Blue Jays should suggest Shun Yamaguchi pick a new number

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 15: Shun Yamaguchi #1 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses during a press conference at Rogers Centre on January 15, 2020 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 15: Shun Yamaguchi #1 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses during a press conference at Rogers Centre on January 15, 2020 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

Shun Yamaguchi has worn No. 1 on his jersey and was expected to do the same with the Blue Jays. After Tony Fernandez’s passing, it might be better if he picked a new one.

A number on a jersey can have varying levels of importance to professional athletes. Some couldn’t care less like former Philadelphia Phillie John Kruk, who once gave up his number to Mitch Williams for two cases of beer, and some care a great deal, like former Blue Jay A.J. Burnett who once set up a Pittsburgh Pirate’s teammate’s kid with a college fund so he could keep wearing the number 34.

As much as jersey numbers may or may not matter to players, they might be just as important to the fan base. With that mind, I can’t help but wonder if the Blue Jays might ask one of their new additions if they would consider a number change, for a sombre reason.

In case you missed it, Blue Jays legend Tony Fernandez passed away on Sunday due to kidney complications at the age of 57. He was a five-time All-Star, and a four-time Blue Jay, and still leads the franchise in hits and games played. He was and is beloved by the Canadian baseball fanbase, especially the generation that watched him in the 80’s and 90’s. And with that in mind, it would be feel a little weird seeing his old jersey on the back of another player.

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For that reason, perhaps the Blue Jays should take the somewhat unusual step of asking Shun Yamaguchi if he would consider wearing a new number than the No. 1 he donned in the Japanese Professional Leagues. Without hearing from him directly it’s hard to know if he would mind at all, but it seems like an appropriate tribute to honour Fernandez’s memory in such a way.

The Blue Jays did add Fernandez to their “Level of Excellence” already, the highest honour the club bestows on their former players and club officials. He’s joined in the club by other Blue Jay legends like Roy Halladay, Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, Dave Stieb, George Bell, Carlos Delgado, Cito Gaston, Pat Gillick, Tom Cheek, and Paul Beeston, but it does not include the retiring of a jersey number.

I’m not sure i’m even prepared to suggest the Blue Jays should necessarily retire Fernandez’s number, although that would be fine by me if it happened. That’s an exclusive club that’s only occupied by Halladay and Alomar from the Blue Jays, and of course the #42 worn by Jackie Robinson, which is retired across the league. However, as a show of respect for arguably one of the greatest Blue Jays to ever live, is it too much to ask the Blue Jays to see if Yamaguchi would mind wearing something else?

For what it’s worth, I won’t hold it against Yamaguchi if he doesn’t want to make the switch, or even if the Blue Jays don’t ask him to. Edwin Encarnacion wore Alomar’s number 12 until it was retired, and Devon Travis wore Joe Carter’s old No. 29. There’s almost no way their new pitcher has any idea what Fernandez meant and means to fans from my generation, and perhaps the Blue Jays don’t even want to go there, as these things can be significant precedents to set.

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That said, I don’t think there’s any harm in making Yamaguchi aware of the importance of the No. 1 jersey in Toronto, and even perhaps to suggest that he pick a new one out of respect for the fallen Blue Jays legend.