On April 16, 1929, the Cleveland Indians open the season with numbers on the back of each player’s jersey, the first Major League Baseball team to do so. The numbers make it easier for scorekeepers, broadcasters and fans to identify players. Cleveland wins the game against the Detroit Tigers in 11 innings, 5-4.
The New York Yankees, who had won the World Series in 1927 and 1928, were supposed to debut jersey numbers the same day, but their opener was rained out. Thus fans waited another day to see two of baseball’s greatest players—Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig—sport jersey numbers 3 and 4, which would become famous. Those numbers corresponded with the sluggers’ spots in the batting order.
Cleveland, which changed its name to Guardians in 2021, experimented with numbers on the sleeves of jerseys for a few weeks in 1916.
In 1923, the St. Louis Cardinals also tried sleeve numbers, but found the practice had a negative impact on team morale. “Because of the continuing embarrassment to the players, the numbers were removed,” manager Branch Rickey said.
The Cardinals finished fifth in the National League that season with a 79-74 record.
By the 1937 season, every MLB team had numbers on the backs of jerseys. In 1960, the White Sox were the first team to put names on the back of their jerseys. The Yankees remain the only team without names on the back of jerseys.