So, there’s a TV show on MLB Network called Prime 9, in which they describe the nine best of something. But my brain, in its never ending quests for lame puns and useless knowledge, thought, “hey! I know another definition for the word ‘prime’!'” That is, of course, an integer which has only one and itself as multiples. Since it has been quite a few years since most of us were in pre-algebra, I’ll provide a gentle reminder that 1 is actually not a prime number (and neither is nine, obviously, but…), because its only multiple is 1, which is also itself. But there are still plenty of primes, like 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31… what was I saying again?
Oh right, prime numbers all-stars. The premise is simple. I pick the best Reds team that wore uniform numbers that are prime, one for each position. It wasn’t that bad, but of course, we’re restricted because uniform numbers haven’t always been a thing, and the Reds only picked up on the trend in the 1930s, so many of the Reds historical bests are left out entirely. (Uniform numbers are first listed on baseball-reference for the 1932 Reds team.)
Pitcher – Bucky Walters: Walters wore 31 from 1939 to 1946, edging out Joe Nuxhall who only switched to the prime 41 when he returned to the Reds in 1962. Walter won the pitching triple crown and NL MVP wearing his prime number of 31 in 1939. 1939 is actually not prime, because it is 7 *277. Dang, so close.
Catcher – Johnny Bench: Johnny wearing #5 was perhaps the most obvious choice on this list. Who could beat that? Ernie Lombardi wearing 97? Still no. Bench is the Reds best catcher ever, prime or otherwise.
First Base – Hal Morris: I had to pull in a bit of a judgment call here as well. Frank McCormick was a better Reds first baseman based on total WAR, but he only wore a prime number for one season – 1938. Morris, on the other hand, wore #23 from ’90 to ’97, and again briefly in 2000, for which I judged him a primer Reds first baseman than McCormick.
Second Base - Lonny Frey: Frey was also something of a straightforward choice. Joe Morgan’s #8 is obviously not a candidate, and most of the other top candidates pre-dated uniform numbers (Bid McPhee, for example). Frey actually wore two different prime numbers for the Reds – #47 in 1938, and #11 in 1939-1943, 1946.
Third Base - Chris Sabo: Rec-specs himself wore #17 for most of his baseball career, and all of the six seasons he spent with the Reds. He’s not the most exciting player on this list, but he’s probably not the least exciting either, and the Reds don’t have a strong history of awesome third basemen, anyway. In a nearly irrelevant happenstance, ‘Sabo’ kind of looks like ‘saba’ which is Swahili for seven. AND SEVEN IS A PRIME NUMBER. I think I just proved the existence of God. Or maybe the remains of a computerized space probe that collided with God.
Shortstop - Barry Larkin: In a prime number sense, we have a bit of an embarrassment of riches at the shortstop position. It hurt me a little to leave Davey Concepcion’s Lucky 13 off of the list, but Larkin’s career has the edge. I mean, he is in the Hall of Fame. Barry’s the second #11 on this list, but he’s first in our hearts (no offense to the Frey fanatics out there). I’m also going to pretend the two seasons he spent wearing # 15 just didn’t happen.
Left Field - Wally Post: The entire prime outfield is wear things start to get sketchy. We’ve had great outfielders. Not many of them have worn prime numbers. Post actually spent most of his time in right field, but as a prime-number-wearer between 1960 and 1963, Post played as much left field as right, which counts for this list because I say so. He didn’t exactly play a lot during that time frame, but his uniform number was totally prime, so… there you go.
Center Field - Ken Griffey Jr.: I know I’m probably starting to get some side-eyes here, but hear me out. Center Field’s not a great position for the Reds franchise. Eric Davis didn’t wear a prime number. Neither did Vada Pinson. Edd Roush was pre-number. KGJ is not a good selection for centerfield, I mean, he only started wearing the prime #3 in 2006, and that was his last season before switching over to Right Field most of the time. But there weren’t a lot of options. I mean, when you start bemoaning the fact that Drew Stubbs wears the non-prime number 6, you know you’re pretty desperate.
Right Field – Tommy Harper: Harper also is not a great fit for this position, but he did play a significant amount of right field for the Reds in 1963-1967, the seasons he wore #17. He also wasn’t great, but like I said, the pickings were slim. It was either this or a single season Ival Goodman played in a prime number. (Or the last two years of Junior’s Reds career, had I not already picked him for center). On the other hand, Tommy Harper ended up with 1609 career hits, and 1609 is a prime number.
In conclusion, this was an exciting journey into over-literalism, and I’m glad I got to share it with you, my lovely reader.