I Do Not Envy Jeremy Guthrie’s Decision
Before Tampa Bay had a team, I was an Orioles fan. I know that might be a shock to some considering Atlanta is closer than Baltimore to Tampa Bay, but I fell in love with this team even before they held their Spring Trainings in St. Petersburg. It was a utter shock today to hear of the passing of O’s pitching great Mike Flanagan.
In Baltimore today there began a buzz as to whether current O’s starter Jeremy Guthrie will change his number before the next Baltimore contest as a visual homage to the Oriole Hall of Fame member. Some have speculated that Guthrie will change his number out of respect for the O’s heritage that Flanagan embodies, while others feel it might be a living monument and homage to Flanagan if Guthrie still wore the 46.
This brings about an interesting scenario that the Tampa Bay Rays have not encountered before. With Wade Bogg’s number already retired, this same scenario would not play out of something happened to the Rays early legend. Now I am not predicting, or even trying to be glib here, but what if something happened to someone who has been vital to the Rays cause, would we want the number to be honored, or worn as a visual testament to their past glories.
There are two sides to this coin, and neither is totally foreign or void from the legacy of this game. Every year the entire MLB family pays homage to Jackie Robinson on his special day, with individuals and teams collectively wearing his 42 for that day. Only one player, New York Yankee RP Mariano Rivera wears it daily more as a reminder of Robinson’s greatness and inspiration than out of defiance.
Patches adorn the shoulder of many teams this season to show their love, respect and admiration of fallen baseball legends and heroes who have taken that last jog around the base paths and ascended above. We have seen immortals like Bob Feller and Duke Snider leave us in 2011, their legacy proudly adorns their former teams uniforms nightly.
Recently there was a hard and heated debate in Pittsburgh when Pirates young outfielder Jose Tabata wanted to wear Roberto Clemente’s number on his birthday as a celebration of his life, not a defamation of his legacy. The event never transpired beyond the talking stage, but could there possibly be a reason in the future to condone such actions, relive the past with glory and remembrance of feats of marvel.
With some lofty names of our baseball past, this thought of desecration by wearing their uniform numbers will always be met with shock and vicious candor. Some names do warrant such immortal reverence and retirement for they were the builders of this game and should forever have that honor. This is a touchy emotional issue that each of us has to decide for ourselves the answer.
I am not trying to be glib here, but if something happened to a member of the Rays family, past or present, would I want their number stricken from the Rays rolls. This is a hard decision, and one I am glad we have not had to make so far in this team’s history. But in all honesty, it is coming.
With this team gaining National celebrity and even becoming noticed far and wide for their past and present, one day we will all have to answer this same question in regards to a fallen Rays player. I propose this, let it be decided by the family. Let that emotional decision and visual memory be forged by the loved ones left behind.
Some would embrace a star prospect wearing the number, others would want it sheltered and hidden until the pain subsides. I do not envy Guthrie in this endeavor, but I do wish him guidance and wisdom in this process. Myself, I would surrender the number so it can be displayed and cherished for the rest of 2011, then let the powers that be decide its fate before the Spring of 2012.
For some it is just a number, for others it is a symbol of more than just thread and material. As this issue is being debated far and wide throughout the Baltimore region I hope people here in St. Petersburg remember Flanagan for his time spent in our community. The Orioles have long since left St. Petersburg, currently Spring residents in the Tampa Bay community of Sarasota.
No matter what Guthrie decides over the next few days, I know it will be a thought out and emotional decision. Do you wear a person’s number as a living legacy of their life and career, or surrender it as a symbol of remembrance and homage. This decision will not come easy, and it will not come without opinions either way. It is a incredibly complex and pointed move to be made by one person that will effect so many.
It is always a shame to see one of our childhood heroes, and men who have graced the mound finally leave us, even without a chance to say farewell. But that is one thing I have always loved about this game. It embraces and celebrates its heroes, past and present with a lusty zeal for life.
Tampa Bay has never had to make this decision, but hopefully when the day comes this Rays franchise will cherish the fates, actions and memory of their fallen. Godspeed Flanny, I know I am going to miss you.