy he leaves in basketball was touching, but it’s still a bit weird for a team that Jordan has no strong connection with to make such a decision.
7 Vinnie Johnson - Detroit Pistons
Vinnie Johnson is known as the Detroit Pistons’ most infamous sixth man. He helped the Pistons get two NBA championships under their belt in 1989 and 1990, certainly, but he wasn’t even a regular starter during that time period. Retired jerseys are thought to be reserved for amazing players who, generally, are either the star of the team that retires their jersey or at the very least a solid starter. Number 15 made an important contribution to the Pistons, and he’s beloved in Detroit, but did his skill alone merit retiring number 15? While he earned the nickname “Microwave” due to his tendency to quickly be able to heat up and bring his A-game, the decision to retire his jersey is one that many have questioned.
6 Don Mattingly – New York Yankees
With Derek Jeter freshly retired, Yankees jersey retirements are likely on a lot of baseball fans’ minds. The Yankees have retired the jerseys of many of baseball’s biggest icons – Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio, Jackie Robinson, the list goes on and on. Donnie Baseball was certainly an important player, and he did win MVP, but during the time that number 23 was with the Yankees, they didn’t win a single World Series. He’s talented, yes – but the presence of his jersey should be hanging next to some of baseball’s icons is one that some take issue with.
5 Tom Brookshier - Philadelphia Eagles
Many NFL players have a list of accolades nearly the size of an entire roster – Tom Brookshier has two Pro Bowl selections, in 1959 and 1960. The Philadelphia Eagles decided to retire number 40, and popular opinion states it may largely be due to the Eagles wanting to honor his decision to take two years out from his NFL career to serve in the United States Air Force. While an honorable man, strong defensive back, good coach and sportscaster, a lot of players who performed a lot more impressively on the field have jerseys that remain unretired.
4 Wayne Gretzky – NHL-wide
Someone whose nickname is “The Great One” seems very worthy of a jersey retirement. Gretzky had an enormous impact on hockey and the Edmonton Oilers even have a statue of him outside their arena. His jersey should have been retired, certainly. However, the decision was made in the NHL to retire it across every single team. The Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings certainly could have retired it as a sign of respect and admiration to the player who spent years with them. Coming from the other teams, however, it’s a bit of a strange decision. First of all, retiring a jersey across all the teams trivializes the gesture on the part of the teams who actually had Gretzky on their roster and therefore had a meaningful and personal connection with them. For a team who may not even have spoken to him to retire his jersey seems a bit odd. Additionally, it calls into question – why do the jerseys of some other amazing players in hockey or other sports not get retired across the board? If you do it with one player, it opens the floodgates.
3 Carl Barger – Florida Marlins
Ah, the great Carl Barger. What position was he again – pitcher? Right fielder? No – board room. Barger was the first president of the Florida Marlins, and after he passed away in 1992 during Major League Baseball’s winter meetings, the Marlins retired number five. Why number five? Simply because it was Joe DiMaggio’s number, and DiMaggio was Barger’s favorite player. The only other retired jersey the Marlins has belongs to the ground breaking Jackie Robinson (who's number was retired across the MLB, which is a similar issue to Gretzky, though it was more of a political issue), who had a tremendous impact on baseball and history. That’s some company to be in. The Marlins made the decision to bring number five out of retirement in 2012 in order to allow Logan Morrison to wear it. Though the Marlins instead prepared a plaque in Barger’s honor, Barger’s family was not happy with the Marlins’ decision to take the jersey off the wall. It comes down to one simple fact – you can honor executives and presidents, but if someone has never worn a number on their jersey, it should not be retired. Period.
2 Nate McMillan – Seattle Supersonics
McMillan has done a lot for basketball, having served as head coach for the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Supersonics, and assistant coach for several USA National and Olympic teams. However, in jersey retirements, we should be looking to an individual’s time as a player rather than their time as a coach. He spent all of his twelve years in the NBA as a player with the Seattle Supersonics. While he was a steady player in Seattle, placing his stats up alongside other players makes him seem a little bit on the side of average. He wasn’t a superstar, he never even averaged more than 7.5 points per game. During his time as a player he was, according to many who knew and played with him, an incredibe team mate and a wonderful person. Whether these are qualities worthy of having your jersey retired is another question.
1 Steve Nelson, New England Patriots
Nelson is another case of ‘good player, but good enough for jersey retirement?’ Many disagree with the Patriots’ decision to retire number 57. He has three Pro Bowl selections to his name, but that’s a fairly common achievement amongst NFL players. Many may also argue that he helped take the Patriots to Super Bowl XX against the Chicago Bears, but a key fact in that argument is that the Patriots didn’t end up winning. Nelson spent all fourteen of his seasons in the NFL with the New England Patriots, he has a few highlights to his name, but ultimately it’s just a bit too underwhelming. It just really doesn’t merit jersey retirement.