MLB Countdown to Opening Day: #81
The MLB season isn’t terribly far away. We have reached a new year with new possibilities and pitchers and catchers report in a little over a month. We have the World Baseball Classic to look forward to before long, as well as spring training games. The wait for the regular season is going to feel a whole lot shorter in just a couple of weeks. But we’re still 81 days away from Sunday, April 2, so we wanted to take a look at some of the players to don the number 81.
There have been three MLB players to wear the number 81 in baseball history according to Baseball Reference, and Eddie Guardado is easily the most recognizable name on the list. After being referred to as “Every Day Eddie” during his time in Minnesota, Guardado signed with the Mariners during the winter of 2003, who then traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in July of 2006.
With the Twins, Guardado had worn the number 18, but because Cincinnati had retired the number in honor of Ted Kluszewski (4-time All-Star with the Reds from ’53-’56), Eddie simply reversed the numbers and went with 81. On those Reds teams in 2006 and 2007, Guardado shared the field with Ken Griffey Jr., a 23-year-old Edwin Encarnacion, a not-so-old David Ross, Adam Dunn, Brett Phillips, Rich Aurilia, Bronson Arroyo, and one of the subjects of “The Arm” Todd Coffey.
In his two seasons with the Reds, a mid-30s Guardado only appeared in 30 games and compiled a 4.23 ERA in 27 2/3 innings.
Lucier broke into MLB wearing number 15 in 1943, then later wore number 81 that same year. The 5’8″ 160 pound right-hander from Massachusetts tossed 74 innings that year and held a 3.89 ERA (3.38 FIP). The 74 innings would prove to be a career high for Lucier, who managed three more appearances for the Sox in ’44 before ending up with the Philadelphia Phillies. On June 13 of 1945 Lucier would pitch his final game at the age of 27. Chronic shoulder pain had done him in. Lucier passed away in 2014 at the age of 96.
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Diggins also had a brief career in the bigs, appearing in five games with the Brewers in 2002. He was drafted three times in his career. The first time came in the first round by the St. Louis Cardinals at 32nd overall in 1998. He declined to sign, and was selected 17th overall by the Dodgers just two years later. Los Angeles traded Diggins and Shane Nance to Milwaukee for Tyler Houston and Brian Mallette in 2002. The right-hander made his debut in September of that year, starting five games and coming out with four losses and a 8.63 ERA.
Diggins was selected by the Houston Astros in the Rule 5 Draft in 2005 and was released by the club in April of that year.
In 1981, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat out the New York Yankees for the World Series in a strike-shortened season, but to add even more terrible connections to the number 81, all we have to do is mention Blue Monday. That is the day that the Montreal Expos lost a heartbreaker to the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS in what would turn out to be their only postseason appearance as the Expos.
So what have we learned about the number 81? It’s not really a number that you want to be associated with. Players will be wearing the number in spring training games in just a few weeks, and there will be no getting around that, but at the big league level, pick any other number.