Monday, May 5, 2014

Baseball's Best Number 5's

DiMaggio will always be linked with number five
To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, here are the five best players who wore the number five (for at least five years, which means Hank Aaron and Mel Ott are excluded.

1. Joe DiMaggio
The Yankee Clipper actually wore the number nine (same as future foe Ted Williams) in 1936--his rookie year--because Frankie Crosetti was number five. DiMaggio became five the next year and responded with the best year of his Hall of Fame career (meanwhile, Crosetti became number one). Joltin' Joe became one of the best centerfielders of all-time, winning three MVP awards and leading the Yankees to ten pennants and nine championships in his 13 seasons. His number was retired the year after DiMaggio's final season (1951), meaning no Yankee has worn the number five for over 60 years.

2. Albert Pujols
Pujols has worn the number five in all of his 14 seasons, even after switching teams prior to 2012. "The Machine" is one of the greatest righthanded hitters of all-time and ranks with Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig as one of baseball's best first basemen. The three-time MVP just eclipsed 500 home runs, and at 34 still has plenty of time to ascend the career leaderboards. His career is far from over, but he's already a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The Cardinals, who won two World Series with Pujols, have not given away his number since he left and will likely retire it.

3. George Brett
Widely acknowledged to be the second-best third baseman of all-time behind only Mike Schmidt. Brett was number 25 in his first two seasons, when one-time All-Star Richie Scheinblum was number five, but wore the number five for the remaining 19, all with Kansas City. Brett, of course, was a phenomenal hitter who batted .305 for his career, compiled 3,154 hits (1,119 of which went for extra bases), won three batting titles in three different decades and nearly batted .400 in 1980. A well-rounded player, he also stole 201 bases and played a great (and underrated) third base in his early years, even winning a Gold Glove in 1985. The Royals retired his number in 1994.

4. Johnny Bench
The best catcher of all-time (sorry, Yogi Berra fans) wore number five for all of his 17 years behind the plate with Cincinnati. A ten-time Gold Glove winner who made 14 All-Star teams and slugged 389 home runs, Bench is the best two-way catcher who ever lived. He was at the heart of the Big Red Machine, winning two MVP awards and helping power the Reds to four pennants and two championships in the 1970s. Fittingly, his number was retired in 1984.

5. Jeff Bagwell
Bags donned numero cinco in every one of his 15 years manning first base for the Houston Astros. He isn't in the Hall of Fame yet, but he should be. Though he didn't have the longevity of some of the other guys at the position (Rafael Palmeiro, Tony Perez, Willie McCovey), he crammed enough into his playing days that he still ranks as one of the five-best first baseman of all-time since 1900 (according to JAWs). One of the most complete first-sackers ever, he was an asset on the basepaths (swiping 202 bases) and played solid defense, winning a Gold Glove in 1994--the same year he won the NL MVP award unanimously. One of just three Astros to wear the number (along with Steve Henderson and Hal King), Bagwell will also be the last, for his number was retired in 2007.

Honorable Mention: Brooks Robinson, Hank Greenberg, Nomar Garciaparra

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