Welcome back to Game of Numbers, our ongoing series in which we examine the best players to have worn a specific uniform number. Today, we look at the players who had the best careers while wearing numbers 30 through 34.
#34 Kirby Puckett — number retired by TwinsHonorable Mentions: Nolan Ryan, David Ortiz, Fernando Valenzuela
Teams Played For: Minnesota Twins (1984-1995)
Career Bio: Like Roy Campanella (#39 on our list), Puckett had his career shortened by a tragic injury; Puckett contracted glaucoma in the spring of 1996, costing him the use of his right eye. But his career, while briefer than it should have been, was truly brilliant. Short and squat, he was shaped more like a power running back than a major league center fielder, but few in the annals of the sport could hit better than the 5’8″ Puckett. In 1986, at the age of 26, he hit over .300 for the first time, with 223 hits and 31 home runs. From that season until the end of his career, Puckett never hit below .296 in a season, and led the league in hits four times. He was an all-star every year from 1986 to 1995, receiving MVP votes in all but three seasons in his career. Puckett, of course, is best known for his heroics in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, in which he hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th after making a brilliant catch earlier in the game. Despite his abbreviated career, Puckett was so respected for his play on the field and his character off it (though his private life was later called into question) that he was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Also Wore: N/A
Video Highlight: His catch in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Game 6 in full, including Puckett’s walk-off home run, can be found here.
#33 Larry WalkerHonorable Mentions: Eddie Murray, David Wells, Jose Canseco
Teams Played For: Montreal Expos (1989-1994), Colorado Rockies (1995-2004), St. Louis Cardinals (2004-2005)
Career Bio: Larry Walker is likely one of the most underrated players of his era, and for some valid reasons. First, the teams he played on were almost invariably awful — until his two-year stint with St. Louis at the end of his career, Walker had played in a total of four playoff games (with the Rockies in 1995). Second, Walker was the first star who played his games at Coors Field, and he put up numbers that seemed so good, they couldn’t be true — he was believed to be a product of likely the best hitters’ park in baseball history. And indeed, he was helped a great deal by the park he played in; in his Rockies’ career, Walker hit .384/.464/.715 at Coors Field, versus .285/.385/.514 elsewhere. But here’s the thing; those road numbers are still excellent. And, even adjusting for ballpark, Walker was still among the league’s best. From 1995 to 2004, Walker had a park-adjusted OPS+ of 147, meaning that he was 47% better than the league average hitter for a period of 10 years. And in terms of another stat that adjusts for park factors, Walker was worth 72.6 bWAR over his career, making him statistically a sure-fire Hall of Famer. You can discount the obscene numbers Walker put up in his 1997 MVP season (in which he hit .366/.452/.710 with a league-leading 49 home runs) as a product of Coors Field. But don’t discount Larry Walker as one of the best to play the game.
Also Wore: N/A
Video Highlight: Walker’s 2000th career hit (6/30/2004 against Milwaukee)
#32 Steve Carlton — number retired by PhilliesHonorable Mentions: Sandy Koufax, Roy Halladay, Dennis Martinez
Teams Played For: St. Louis Cardinals (1965-1971), Philadelphia Phillies (1972-1986), Chicago White Sox (1986), San Francisco Giants (1986), Cleveland Indians (1987), Minnesota Twins (1987-1988)
Career Bio: Everyone knows this statistic, but it’s still one of my favorites; in 1972, Carlton captured the Cy Young Award while pitching for a Phillies team that finished dead last in the National League East. The 1972 Phillies finished with 59 wins. Carlton himself won 27. By himself, Carlton won 46% of the Phillies games that year — and he could have won several more, including a game in which he pitched 10 shutout innings, only to receive a no-decision. Carlton was and is a legend — he is fourth on the all-time list in strikeouts, eleventh in wins, and his mark of four National League Cy Young Awards has been equalled but never topped. He made numerous hitters look foolish, racking up 4,136 career strikeouts through a combination of a blazing fastball and a slider that did this:
Carlton’s dominance on the mound got him elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, with 95.8% of the vote.
Also Wore: #38 while with the Twins, as Dan Gladden was wearing #32
Bonus Reading: Carlton was a little eccentric.
Video Highlight: This awesome montage of Steve Carlton making hitters look foolish
#31 Greg Maddux — number retired by Braves and CubsHonorable Mentions: Fergie Jenkins, Dave Winfield, Chuck Finley
Teams Played For: Chicago Cubs(1986-1992, 2004-2006), Atlanta Braves (1993-2003), Los Angeles Dodgers (2006, 2008), San Diego Padres (2007-2008)
Career Bio: From 1992 to 1995, Greg Maddux led the sport in almost every important pitching category. His WHIP over that time was 0.95 — over a period of four seasons, he allowed fewer than a man an inning to reach base. His ERA was 1.98 — no player over that time period put up a better ERA over the course of a single season. His 202 ERA+ over the four-year stretch is better than all but 16 seasons in baseball history, and two of those (1994 and 1995) are his own. And over the course of those four years, Maddux accumulated 33.2 bWAR, more than three-time all star Jason Schmidt compiled in his 15-year career. But of course, Maddux was more than just those four seasons. Over the course of his career, he had 17 seasons (all consecutive) with 15 or more wins, 355 wins, and 104.6 bWAR on the mound, behind only Clemens and Seaver among pitchers in the Live Ball era. There is little else to say — Greg Maddux may be the best pure pitcher in the history of baseball.
Also Wore: #36 with the Dodgers, #30 with the Padres
Video Highlight: Every single strike Maddux threw in Game 1 of the 1995 World Series, a two-hit complete game victory
#30 Tim Raines — number retired by ExposHonorable Mentions: Willie Randolph, Nolan Ryan, Orlando Cepeda
Teams Played For: Montreal Expos (1979-1990, 2001), Chicago White Sox (1991-1995), New York Yankees (1996-1998), Oakland Athletics (1999), Baltimore Orioles (2001), Florida Marlins (2002)
Career Bio: Tim Raines is likely the second-greatest leadoff hitter in the history of baseball. He has 808 career stolen bases, 5th all time. His .385 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot is 8th all time, and his .813 OPS ranks fourth. He is a 7-time all star who compiled 68.3 bWAR over his career, 7th all time among left fielders. And yet, after being on the ballot for seven years, he is not in the Hall of Fame. Raines played in an era alongside Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, and thus was constantly compared to Henderson and found wanting. He played the prime of his career in another country, far away from the American media that could have made him a household name. And on-base percentage, perhaps Raines’ biggest offensive skill, was tremendously undervalued during the era in which he played. Thus, Raines never truly got the recognition he deserved as one of the biggest stars of his generation. But thankfully, the Hall of Fame still has a chance to rectify this mistake.
Also Wore: #32 in 1979 with the Expos, #31 with the Yankees (#30 had been put out of commission after the retirement of Willie Randolph), #11, briefly, with the Orioles, #32 with the Marlins until the trade of Cliff Floyd (ironically, to the Expos)
Video Highlight: Raines steals his 800th career base, becoming only the fifth player to do so (6/10/1998 with New York against Montreal)