Brandon Phillips and the historical significance of No. 0

"I asked, 'What is the weirdest number you have in there?'"

Brandon Phillips wearing No. 0 for the Red Sox.
Brandon Phillips, wearing No. 0 for the Red Sox, playing against the Atlanta Braves. –Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For a team that’s existed for over a century, “firsts” are an unusual occurrence at this point.

Yet the Red Sox experienced one recently with the call-up of infielder Brandon Phillips. The 37-year-old, who last played at a Major League level for the Angels in 2017 and has been in Boston’s minor leagues since signing in June, was forced to confront a numerical predicament.

As Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe pointed out, Phillips’s usual No. 4 jersey was retired by the Red Sox in honor of team legend Joe Cronin. The other option from earlier in his career, No. 7, is currently worn by Christian Vasquez.

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Given the lack of an obvious choice, Phillips made an odd request to Red Sox equipment manager Tom McLaughlin.

“I asked, ‘What is the weirdest number you have in there?'”

McLaughlin made a fascinating decision. Phillips would wear a number that no Red Sox player has ever worn before: 0.

The Red Sox first began wearing numbers on their jerseys in 1931. Since that time, numerous numbers have been added to the all-time list. The most recent example came in 2015, when Dalier Hinojosa donned No. 94. This was also the highest number ever worn by a Red Sox player.

Other “firsts” in number selection have similarly revolved around higher numbers (though no Red Sox player has officially worn a triple-digit number).

In a way, this makes Phillips’s number even more notable. Other than No. 00, which has also never been worn by a Red Sox player, he’s pulled the ultimate zig to everyone else’s zag.

Numbers 1-12 were worn immediately by Red Sox players starting in 1931. Interestingly, No. 13 wasn’t worn until 1933, and the number – stereotypically associated with bad luck – has been conspicuously underutilized over the years (just 17 players have worn it, including Alex Cora from 2006-2008, compared with the 49 players who have worn No. 12).

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In other Boston sports, zero has been hit-or-miss. The Celtics retired No. 00 following Robert Parish’s career, and have the most prominent history with No. 0. Eric Montross became the first Celtic to wear it in 1995, followed by Walter McCarty, Orien Greene, Leon Powe, Avery Bradley and (currently) Jayson Tatum.

As for the Bruins, Patriots, and Revolution, no player has ever worn zero. Both the NHL and NFL have prohibited its usage.