In Praise of [name your sport]

In the movie City Slickers, there is an early scene where one of the wives says, “I’ve been to games, but I don’t memorize who played third base for Pittsburgh in 1960 .”  At that point, the characters played by Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby answer in unison, “Don Hoak.”

This has always stuck with me as the epitome of us guys (and some girls) who can’t remember the date we proposed to our spouses, but can remember absurd sports facts.

Don Hoak - Who Knew?

I didn’t know who played third base for Pittsburgh in 1960.  That’s a bit before my time.  However, I do enjoy perusing a lot of meaningless sports statistics and information.  I’m intrigued by what teams players played for, when they were traded and for whom, what numbers they might have worn and other data.  Before all this stuff was on the Internet, Mrs. Spidey bought me a 10-pound book called “The Official Encylopedia of the National Hockey League,” which listed statistics of every player who ever donned an NHL uniform, including their stats in minor leagues and other countries before and after they played in the NHL.  It was fascinating.

Now you can get all this meaningless, yet fascinating drivel on-line, not just for the NHL, but for major league baseball, the NFL and the NBA.  What do I consider “meaningless, yet fascinating drivel?”  Data varies by league, but here are examples:

  • Uniform numbers worn by every player for every team on which they’ve played. Don Hoak wore #43 for the Brooklyn Dodgers when he first came up, but later wore #7 with the Cubs and then #12 for the Reds, Pirates and Phillies.
  • All signings and trades involving each player, including for whom they were traded and who was chosen by future draft picks.  Don Hoak was traded to the Pirates by the Reds in the same deal with Harvey Haddix, who is known for pitching 12 innings of perfect baseball in 1959 and then losing the game in the 13th inning.
  • Whether each player was an all-star, won an MVP or other award, or ranked in annual statistics. Thanks to, I now know that Don Hoak was 2nd in the MVP voting in 1960, behind teammate Dick Groat, but ahead of more famous players such as Willie Mays (#3), Ernie Banks (#4) and Roberto Clemente (#8).  In that same year, Hoak was 6th in the league in walks, 9th in on-base percentage, 7th in runs scored,  and 10th in RBI.

Enough about Don Hoak – I think you get the point.

With all the links back and forth, I could live on these sites for a long time.  These are among the few sites for which I might actually carry a laptop into the bathroom to substitute for a book or newspaper.

Here are a few other stupid jersey #  facts to whet your appetite for more:

  • Phil Esposito, who wore #7 for the Blackhawks and Bruins and, later #77 for the Rangers, briefly wore #12 for the Rangers for 76 games in 1976 after being traded. #7 was worn and later retired for Rod Gilbert.
  • Hank Aaron’s first jersey # for the Milwaukee Braves in 1954 was #5, before he switched to #44 for the rest of his career in 1955.  No one on the Braves wore #44 in 1954, and no one other than Aaron would after 1955.
  • Mickey Mantle first wore #6 for the Yankees, before switching to #7 midway through the 1951 season.
  • Michael Jordan wore #45 for the Bulls, upon his return from a year of minor-league baseball.  Bizarrely, he couldn’t wear #23, because it had been retired – for him!
  • Franco Harris, the Hall-of-Fame running back for the Steelers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, finished up with the Seahawks in 1984 where he wore #34, not his traditional #32.  #32 was worn that year by Cullen Bryant.  Go figure.

So – before you click on the links below, please tell your spouse or roommate that you’ll be out-of-touch for a while learning about Reggie Jackson’s time with the Orioles in 1976 and Frank Robinson’s short stint with the Dodgers in 1972, learning which World Hockey Association team Wayne Gretzky played for before Edmonton, and finding out that Bill Russell was actually drafted by the St. Louis Hawks and traded on draft day to the Celtics for Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley.

Enjoy.  Here are the sites:


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