Monroeville author tells Pirates’ stories ‘By the Numbers’
Just about everything you could want to know about a baseball player’s performance can be quantified and measured.
FIP, WHIP, LIPS, VORP, BsR, wRC+, wOBA — take your pick. All are acronyms for advanced statistics used to evaluate today’s players.
But the numbers Pittsburgh author and Pirates historian David Finoli of Monroeville appreciates the most can simply be found on the backs of players.
In his latest book, “Pirates By the Numbers: A Complete Team History of the Bucs by Uniform Number,” Finoli chronicles each player to wear the franchise’s 81 jersey numbers — from Junior Ortiz at 0 to Joe Beimel at 97.
Finoli, who has written 20 sports books, including “The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia,” says this book, released in April, was an opportunity for him to tell lesser-known tales of Pirates history by highlighting the best, worst and most interesting players to sport each number.
“I thought this could be a neat way to tell the Pirates’ story and maybe some of the players who you don’t read as much about,” Finoli says. “It’s probably been the most fun I’ve had doing a book.”
Baseball teams began placing numbers on their jerseys in 1929, when the New York Yankees assigned each player a number that corresponded with his position in the batting order. Babe Ruth, for example, wore No. 3 because he batted third in the order in front of Lou Gehrig, who wore No. 4.
When the Pirates introduced uniform numbers three years later, the announcement was deemed so insignificant that it became upstaged by the franchise’s first “ladies day” at the ballpark.
Since that time, uniform numbers have taken on more cultural significance.
“As a kid, when you pick your number for Little League or anything, you do it to identify one of your heroes,” Finoli says.
In Pittsburgh, most associate 21 with the revered Roberto Clemente. But there’s often more significance to a number than many fans realize, Finoli says.
Clemente was not the only Hall of Famer to wear 21 for the Pirates. Shortstop Arky Vaughan, who went to nine consecutive All-Star games from 1934 to 1942, also wore the number. Like Clemente, Vaughan died a premature death while trying to help others when he attempted to save a friend after his fishing boat capsized, Finoli says.
The book is available at bookstores and online.
Matthew Zabierek is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7893 or [email protected].