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Phils face delicate task with storied jerseys

Club may be forced to give famed uniform numbers to new players
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Shortly after Boston traded Clay Buchholz to the Phillies in December, clubhouse manager Phil Sheridan jumped onto the internet to see what number he wore.

11.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Shortly after Boston traded Clay Buchholz to the Phillies in December, clubhouse manager Phil Sheridan jumped onto the internet to see what number he wore.

11.

View Full Game Coverage

Buchholz wore No. 11 the final seven seasons of his 10-year career with Boston. That is not particularly interesting, except Jimmy Rollins wore that number most of his 15-year career in Philadelphia. Nobody has worn it since the Phillies traded Rollins to the Dodgers in December 2014, but the Phillies also have not retired it because they have a policy to only retire numbers of players who are in the Hall of Fame. Still, Rollins is the greatest shortstop in Phillies history, in arguably the greatest era in Phillies history.

Sheridan, who is tasked with assigning numbers to players, wondered if Buchholz would want it.

He called him. Buchholz said no.

Whew.

"I wasn't going down that road," said Buchholz, who chose No. 21 instead. "I knew exactly who No. 11 was here. I know how places look at guys that have worn a number for a long time, how they're respected. There was no reason for me to even ask to wear it."

Video: Buchholz discusses tough spring outing vs. Tigers

The Phillies have retired six numbers in their history: 1 (Richie Ashburn), 14 (Jim Bunning), 20 (Mike Schmidt), 32 (Steve Carlton), 36 (Robin Roberts) and 42 (Jackie Robinson). They have five numbers on ice: 6 (Ryan Howard), 11, 26 (Chase Utley), 35 (Cole Hamels) and 51 (Carlos Ruiz).

"I'm sure there are a couple of numbers that they'll wait for a while before they decide to give them out or not," said Rollins, who is in camp this spring with the Giants. "We had a run with the things we've done. [There were] cornerstones of that franchise, especially during that time, making it a powerhouse for a number of years."

"I spent a lot of time there, made a lot of great relationships," said Utley, who was traded to the Dodgers in Aug. 2015. "I guess it's pretty cool to hear that's happening."

Video: Utley's grand slam in return echoes first Phils hit

But the time could come when the Phillies put those numbers back into circulation.

And that could be tricky.

"The bigger the player the more you worry about it," Sheridan said.

*****

Every team handles the numbers of its legends differently.

Many teams try to retire numbers of players only in the Hall of Fame, although there are numerous exceptions. The best example is the Yankees. In addition to Yankees Hall of Famers, they have retired No. 1 (Billy Martin), No. 9 (Roger Maris), No. 20 (Jorge Posada), No. 23 (Don Mattingly), No. 42 (Mariano Rivera), No. 46 (Andy Pettitte), No. 49 (Ron Guidry) and No. 51 (Bernie Williams).

There are plenty of numbers on ice, too. For example, there are the Red Sox (Roger Clemens, No. 21), the Dodgers (Fernando Valenzuela, No. 34), the Giants (Barry Bonds, No. 25) and the Cardinals (Willie McGee, No. 51).

The Phillies have not iced a number for an extended period. Tug McGraw wore No. 45 from 1975-84, but Greg Jelks took the number in 1987. Charlie Manuel wore No. 41 from 2004-13, but outfielder Jimmy Paredes wore it last year. Pat Burrell wore No. 5 from 2001-08, but Mike Sweeney took the number in 2010.

Phillies travel director Frank Coppenbarger managed the Phillies' clubhouse from 1989-2016. He called Burrell in August 2010, when the Phillies acquired Sweeney in a trade.

"I said, 'I just want you to know, I'm in a numbers crunch,'" Coppenbarger told Burrell. "You're going to see this guy on TV. No disrespect to you, but I want you to know that I gave him that number."

Burrell thanked Coppenbarger for thinking of him and calling him.

Then consider Phillies legends Ashburn (1948-59), Bunning (1964-67, 1970-71) and Larry Bowa (1970-81). Al Dark took Ashburn's No. 1 in 1960, Tommy Hutton took Bunning's No. 14 in 1972 and Dave Roberts took Bowa's No. 10 in 1982.

"I do think there's a respect factor when a guy first leaves," Bowa said. "Jimmy, Chase, they had great careers. It should stay inside for a while. If they don't make the Hall of Fame, then eventually it will have to come out."

*****

In recent years, Phillies like Jayson Werth, Mike Lieberthal and Randy Wolf had their numbers retired for one season. It is a nice gesture, but nobody expects the Phillies to hold them forever.

But players like Rollins and Utley are different. Rollins is the organization's all-time hits leader and is 10th in franchise history with a 46 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. Utley is the greatest second baseman in franchise history and is their fourth-best player with a 61 WAR. Hamels, who earned 2008 World Series and NLCS MVP honors, is 11th (44 WAR).

"Maybe they can get a first-round Draft pick to wear it," Hamels joked about No. 35.

Howard won the 2006 National League MVP Award and got the nickname "Big Piece" because he meant so much to the Phillies' high-powered offense. He is arguably the greatest first baseman in franchise history. Ruiz caught some of the Phillies' greatest pitchers and is a fan favorite.

Practically, the Phillies need numbers, so they might have no choice but to use them at some point. They also are expected to be aggressive in the free-agent and trade markets in the next few years. For example, Rangers starter Yu Darvish can become a free agent following the season.

He wears No. 11.

Would the Phillies give up No. 11, if Darvish signed a multiyear contract with them? If he wanted it, probably. How does a team say no to a player that just signed a $200 million contract?

"We try to give guys their number," Coppenbarger said. "We try to take care of them. But there's the hope you'll get an established guy to take the heat off you because it's a sensitive situation. I think it's just a feel thing. Guys that had a significant impact with years on the team, it's not fair to that guy and it's not fair to the guy that gets his number. You've got to remember the player that was here in fairness to the new guy. You don't want to strap a new guy with something like that."

Nobody said it, but it is clear the next player to wear No. 11 or No. 26 will not be a journeyman or career Minor Leaguer.

"I'm going to need a compelling reason to do it," Sheridan said.

*****

The Phillies could change their policy. They could make exceptions for players like Rollins and Utley.

"I would think that like anything else, it's subject to evolution," Phillies president Andy MacPhail said. "Things change. I wouldn't cast it as a hard and fast rule. But am I aware that they have only chosen to retire Hall of Famers? This is one of the oldest franchises in baseball. They've had a lot of great players. I understand what the thinking is. I really don't have a strong opinion. I would prefer to stay flexible on the issue and just see how things evolve."

But if the policy remains the same, Rollins has one request.

"Just make it be a good player," he said. "Give it to a good player. A number's a number, you know what I'm saying? But when it comes to uniform numbers and [the] history of the team, when you think of a number it's associated with a player. So if your number's being given away and it's given to another good player or a great player, it's like, 'All right.' It's like passing the torch. That number carries something. That number meant something. That number wasn't just a number on the back."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Chris Haft, Ken Gurnick and Dave Sessions contributed to this story.

Philadelphia Phillies, Clay Buchholz