Which Nationals will be worthy of number retirement?

There are, as you know, 30 major league clubs. But did you know only one of those clubs has never retired the jersey number of a player or manager who wore its uniform?

Yep, it's the Nationals.

The Nats, of course, have retired No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, same as every MLB franchise. But they have not retired the number of anyone who actually played for them. Which is understandable, given the fact they've only existed for 17 seasons and every other MLB franchise has existed for at least 24 seasons.

Before we go any further, let's acknowledge the Expos retired three jersey numbers during their history: No. 8 (Gary Carter), No. 10 (Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson) and No. 30 (Tim Raines). The Nationals, though, did not carry those retirements over when the franchise relocated in 2005.

But it's safe to say they're not going to be the lone holdouts in this regard for much longer. Ryan Zimmerman's retirement announcement last week all but ensured we're going to see a No. 11 jersey unveiled somewhere around Nationals Park in the near future, perhaps as soon as this year.

Thumbnail image for Zimmerman-WS-HR-Blue-G1-Sidebar.jpgZimmerman is a worthy choice for the club's first number retirement. He was the first player drafted by the Nats. He played 16 seasons for them. He owns nearly every notable offensive franchise record (Expos and Nationals). He was the face of the franchise.

If you don't think he deserves to have his number retired, you've got some awfully strict personal standards for number retirements.

But that does raise an intriguing question: What does make someone worthy of this ultimate honor? And who else in Nationals history (past or current) could have a case to someday join Zimmerman in the rafters?

Let's start by pointing out every franchise has its own standard for such things. Some insist a player or manager must be in the Hall of Fame to have his number retired. Some have chosen to honor players who spent only a handful of years wearing their jersey.

Some longstanding franchises with more than a century's worth of history have retired only a few numbers. The Athletics have done it for only five players: Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley. The Cubs have only six retired numbers: Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, Greg Maddux and Ferguson Jenkins (and until 2003, only Banks and Williams had received the honor).

On the other hand, some franchises that haven't been around as long have retired a boatload of numbers. The Astros, born in 1962, have nine retired jerseys: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jimmy Wynn, José Cruz, Jim Umbricht, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Don Wilson and Larry Dierker.

And then there are the Yankees, who on Tuesday announced they will retire Paul O'Neill's No. 21 this summer, making the former right fielder the franchise's 23rd player to receive the honor. The Bronx Bombers have already retired every number from 1 through 10 and may have no choice but to someday become the first MLB club to dress someone in a jersey with triple digits on the back.

Traditionally, you'd say a player or manager gets his number retired by excelling in at least one of three departments (preferably more than one):

1. Longevity
2. Dominance
3. Contribution to major team success

Zimmerman arguably checks off all three boxes, though his longevity stands out more than his dominance. But based on those criteria, there are several other former and current Nationals who could have a case as well in the coming years.

Max Scherzer certainly dominated and contributed to major team success. His 6 2/3 seasons in D.C. don't come anywhere close to matching Zimmerman in terms of longevity, but that's still a long period of time to have played here. There shouldn't be much argument about No. 31 being retired some day.

Stephen Strasburg will have the longevity; at the end of his current contract, he'll have spent 17 seasons with the Nationals. His dominance has come and gone, but there's probably enough there, most notably his dominance in October, which played a huge role in the team's postseason success. It's hard to imagine anyone else ever wearing No. 37.

Now it starts to get trickier.

Bryce Harper won a Rookie of the Year and MVP award as a National. He played seven seasons in the District and unquestionably was a star. But he wasn't a part of the roster that finally exorcised its postseason demons, and then he went and signed a 13-year contract with a hated division rival. It's also worth noting that after keeping No. 34 out of service for two seasons, the Nats gave it to Jon Lester last year.

Anthony Rendon also was a star for seven seasons with the franchise that made him a first-round pick. And he was as integral as anybody in winning the Nationals' first World Series title. But then he left for a $245 million deal with the Angels, leaving him in that murky area. Also worth noting: Though nobody wore No. 6 in 2020, it was given to Alex Avila in 2021.

Trea Turner? Great player, and certainly a big part of the 2019 championship. But he wound up playing only 5 1/2 seasons here, which feels a little too low to merit a jersey retirement.

Which brings us to Juan Soto. There's no doubt he's already putting together the kind of performance worthy of the ultimate honor. But let's remember he's only been here four seasons so far. And though he's under club control through his seventh big league season, there's no guarantee what happens after that. If the Nationals are able to lock him up long-term, Soto's No. 22 is probably a lock to be retired. If they aren't ... well, that could get interesting.

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