On Unretiring Jersey Numbers


I’ve had my head in code all week so I’m getting to this a little late but I wanted to take the time to say a few words anyway.

On Wednesday night, Jamie Samuelsen posted to his blog at the Freep that maybe certain numbers currently retired by Detroit-area sports teams should be unretired to allow new players to honor those who the numbers were retired for in the first place.  Yesterday, Michael Petrella over at TPL touched on it as well.

Personally, I’m against unretiring numbers unless the number never should have been retired in the first place (subjective, I know).  Sometimes teams do stupid things and there should be an option of undoing that.  I hate the fact that the Minnesota Wild have #1 retired in honor of their fans, for example, and would love to see a player go there and wear it.

As much as I’ve complained about what goes in the rafters at the Joe, the Red Wings have a higher standard for jersey retirement.  Maybe too high, as Larry Aurie’s #6 isn’t up there and should be.  As such, I can’t see any reason for one of the Wings’ six (or seven once you include Aurie) retired numbers being returned to use.

Samuelsen asks of a hyothetical question from his six-year-old son…

But if I have a hard time explaining to Josh why the second baseman doesn’t actually stand on second base, I’ll have a much harder time explaining the theory behind a retired number. Wouldn’t I?

And I say that’s your opportunity to teach your team’s rich history.  You explain that there was a player so important to the team that his number has been reserved for him forever.  New players wearing an past great’s number doesn’t teach that

That said, I have a specific case where I think the Red Wings should open up a currently-unavailable number for use again, and given what this week is I expect it to be unpopular.

I think that when Tomas Holmstrom eventually retires as the last of his remaining teammates, Vladimir Konstantinov’s #16 should be returned to circulation.  Not handed out to some rookie at training camp, but available if an established player came to the team and wanted it.

Konstantinov’s injury was tragic and clearly inspired his teammates on their 1998 Stanley Cup run, but he’s not Gordie Howe or Ted Lindsay or Terry Sawchuk or Alex Delvecchio or Sid Abel or Steve Yzerman or Larry Aurie.

If tragedy is enough to inspire a permanent number retirement, why is Brendan Smith wearing #2 in Detroit?  Jiri Fischer may have a better life than Konstantinov but his career ended just as suddenly, with the added impact of coming in the middle of a game.

Coming the week of the fifteenth anniversary of the car crash that ended Konstantinov’s career, it feels wrong to suggest that the Wings’ honor him less.  That said, I’ve always felt like his number being held out of circulation was more about keeping him a part of the team he was pulled away from.

When Holmstrom retires – whether this year or next – the last remnant of that team will be gone.  It’ll be time to make #16 available again.


Clark founded the site that would become DetroitHockey.Net in September of 1996. He continues to write for the site and executes the site's design and development, as well as that of DH.N's sibling site, FantasyHockeySim.com.

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