SAN FRANCISCO — Baseball, as we like to say, is a game of numbers. For no one is that more true than for Scott Bonnett.
The Pirates’ longtime clubhouse manager — known to almost everyone as “Bones” or “Bonesy” — is in charge of assigning the jersey numbers for every Pittsburgh player at the beginning of the year. The athletes become identified by their numbers across the game, from fans screaming the digits to get an unfamiliar player’s attention to the replica jersey-shirts sold in every ballpark and mall.
Fans who follow the entertaining Twitter account of Tony Sanchez probably notice a number disparity. His username @Tony26Montana does not match his Pirates number of 59. If you don’t like the disparity, blame Bonesy. Before Spring Training starts, Bonnett meets with Neal Huntington to discuss digits. The general manager may recommend players get assigned certain numbers.
“Otherwise, I give out what I think,” Bonnett says. After all, players come and go but it is his office.
For the clubhouse manager, that means high numbers for the new guys. Just take a look at some of the players currently on the Pirates’ roster and the transitions they have made:
- Jared Hughes: 70 to 48
- Bryan Morris: 57 to 29
- Tony Watson: 65 to 44
- Justin Wilson: 61 to 37
- Josh Harrison: 62 to 5
- Jordy Mercer: 69 to 10
Seeing a pattern? Bonnett says for the young guys in Major League Spring Training he will “try to give him a decent number, but somewhat high. Earning it a little bit.”
That’s how you end up with Tony Sanchez wearing No. 26 throughout the minor leagues, but getting black-and-gold No. 59 in Bradenton to keep for the rest of the season. Minor league free agent Felix Pie was given preference to receive No. 26 because he had Major League experience. Larger service time number, smaller jersey number.
Sanchez will likely get his preferred number next season.
Not every young player has to begin his career in the 60’s or 70’s (even though they were great decades for music). Andrew McCutchen made his MLB debut four years ago when he was feeling 22 and has not changed since. Last year, Starling Marte received No. 6 because the front office wanted to “give Marte a decent number,” Bonnett says.
And of course, there is the fabled number of 69. Bryan Adams knows why players would giggle at the numeral, and perhaps you do too. Players are not always happy to receive those digits.
“They’re like, ‘come on,'” Bonnett says.
Jordy Mercer played with 69 last year (oh, grow up) then asked for a lower number in 2013. Pitcher Ryan Reid received No. 43 even though Bones says he tried to convince him Bronson Arroyo pitched well for Pittsburgh in No. 69.
As for Jared Hughes? The man who started at 70 just showed up to Spring Training and saw he was 48. It’s not a Benjamin Button thing, just another way that numbers never lie.
Just one bonus for this Saturday. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle unveiled his starting rotation for the next week. The only change to the ordinary is that rookie Gerrit Cole will get seven days’ rest between starts.
The team will not say there is an innings limit on Cole, only that they are monitoring his work and there is a “red line” for all pitchers in terms of workload.
- Sunday at San Francisco — RHP A.J. Burnett
- Tuesday vs. Milwaukee — LHP Jeff Locke
- Wednesday vs. Milwaukee — RHP Charlie Morton
- Thursday vs. Milwaukee — RHP Gerrit Cole
- Friday vs. St. Louis — LHP Francisco Liriano