Paul O’Neill did not sound perturbed about the Yankees taking his No. 21 out of storage and giving it to Morgan Ensberg this spring, but he did sound perplexed. The Yankees had not issued No. 21 to a player since ’Neill retired in 2001 . . . With Joe Torre’s No. 6 and Bernie Williams’s No. 51 likely to be retired and Derek Jeter’s 2 and Mariano Rivera’s 42 (which is already retired to honor Jackie Robinson) never to be worn again, the Yankees decided to bring 21 back.
I've always thought retiring numbers was kind of a neat thing -- I was at the game in 1980 when Al Kaline's number 6 was retired and thought it was cool -- but the Yankees obviously have to put a stop to it lest they run out of numbers.
Then again, why do players even wear numbers anymore? The original point of uniform numbers was to identify players. This was fairly useful back when there were no jumbotron close-ups, lineups on the scoreboard, television, baseball cards, and Fathead posters. These days, whether we are at home or in the stadium, we have no excuse not to know exactly who is up to bat and who is playing each position. We know every nook and cranny of our favorite players' faces (and, unfortunately, other parts). In short, the need to identify these guys by a number is more or less nonexistent.
Today, player numbers are nothing more than talismans. I'm not invested in their obliteration or anything, but I think it would be kind of cool if some team tried to get rid of them altogether, replacing them with a logo or some sort of team or city commemorative graphic or something.
The only hesitation I would have is that all of that un-utilized real estate would probably hasten the introduction of on-jersey advertising.