Lindsay Whalen and Joe Mauer both deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments.
Whalen has earned herself a spot in any conversation about legends of Minnesota basketball. She put Golden Gopher women’s basketball back on the map, leading the program to its first and only NCAA Final Four appearance, then established herself as one of the greatest women’s professional players of all time in the WNBA.
She ended her playing career with four league championships in nine seasons with the Lynx and now coaches at her college alma mater.
My personal feelings about his career aside, Mauer also deserves to be honored. Like Whalen, he’s a Minnesota legend, and he was one of Major League Baseball’s greatest catchers of all time before injuries forced him to change positions.
Mauer was a three-time batting champion, a five-time Silver Slugger, a three-time Gold Glover and an MVP.
Now that we’ve got their bona fides out of the way, I’ll get to the point. By June 15, both Whalen and Mauer will have their jersey numbers retired, a practice I steadfastly disagree with.
With Whalen it’s a little bit different. Minnesota’s WNBA franchise has only been around for 20 seasons and Whalen will be the first-ever Lynx player to have her jersey put up in the rafters of Target Center.
That’s kind of a cool milestone and if anyone deserves it, it’s Lindsay Whalen. But in the coming years her #13 is likely to be joined by the retired numbers of Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson.
That’s what happens when you’ve had the kind of success the Lynx have had, but boom, all of a sudden that’s five numbers you’ve got up in the rafters.
The Minnesota Twins have obviously been around a lot longer and have retired seven jersey numbers, including #3 (Harmon Killebrew), #34 (Kirby Puckett) and #10 (Tom Kelly). Mauer’s #7 will be the eighth retired.
Why do I dislike retiring numbers so much? Mainly because there are already other ways to recognize the greatest players in franchise history.
The Twins, for example, have their own Hall of Fame. And while it’s been watered down somewhat by inducting the likes of Greg Gagne and Michael Cuddyer, the Twins Hall of Fame is where you find all of the team’s greats -- players, managers, announcers, whatever.
Let’s look at football for a second. Every year the NFL offseason comes around and some young Minnesota Vikings player who may or may not make the roster is given #84, and fans complain because Randy Moss’ number is still in use.
Why hasn’t it been retired? Probably because the Vikings are running low on numbers. Moss’ 84 would join Cris Carter’s 80 and Alan Page’s 88 in the rafters. The NFL has rules on what number a player can wear. A wide receiver can’t just say okay, I’ll take No. 43.
Moss was deservedly inducted into the Vikings Legends Ring of Honor in 2017 alongside the likes of Bud Grant, Fran Tarkenton, Chris Doleman and the late Korey Stringer. Isn’t that recognition enough?
Jackie Robinson and Wayne Gretzky had their numbers retired league-wide, and that’s fine. They weren’t just legendary players; they were cultural icons. But at some point necessity will force sports teams to rethink the practice of retiring numbers, so it might be wise to just end it now.
Mike Hautamaki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.