With the announcement that Marwin Gonzalez signed with the Minnesota Twins, there was optimism in the Twin Cities. Optimism that he could be the missing piece. Hope that he would fill in the gaps on the roster.
But he failed.
No, I’m not talking his fielding or his hitting. I’m not talking about a need to improve the pitching staff. Heck, I’m not talking about baseball performance at all. I am talking about numbers.
No one is wearing the number 4.
Gonzalez selected to wear the #9 that he has worn his whole career, bumping bench coach Derek Shelton into a numberless purgatory according to the team's official roster online.
In the MLB, #4 is prime real estate. Not counting Jackie Robinson's #42, only two numbers have been retired more often than #4 which has been retired by eight different teams. The #20 has been retired 11 times (thanks largely to Frank Robinson being honored by three different teams), and the #14 has been retired nine times. So the #4 has plenty of legitimate baseball history attached to it in the form of Lou Gehrig, Luke Appling, Duke Snider, Mel Ott, Earl Weaver, and—likely the reason why the number is vacant—Paul Molitor.
Molitor reclaimed his old number during his four years as Twins manager which came to an end last October. He also wore #4 throughout his three-year stint with Minnesota as a player from 1996 until his retirement in 1998.
In the 20 years since 1998, the #4 has only been worn by one Twins player.
Augie Ojeda, a glove-first utility infielder, donned #4 in 2004 during his 30-game stint with the club. He was often a defensive replacement or pinch hitter/runner, but he hit for a Molitorian .339 batting average with a .429 on-base percentage as he amassed an unfathomable 1.2 WAR over just 72 plate appearance for Minnesota. Not too shabby for a career .234 hitter in his age-29 season.
But that was it. Before Molitor took the number in 1996, a Twins player had worn it in every of the previous 15 seasons. It was first worn in Minnesota by Bob Allison in 1961 after the team relocated from Washington, D.C. It is said that Allison was the motivation for Molitor (who grew up the Twin Cities) to take #4 in the first place since he emulated Allison in his youth. After Allison, the #4 was worn by Steve Braun (1971-1975), Steve Lombardozzi (1985-1988), Chip Hale (1990-1995) and four others before Molitor bumped Hale to #12 when he joined the club.
Surely there was some decorum following Molitor’s retirement in 1998, similar to what we're seeing with Freddy Galvis and Jose Bautista's #19, and we’re probably seeing the same thing with Molitor now following his managerial stint. That said, the man played just three season for the Twins and managed for four uneventful years. If someone were to, say, write a book about the 50 most important men and moments in Twins history, Molitor may not even make the list (you'll have to buy it to find out)! Surely Molitor’s #4 won't be placed in the prestigious position below the Budweiser Roof Deck in the future.
Who should take this number?
Let's start with everyone who's wearing a terrible number. Jake Cave is wearing #60. Lay your claim to #4, young man! Tyler Austin, you’re not on the Yankees anymore, there are single-digit numbers in Minnesota that aren't retired yet! Willians Astudillo you can … actually #64 is a perfect number for you, keep on doing what you’re doing.
And while it’s very unusual for pitchers to wear single-digit numbers—admittedly it looks a little weird—Matt Magill (#68) or Trevor May (#65), as well as any other reliever, should absolutely take the plunge. Think about how badass it would look for Rocco Baldelli to go to the mound, pat the pitcher on the keister, and hold up four fingers to the bullpen to call in his reliever (as long as they don’t get confused and walk the next batter).
Perhaps as this season gives way to the inevitable cycle of major leaguers through the clubhouse, someone will squat on this valuable piece of numerical property. Or maybe a year-long, Molitor-honoring grace period will leave the number vacant for 2019. Either way, by this time next year, someone better be wearing #4 for the Minnesota Twins again.