THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Players are looking out for No. 1 - or 2, or 11, or 51

Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, once No. 46, was always circling around No. 2 - now he has it. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, once No. 46, was always circling around No. 2 - now he has it. (Barry Chin/ Globe Staff)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / February 28, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Thirty years ago, the Yankees had a young shortstop prospect named Andre Robertson who arrived at the big league clubhouse and asked if he could wear No. 3.

It was taken. Retired by some guy named Ruth.

Pete Sheehy, the guy who issued Yankee numbers starting in 1927, was still working with the Bronx Bombers when Robertson asked about 3. Sheehy was not amused. Robertson broke into the majors wearing No. 55 for the Yankees. He later upgraded/downsized to 18.

Numbers are no small deal for big league ballplayers. Jim Leyritz asked for No. 113 when he came to the Red Sox. Darren Bragg wore No. 56 because he liked Lawrence Taylor. John Valentin always liked 13. Mike Lowell has been a good fit for 25 even though a lot of us think the number should have been retired in honor of the late Tony Conigliaro.

Three Sox players have changed numbers this year, and we’re happy to report that this is not another club ploy to gouge fans by selling more scorecards.

Jacoby Ellsbury has gone from 46 to 2.

Clay Buchholz has gone from 61 to 11.

Daniel Bard has gone from 60 to 51.

Oh, and batting coach Dave Magadan gave his old No. 29 to Adrian Beltre. Magadan will wear 28.

Terry Francona still will be wearing No. 47 (Bruce Hurst’s old number), but nobody will know because Tito is always wearing the Valvoline-oil-changing red top over his uniform jersey.

Since no topic involving the Red Sox is ever too trivial, I set my sights on the young guys with the new numbers and asked for their stories.

“I’d always wanted No. 2,’’ said Ellsbury: “I’d asked for it when I got called up, but I didn’t realize it was Millsie’s [bench coach Brad Mills’s] number. Sometimes you can buy it from a guy or trade for it. That’s how it’s always been in baseball. It’s his number. Every year I’d ask for it again. Nothing. Again. Nothing.

“I told Pookie [assistant equipment manager Edward “Pookie’’ Jackson], if the number ever became available, I wanted it. He said, ‘There’s other numbers available,’ and I said, ‘No, it’s either 46 or 2.’

“So when I found out Millsie got the promotion [manager of the Astros], I called Pookie and he said it was already taken care of.’’

Ellsbury wore No. 2 in high school and again when he played for the Portland Sea Dogs. He wore 23 in college because a fifth-year senior had No. 2 at Oregon State.

The Sox issued Ellsbury No. 46 (made famous by Bob Stanley) when he came to the bigs late in the 2007 season. It looked a little goofy for a center fielder, but Ellsbury figured 46 was OK because it was double 23.

“I liked it,’’ he said. “It won me a world championship. But I think 2 fits me a little better.’’

Buchholz always looked goofy wearing No. 61 (also worn by Bronson Arroyo). He’s not much of an offensive lineman. No. 11 is an odd number for a starting pitcher, but it certainly suits Buchholz’s narrow frame.

“I had 11 when I was 8 years old and never had a different number,’’ said Buchholz. “I had it all the way through high school and college and the first two full seasons in the minor leagues.

“Sixty-one was what they gave me when I came up my first time. It was in my locker and it wasn’t my spot to say, ‘Yeah, I don’t want that number.’ So I took it and ran with it and it was good for a couple of years, but I’m trying to get back to the roots.’’

There was another option for Buchholz this year. His dad wore 21 when he pitched. Clay is a Texan. And No. 21 has not been issued by the Red Sox since Roger Clemens rode out of town.

“That would have caused me to answer a lot of questions,’’ Buchholz said. “I didn’t want a lot of the added stress that came with that number.’’

According to Joe Cochran, the equipment manager who signs off on the numbers, 21 was almost given to Marty Cordova in spring training a few years ago, but the outfielder declined. For the record, Tex Hughson and Ray Culp, other hurlers from the Lone Star State, also wore 21.

Bard is the third young Sox star with a new number.

“Sixty has no character,’’ said the tall righty. “It was given to me and I probably would have changed it earlier if I could.

“I’m not really superstitious, I just want something that looks good on your back. That’s all I care about. Fifty-one. No history. I figure a reliever has got to be over 35 at least. I had 25 in college. Here that was taken by Mikey.’’

“All three of them are good kids,’’ Cochran said. “These new numbers are available. You want them to be as happy as you can.’’

And nobody has asked for No. 9.

Yet.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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