CLEARWATER, Fla. — The magic numbers in Phillies history are 1, 14, 32 and 36. The names attached to them are Richie Ashburn, Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton, and Robin Roberts. All of them are Hall of Famers whose numbers will never be worn again.
Yes, we know Pete Rose wore No. 14, too, but he was not here long enough to have his number retired, and his name is tarnished in so many different ways that it’s safe to assume he will never be part of a baseball celebration at Citizens Bank Park.
Some recently retired Phillies, all of whom will be honored at different points this season, also have numbers that the team still considers too special to be given out, even to the guy who they believe is the best catcher in baseball.
J.T. Realmuto, acquired in a trade late last week, probably would have loved to keep the No. 11 he wore with the Miami Marlins, but no one has worn it for the Phillies since Jimmy Rollins. The former All-Star shortstop will be in camp this spring training for the first time as a special instructor. For now, at least, No. 6 (Ryan Howard) and No. 26 (Chase Utley) also remain off-limits, and it’s possible they will remain that way forever.
Realmuto still landed one of the most revered numbers in franchise history, even if it was by accident. In fact, if you had to pick a number that was not considered off-limits by the ballclub, the one with the most meaning was slipped on the back of the Phillies’ newly acquired catcher late Tuesday afternoon at Spectrum Field.
For those too young to remember, No. 10 belonged to Larry Bowa, the second greatest shortstop in franchise history behind Rollins. It also belonged to the late Darren Daulton, the leader of the 1993 National League champions and a man who played the game of baseball longer and lived longer than his beaten-up and broken-down body should have allowed.
Realmuto, who will turn 28 next month, acknowledged not knowing much about the franchise history of the No. 10, and that’s perfectly understandable.
“When I was given the choice of numbers, I only had three options — 10, 38 and 39,” he said. “I just liked (10) better than 38 and 39.”
A lot of people who have watched baseball in Philadelphia have loved No. 10 more than any other player on the field. It’s about time, in fact, that another special player wore that special number for the Phillies.
Just a little free education for Realmuto about his new Phillies number: Bowa, at 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, went to five All-Star games and four postseasons, and won two Gold Gloves and the franchise’s first World Series wearing that number. If they ever get around to writing the Philadelphia dictionary, Bowa’s mug is sure to accompany the definition of grit and overachiever.
Some more free education: Daulton had nine knee surgeries during his career and still managed to play 14 seasons, finishing his last one with Realmuto’s former team, the Marlins. In a matter of two months, he became a leader for the Marlins’ first world championship team. But it was his time in Philadelphia during and after his career that made Daulton so beloved. He was on the brink of being banished from the city and possibly even the game in his late 20s, but he hung on and rebounded to make three All-Star appearances and two World Series appearances. The even more impressive battle came against brain cancer earlier in this decade.
Neither Bowa nor Daulton was a perfect human being, but that did not make them any less lovable. It just made them more real.
Bowa, who will also be in this year’s camp, will love the new catcher’s drive to be the best. Asked what he still needs to work on after making his first All-Star appearance last season, Realmuto provided the textbook answer for a catcher.
“There are a lot of areas in my game I want to improve, but just defensively really the whole aspect of catching is the catching-pitching relationship,” he said. “And, for me, being on a new team, it’s extremely important to get to know these guys in a hurry, so I can build a relationship where they trust me.”
Daulton, who died in August 2017, would have loved Realmuto’s answer about how often he wants to be in the lineup.
“For me, I want to catch 162,” he said. “But I know that’s probably not going to happen. I trust Gabe (Kapler). We’ll have conversations about that and see how I feel.”
Realmuto caught 141 games two years ago and has averaged 132 over his first four full seasons in the big leagues. Kapler said he’d like to see more of the same from his new catcher in 2019.
If that happens, J.T. Realmuto will be more than welcomed as Philadelphia’s newest No. 10.