CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians’ 2016 season is an extra special campaign. It marks a major anniversary for not just the tribe, but for all of Major League Baseball.
It was 100 years ago the Indians decided to debut numbers on player’s jerseys, becoming the first team to do so.
“It’s such a staple of baseball now," said Jeremy Feador, Indians Curator and Historian. "You can’t even imagine jerseys without numbers and we were the first major league team to do that.”
Feador says it was the General Manager at the time, Bob McRoy, that modeled the idea after jockeys in horse racing. He decided to put numbers on players' sleeves so fans would know who's batting and who's playing what position on the field.
It was an idea that many thought would be the first domino to fall before other teams followed suit. However, publicity for the numbered jerseys soon faded and so did the numbers.
“It seemed like it was the logical way to go, but for whatever reason it just didn’t catch fire and fizzled out," Feador said.
The Cardinals tried to resurrect the numbered sleeves in the early 1920s to no avail. Then in 1929, the Indians and Yankees were both set to open the season with numbers -- this time on their backs. As luck would have it, the Yankees opener was rained out, cementing the Indians in baseball history as the first team to wear numbers on their sleeves and their backs.
This time, other teams joined in and the rest is history.
“Some of our best players, boys like Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker and Addie Joss didn’t have numbers on their uniforms and we can’t retire numbers for guys that never wore them," Feador said. "A lot of our greats were in that era of never wearing numbers."
Unfortunately, it’s a little bit of lost history.
“None of these jerseys, at least to my knowledge, have survived. Unless someone somewhere in Cleveland has a dusty jersey in their attic with a number on the sleeve. If so, I’d love to talk to you.”