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Lucky 18: Yanks Hope to Lure Japanese Star With Prized Uni Number

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One of the big free agent prizes of this MLB offseason is Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who’s entering the North American market for the first time. Lots of teams are expected to bid for his services this winter, but the Yankees think they have something special that will give them a leg up: the number 18.

Yamamoto wore No. 18 in Japan and is known to favor that number, which is often assigned to the ace of the pitching staff on Japanese teams. And according to Yanks beat reporter Andy Martino, “[T]he Yanks have purposefully held the number 18 for Yamamoto over the past year. … The Yankees intentionally did not give out 18 last season as they were regularly scouting Yamamoto in Japan.”

Obviously, I don’t think Yamamoto (or anyone else) would choose a team based solely on the uni number. But do I think the number could be an intangible, an X factor, a tiebreaker that might make the difference if Yamamoto is trying to choose between two otherwise comparable offers? Sure.

This story got a lot of play in baseball media circles yesterday. But none of the articles I saw mentioned a seemingly obvious point: Sure, it’s nice that the Yanks can offer No. 18 to Yamamoto, but that will only be an advantage for them if no other teams can offer him the same thing. I mean, it’s great to say, “Here, we can give you this bag of magic beans,” but that doesn’t mean much if everyone else is offering their own bag of magic beans.

So what about all the other teams that are hoping to sign Yamamoto? I made a list of clubs that are reported or at least rumored to be interested in him and then checked the status of No. 18 on their respective rosters. Here’s what I found:

  • Cardinals: No. 18 is currently worn by outfielder Jordan Walker.
  • Cubs: No. 18 is unassigned.
  • Diamondbacks: Unassigned.
  • Dodgers: Unassigned.
  • Giants: Unassigned.
  • Mariners: Worn by outfielder Cade Marlowe.
  • Mets: Slated to be retired next year for Darryl Strawberry.
  • Orioles: Worn by manager Brandon Hyde.
  • Padres: Unassigned.
  • Phillies: Worn by outfielder Johan Rojas.
  • Rangers: Unassigned.
  • Red Sox: Unassigned.
  • Tigers: Worn by third baseman Tyler Nevin.

So while the Yankees may be able to offer No. 18 to Yamamoto, they’re hardly alone in that regard. Hell, even the guys who are currently wearing No. 18 could probably be persuaded to give it up if it would help their team sign a world-class pitcher. The only club that really appears to be fucked is the Mets, because they’re planning to take No. 18 out of circulation by retiring it. Dang.

In case you’re wondering, only two other MLB teams have retired No. 18: the Reds (for Big Klu) and the Guardians (for Mel Harder). To my knowledge, though, neither of those teams has been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Yamamoto.



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Comments (44)

    18 is also a special number in Judaism. The Hebrew letters assigned to the numbers 8 and 10 spell “chai,” which means life.


    My recollection is that Wade Boggs used to draw a “חי” in the sand before at-bats. The word (chai) means “life” in Hebrew and has the numerical value in gematria of 18, an auspicious number in any multiple (36 — double chai, etc.).

    When Daisuke Matsuzaka was signed out of Seibu by the Boston Red Sox, his guaranteed #18 was written into his contract. I guess he lost his bargaining power over time because he was #16 for the Mets…which I think was his third team after Boston and Cleveland

    He was signed to the Cleveland orgnization but did not make the final roster. You can find him in Cleveland uniforms pitching in spring training.

    It validates that he was losing his negotiating power by lack of performance and injury history.

    The Yankees are revered in Japan, more than any other MLB team (even the Dodgers who are also hugely popular there). So they already have an edge of getting his attention but even more so with the pitching ace number 18 being available.

    Do a lot of people watch MLB in Japan? MLB night games first pitch is between 9am-12pm in Japan so it’s not like it’s the middle of the night over there. Not dissimilar from Americans who watch European soccer, except that it’s during the week, not sure what the remote work situation is in Japan, 3 years on from COVID. Personally I wish it were easier to watch NPB over here, though that’s on a bit earlier our time.

    JSports3 broadcasts MLB games with an emphasis on Ohtani and the Angels. When I lived in Japan in 1991-92 there were mostly game summaries, usually involving the Yankees and to a lesser extent the Dodgers or the Giants.

    So Good was a venerable and long gone St. Louis brand. Their potato chips were epitomized by a fictional character named Sally So Good, sort of like Betty Crocker:

    Does anyone know exactly why 18 became the designated ace number in Japanese baseball culture? It’s easy to discover from Google that it originated with the Yomiuri Giants dynasty of the 60s and 70s, but that doesn’t explain why they decided to do it with 18 specifically.

    From what I know it is a combination of one and eight, where one is number one (the best) and eight is a good luck number because of the shape in Japanese writing: two slanted strokes that widen at the bottom, meaning being open to good fortune.

    Mets are not “f***ed”. They could simply unretire the number. Also why would any team lose the opportunity to acquire a star player because of a retired number? Except for 42 which is retired by MLB a team could unretire the number if it meant getting a star player.

    Well, it’s not *yet* retired, so if the Mets were to sign Yamamoto, he could still have it.

    And let’s face it — I loved Darryl when he was a Met, but he only wore it from 83-90, and according to the Ultimate Mets Database (link), 35 players have worn #18 for the Mets, and Strawberry was the fourteenth. So more than TWENTY players have worn #18 since Strawberry (including some fairly good ones), so it’s not like they’ve been shy at giving the number out, even after Straw left.

    I don’t have a problem with the Mets retiring #16 and #18 (Doc & Straw), but since it’s not yet retired, I’d also have no problem giving the number to Yamamoto, if he signed and the clincher was promising the number to him. Hopefully Uncle Stevie’s $$$ will be enough to get him to sign, and he’ll honorably take a new number. But if giving him the number is the difference between signing and not signing, then give him the number. Strawberry was a great Met to be sure, but he just about cracks the Top 10. He’s not Seaver or even Piazza (the two Mets who *originally* qualified for number retirement under the old Mets system — which means they were elected to the HOF as Mets).

    But this raises a whole other question: just how important is having a particular number to Yamamoto? I’m sure he’d like to have it, but does he have to have it? Like, would that be a dealbreaker? Do we even know where he actually stands on the matter?

    Paul raises great points about other teams having the number available — whether it’s taken or in use but not retired — but it’s Yamamoto getting #18 actually contingent upon his signing?

    I’d feel more strongly if the Mets hadn’t reassigned #18 to 20+ players since Straw bolted the team via free agency. As far as I’m concerned, if giving #18 to Yamamoto is the final clincher that it takes to sign him, then #18 doesn’t go into the rafters for Darryl. Period. Full stop. But I have my doubts that Yamamoto wouldn’t sign with the Mets solely because he can’t wear #18.

    Just how important is having a particular number to Yamamoto?

    Like I wrote, I can’t imagine that it’s solely determinative, but I think it’s reasonable to think it could be a tiebreaker, an intangible, etc.

    Right. But you, me, and almost everyone else who’ve written about the Yamamoto sweepstakes, are merely speculating. None of us know for sure (and honestly, I don’t think Yamamoto would ever say definitely prior to signing) just how important the number is to him.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love this debate. But until he signs (and is asked about the importance to him of getting #18), it’s all just pure speculation on everyone’s part. The only one(s) who truly know are Yamamoto and probably his agent.

    So the Yankees “declaring” they’re “keeping” (my emphasis) the number open for him is really just about buzz and clicks. Unless and until he makes it known he’d basically *have* to get #18, I’m not worried about the Mets chances. And like I said, if it’s *that* important to him, then give him the number.

    Just to be clear: The Yankees didn’t “declare” anything. Martino (who I generally think of as a reputable reporter) cited “league sources.”

    Personally, I think the story is entirely plausible — not just because Martino is a reputable reporter, but because we all know how superstitious ballplayers are and because I’ve been hearing about Japanese pitchers’ uni-numerical preferences ever since Hideo Nomo came to the Dodgers in the 1990s.

    Speculative? Sure. But plausible? Also sure, at least to me.

    “Speculative? Sure. But plausible? Also sure, at least to me.”

    Both things can be true at the same time. And yes, I too am aware of the importance of numbers to Japanese ballplayers (and to a lesser extent all ballplayers). The “declare” was my wording, not yours or Martino’s.

    But at this point, unless Yamamoto has actually said “I won’t sign with a team if I can’t wear #18” (or conversely, “I’ll sign with any team regardless of whether the number is available”), I don’t want to say the Mets are “fucked” in their pursuit of him.

    YVVM ;)

    I only meant that the Mets are fucked to whatever extent No. 18 matters (which, as you rightly point out, is impossible to know at this point).

    My main point was that the Yankees are hardly alone in having No. 18 available, and that Martino’s story, however plausible, therefore isn’t as simple as he and other media outlets made it seem.

    Are the Mets retiring too many numbers? Are they at risk of becoming the Yankees in that regard?

    I’m not sure what qualifies as “too many.”

    But for most of their history, players had to have been HOFers and gone in with a Mets cap (or, as is the proper parlance, were depicted with a Mets cap on their plaque). So, while Gary Carter had some amazing years with the Mets (too few to be sure), he was enshrined wearing an Expos cap (which I don’t think he wanted). link

    I’m fairly certain he wanted to have an NY on his cap, but the decision was taken out of his hands.

    So, Carter’s #8 is not retired by the Mets (but it would have been had he been elected to the HOF “as a Met”).

    Since the Wilpons sold the franchise to Uncle Stevie, he’s gone against the “HOF w/Met cap” protocol for retiring numbers. Kooz (36), Keith (17) and Mays (24) are all retired numbers, and he plans on retiring 16 (Doc) and 18 (Straw) this coming season. I’m sure Wright will have his #5 retired in the not-too-distant future.

    Is that “too many”? I don’t know. But I think if you’re just going to retire numbers, you could make convincing arguments for a lot of players: Kranepool (or even Reyes) at #7, and what about Orosco or Johnny Franco? What about Carter? And when he finally retires, what about deGrom? Or Cleon Jones? or Tug McGraw? And will Edwin Diaz warrant it? You could make convincing arguments for any of those (or opposing those as well). There are probably several others one could argue for (or against).

    I don’t know when “too many” will happen, but I believe they should establish concrete criteria for number retirement (such as the previous protocol of HOF/Met cap).


    Yankees have too many retired numbers. Should be:

    Now that’s an elite list.

    I don’t like the idea of un-retiring a number. If you’re going to do that just to acquire a star, what meaning did the retirement have in the first place? The only un-retirement I can think of is the Broncos with Peyton Manning. They got Frank Tripucka’s blessing first, in fact he persuaded a reluctant Manning to take it, but I still thought it was a bad look. Ironically, it was #18.

    “I don’t like the idea of un-retiring a number.”

    I had some thoughts about this when the Jets were still in pursuit of signing Aaron Rodgers (link).

    The Mets situation is different — they have not yet retired the number, although they do have plans do so next season. Until it’s retired, they wouldn’t be “unretiring” it for anyone.

    The only thing worse than unretiring a number is letting Every. Single. Player. wear a retired number.

    Technically you’re right, and thanks for calling me on my sloppy usage. However, in my defense, dictionaries are beginning to define it the way I used it, as language evolves. The top return on a google search I just did says: “used to denote a paradoxical, unexpected, or coincidental situation.”

    I’m of the mind that retired means retired.
    Said star player should respect any team that has taken a preferred/’signature’ number out of circulation. Hopefully this isn’t a deal-breaker to acquire Yamamoto, it’s just a perk.
    Unlike Peyton Manning (an 18 as well, he should have left it as Tripucka’s) and Jerry Rice (who may have been duped into reclaiming 80 in Seattle) – wear something else ala Bryce Harper (34 to 3…though I’d argue that retiring the 34 for Halladay was the wrong decision there), Joe Montana (16 to 19…deference made to Dawson’s 16 and Stenerud’s 3), and Aaron Rodgers (12 to 8…even though Namath was OK with un-retiring it).

    I sure love the Can of the Day feature. And it’s not just nostalgia, it’s beautiful graphic design.

    Maybe it’s because I’m feeling pretty burned by a disappointing Yankees season, but how many people actually believe that the Yankees were holding 18 for Yamamoto? I’m not calling Andy Martino a liar, but I do think the Yankees just happened to not give out 18 last year, and then told the press it was intentional. Like if the Yankees had re-signed Andrew Benintendi last winter, would they have asked him to switch numbers? I doubt it.

    Are Mets F’d? I tend to think the opposite. 18 isn’t retired, it is the number of a past beloved franchise-face pitcher, and just imagine the PR bennies of persuading Strawberry to participate in some way, presenting an 18 jersey or making a statement giving his “blessing” to the use of the number with the retirement postponed. That’s an intangible even the Yankees can’t offer. Plus, the flip side of 18 getting retired offers the chance to redefine 81 or 8 or 17/19 or whatever as a distinctive new star-pitcher number for a franchise where 18 is already the pitching acme. It’s all good. Can the Mets figure out a way to turn all that potential goodwill into contract-negotiating poison? Of course! It would be the Metsiest possible thing to do. But assuming competent management, the Mets 18 situation should be all upside here.

    So, to sum up…

    A pitcher who may or may not sign with the Yankees may or may not be subtly influenced by the availability of a uniform number that may or may not have been deliberately held back just in case. And said pitcher may or may not sign with the Mets and may or may not wear a number that may or may not be retired soon.


    If Uncle Stevie offers millions more than the next highest bidder (highly likely), Yamamoto will be a Met…18 or not. Pro athletes are not in the habit of leaving a dollar on the table.

    “Phillies: Worn by outfielder Johan Rojas.”

    18 really should have been taken off the market long ago for John Vukovich…and now that the Phils have relaxed the standard (i.e.: Dick Allen), they really ought to do so.

    As a long time Met fan, I was not in favor of retiring 36 and 24. I am not in favor of retiring 16 and 18. However, being that they just announced they are retiring 18, to now reverse that decision to maybe help sign a player would be an utter disgrace. Retire a number because you feel a player did so much for the franchise that they must be honored forever. Reversing that before the number even goes up would tell me you are just making decisions to make money off it…thinking that signing a potentially good player will make us more money that satisfying older fans who want the number retired. What if they do that and the guy is a total bust? Will they say they changed their minds and retire it after all?

    Maybe Straw is OK waiting a few years for the 18 retirement to see the Mets back in the WS…
    (no, its not the fall classic….at least until there’s a patch) : -}

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