On Uniform No. 0, the Yankees Rule Out Nothing


“Always liked Al Oliver,” Cashman added.

Ah, yes — Al Oliver. A .303 hitter across 18 seasons, from 1968 to 1985, Oliver now goes by @Alscoop16 on Twitter, combining his first name, his nickname — he was a first baseman in later years — and the number he wore for the Pittsburgh Pirates. When they traded him to the Texas Rangers after the 1977 season, Oliver chose No. 0.

“All of a sudden, I was going to a new league, a new city,” Oliver said in a telephone interview. “Zero is a starting point, and I wanted to start all over again. A lot of people thought it was ‘O,’ for Oliver, which makes sense, too. But rather than it being an ‘O,’ it was zero.”

The word “zero” is rarely uttered in baseball, if you think about it. A 3-0 score is generally said to be “three to nothing.” A 3-0 count is “three-oh,” “three balls and no strikes” — or sometimes, if the broadcasters want to mix it up, “three and nothing.” A 4.05 earned run average is “four point oh five” — and so on.

Danny Ozark would have liked the idea of minimizing the zero. Ozark was Oliver’s manager with the San Francisco Giants in 1984 and had strong opinions about Oliver’s number. Or integer. Or whatever.

“What really cracked me up is that Danny Ozark always said, ‘Zero is not a number!’” Oliver said. “It was funny to hear guys debating about it.”

Zero, of course, is a stopping point between minus 1 and 1, and while it represents nothing, it is, in fact, something: a starting point, as Oliver insists. To him, choosing No. 1 for his fresh start would have defied logic.

“In my mind, if you start with nothing, then you have nothing,” Oliver said. “So that’s where zero came into play. If you don’t have any money, then you have no money. But if you have one — then you’ve got something, one cent, one dollar.”

Oliver thrived with his new number. He made two All-Star teams as a Ranger and two more as a Montreal Expo, and he won the National League batting title in 1982. Once he switched to 0, he said, he decided to wear it for the rest of his career, which he finished with the Toronto Blue Jays. A teammate there, Cliff Johnson, wore 00.

“I never paid attention to the public-address announcers, but somebody said when they were reading off the lineup card, it was ‘Al Oliver, wearing nothing, and Cliff Johnson, wearing double-nothing,’” Oliver said, laughing.

According to the Baseball Reference online database, Oliver was the first of 18 players to wear zero, including four this season: Yunel Escobar of the Los Angeles Angels, Terrance Gore of the Kansas City Royals, Adam Ottavino of the Colorado Rockies and Mallex Smith of the Tampa Bay Rays.

The N.F.L. and the N.H.L. do not allow players to wear zero, and 11 teams besides the Yankees have never had a No. 0. But enough have passed through the Bronx as visitors to present a challenge for Bob Sheppard, the Yankees’ longtime public-address voice.

Sheppard, the chairman of the speech department at John Adams High School in Queens and an adjunct professor of speech at St. John’s University, would announce players in a precise manner: “Number two, Derek Jeter, number two.” But he changed his delivery when a No. 0 appeared.

Paul Doherty, a friend and agent of Sheppard’s, shared an audio file of Sheppard announcing the Rangers’ lineup before opening day in 1981 at Yankee Stadium. Sheppard introduced Oliver this way: “The designated hitter, zero, Al Oliver.” It was his dignified way of denying that zero was a number.

Intentionally or not, the Yankees have done the same — making Jeter, at least for now, the last of his kind.

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Kolten Wong (16) with Manager Mike Matheny after Wong scored in a game in Atlanta on May 6, part of the Cardinals’ recent undefeated trip.

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Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

A Rarity for the Cardinals

An undefeated trip of at least six games is impressive. But it doesn’t really sound unusual, does it? It’s easy to imagine one team visiting two cities and coming away with two sweeps.

Indeed, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been 12 instances of a team going 6-0 or better on a trip over the last five seasons. The most recent was by the St. Louis Cardinals, who zipped through Atlanta and Miami before returning to Busch Stadium this weekend.

Remarkably, that was the first time in the Cardinals’ history that they had swept a trip of at least six games. The Cardinals have won 11 World Series, more than any other team but the Yankees, and the franchise dates to 1882. The Cardinals needed the recent surge, having started the season with nine losses in their first 12 games, including a sweep by the Yankees in the Bronx.

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Ryan Howard carrying a 2008 banner after the Phillies defeated the Rays in five games in the World Series.

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Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

A Fine Career, by Only Some Measures

The Atlanta Braves released Ryan Howard from their Class AAA team last week after only 11 games. Howard, the longtime Philadelphia Phillies first baseman, was 7 for 38 (.184) with one home run. At 37, he could be at the end of his career.

If it is, Howard has a proud list of accomplishments: the 2008 World Series title with the Phillies, the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player Award, the 2005 N.L. Rookie of the Year Award and three seasons as the majors’ leader in runs batted in. Yet he compiled only about 15 wins above replacement, or WAR, according to Baseball Reference.

Of the 96 position players in major league history with at least 1,000 career games and a slugging percentage of at least .500, Howard ranks last in WAR, three wins behind Richie Sexson.

In roughly the same number of games, in the same era, a less heralded first baseman, Lyle Overbay, gained two more WAR than Howard. Overbay never made an All-Star team or appeared on an M.V.P. ballot, and he hit just 151 homers to Howard’s 382. But Overbay ranked better in two areas that are critical to understanding the WAR metric: on-base percentage and defense.

Overbay had a higher on-base percentage than Howard (.347 to .343), and while Howard was a subpar defender, Overbay had excellent Baseball Reference defensive metrics. At his best, Howard had gaudy totals for home runs and R.B.I., but many first basemen excel in those areas, bringing down his perceived value over a theoretical replacement.

For all that, though, Howard deserves acclaim for taking advantage of the opportunities his teammates provided. A .258 hitter over all, Howard improved to .274 with runners in scoring position. His on-base plus slugging percentage in those situations was .928, right in line with the O.P.S. of stars like Alex Rodriguez (.917), Ken Griffey Jr. (.932) and David Ortiz (.943) with runners in scoring position.

Perhaps the best way to compare Howard to his peers is this: Many were probably better players, but when you consider Howard’s awards, home runs, championship ring and salaries — which totaled more than $190 million — few had better careers.

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