At a news conference after his 2004 trade to the Redskins, running back Clinton Portis was given a burgundy-and-gold jersey with the number 26 that he’d worn in Denver. One problem: That number belonged to third-year Redskins safety Ifeanyi Ohalete.
Portis agreed to pay Ohalete $40,000 for rights to the number. But then the team cut Ohalete and he filed suit against Portis, claiming that his ex-teammate still owed him $20,000. The players worked out a settlement after a year of wrangling and only a day before the case was to go to trial.
Such a tempest isn’t surprising given what athletes invest in the numbers on their backs. Wizard Gilbert Arenas uses his number as a source of motivation: Zero, critics wrongly predicted, was the number of minutes Arenas would play his freshman year at the University of Arizona. Alex Ovechkin’s number on his Capitals sweater serves as tribute to his mother, who wore number 8 while leading the Soviet Union’s basketball team to Olympic gold in 1976 and 1980.
Chamique Holdsclaw wore number 23 as a Mystic—not because she wanted to be like Michael Jordan but as a reminder of the 23rd Psalm, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Gheorghe Muresan was not so spiritual: The center wore 77 because he, the tallest player in NBA history, stood seven-foot-seven.
Who was the greatest professional athlete in Washington to wear each jersey number? Our list includes players from the Baltimore Orioles, the area’s only professional baseball team from 1972 through 2004; the Homestead Grays, a Negro League team that regularly played home games at Griffith Stadium in the 1930s and ’40s; and the Baltimore and Washington Bullets, precursors to the Washington Wizards. We considered athletes’ impact, their individual and team success, how long they played here, and their career as a whole.
With some jersey numbers, we struggled to find even one player who rated as “great.” But so many terrific athletes shared some other numbers that we named a few honorable mentions (HM).
00—Bobo Newsom, Senators pitcher (1935–37, 1942, 1943, 1946–47, 1952). HM: Steve Bagarus, Redskins running back (1945–46, 1948); Kevin Duckworth, Bullets center (1993–95).
0—Gilbert Arenas, Wizards guard (2003–present). HM: Johnny Olszewski, Redskins running back (1958–60).
1—Buddy Myer, Senators second baseman (1925–27, 1929–41). HM: Eddie Yost, Senators third baseman (1944, 1946–58); Al Bumbry, Orioles outfielder (1972–84); George Case, Senators outfielder (1937–45, 1947); Brian Roberts, Orioles second baseman (2001–present); Rod Strickland, Bullets/Wizards guard (1996–2001); Gus Williams, Bullets guard (1984–86); Bob Boyd, Orioles first baseman (1956–60).
2—Buddy Lewis, Senators third baseman (1935–41, 1945–47, 1949). HM: Roy Sievers, Senators outfielder (1954–59, 1964–65); Mitch Richmond, Wizards guard (1998–2001); Ken McMullen, Senators third baseman (1965–70); Stan Spence, Senators outfielder (1942–44, 1946–47); Ken Klee, Capitals defender (1995–2003); Mark McLemore, Orioles second baseman (1992–94); Mark Simpson, DC United goalkeeper (1996–2001).
3—Mickey Vernon, Senators first baseman (1939–43, 1946–48, 1950–55). HM: Scott Stevens, Capitals defender (1982–90); Mark Moseley, Redskins kicker (1974–86); Heinie Manush, Senators outfielder (1930–35); Bobby Grich, Orioles second baseman (1970–76); Harmon Killebrew, Senators third baseman (1954–60); Harold Baines, Orioles designated hitter (1993–95, 1997–99, 2000); Caron Butler, Wizards forward (2005–present).
4—Joe Cronin, Senators shortstop (1928–34). HM: Kevin Hatcher, Capitals defender (1984–94); Mike Bragg, Redskins punter (1968–79); Moses Malone, Bullets center (1986–88); Antawn Jamison, Wizards forward (2004–present); Chris Webber, Bullets/Wizards forward (1994–98); Jim Gentile, Orioles first baseman (1960–63); Bob Nieman, Orioles outfielder (1956–59).
5—Brooks Robinson, Orioles third baseman (1955–77). HM: Rod Langway, Capitals defender (1982–93); Goose Goslin, Senators outfielder (1921–30, 1933, 1938); Cecil Travis, Senators infielder (1933–41, 1945–47); Joe Kuhel, Senators first baseman (1930–37, 1944–46); Pete Runnels, Senators shortstop (1951–57); Juwan Howard, Bullets/Wizards forward (1994–2001); Darrell Walker, Bullets guard (1987–91).
6—Joe Judge, Senators first baseman (1915–32). HM: Calle Johansson, Capitals defender (1989–2003); Paul Blair, Orioles outfielder (1964–76); Melvin Mora, Orioles third baseman (2000–present); Mike Riordan, Bullets forward (1971–77); John Harkes, DC United midfielder (1996–98); John Stone, Senators outfielder (1934–38); Joe Orsulak, Orioles outfielder (1988–92).
7—Joe Theismann, Redskins quarterback (1974–85). HM: Ossie Bluege, Senators third baseman (1922–39); Yvon Labre, Capitals defender (1974–81); Mark Belanger, Orioles shortstop (1965–81); Jerry Adair, Orioles second baseman (1958–66); Ryan Nelsen, DC United defender (2001–04); Jim Busby, Senators/Orioles outfielder (1952–55, 1957–58, 1960–61).
8—Cal Ripken, Orioles shortstop (1981–2001). HM: Alex Ovechkin, Capitals forward (2005–present); Walt Bellamy, Bullets center (1963–65); Rick Ferrell, Senators catcher (1937–41, 1944–45, 1947); Larry Murphy, Capitals defender (1983–89); Chip Lohmiller, Redskins kicker (1988–94); Andy Etchebarren, Orioles catcher (1962, 1965–75); Dmitiri Khristich, Capitals forward (1990–95, 2000–02).
9—Sonny Jurgensen, Redskins quarterback (1964–74). HM: Frank Howard, Senators outfielder (1965–71); Mia Hamm, Freedom forward (2001–03); Ryan Walter, Capitals forward (1978–82); Brady Anderson, Orioles outfielder (1988–2001); Don Buford, Orioles outfielder (1968–72); Dainius Zubrus, Capitals forward (2001–07); Garnet Bailey, Capitals forward (1975–78).
10—Earl Monroe, Bullets guard (1967–71). HM: Marco Etcheverry, DC United midfielder (1996–2003); Bob Dandridge, Bullets forward (1977–81); Kelly Miller, Capitals forward (1987–99); Ellie Hendricks, Orioles catcher (1968–72, 1973–76, 1978–79); Bob Carpenter, Capitals forward (1981–87, 1992–93); Miguel Tejada, Orioles shortstop (2004–07); Don Ohl, Bullets guard (1964–68).
11—Elvin Hayes, Bullets forward (1972–81). HM: Mike Gartner, Capitals forward (1979–89); Mark Rypien, Redskins quarterback (1987–93); Early Wynn, Senators pitcher (1939, 1941–44, 1946–48); Doug DeCinces, Orioles third baseman (1973–81); Gus Triandos, Orioles catcher (1955–62); Luis Aparicio, Orioles shortstop (1963–67); Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals third baseman (2005–present).
12—Peter Bondra, Capitals forward (1990–2004). HM: Firpo Marberry, Senators pitcher (1923–32, 1936); Jeff Agoos, DC United defender (1996–2000); Roberto Alomar, Orioles second baseman (1996–98); Alvin Crowder, Senators pitcher (1926–27, 1930–34); Mike Devereaux, Orioles outfielder (1989–94, 1996); Tommy Davis, Orioles designated hitter (1972–75); Gus Frerotte, Redskins quarterback (1994–98).
13—Steve Barber, Orioles pitcher (1960–67). HM: Andrei Nikolishin, Capitals forward (1996–2002); Ed Justice, Redskins receiver (1937–42); Doyle Alexander, Orioles pitcher (1972–76).
14—Eddie LeBaron, Redskins quarterback (1952–53, 1955–59). HM: Ben Olsen, DC United midfielder (1998–present); Lee May, Orioles designated hitter (1975–80); Mike Bordick, Orioles shortstop (1997–2000, 2001–02); Gaetan Duchesne, Capitals forward (1981–87); Tom Henderson, Bullets guard (1977–79); Mickey Tettleton, Orioles catcher (1988–90); Gene Woodling, Orioles/Senators outfielder (1955, 1958–62).
15—Davey Johnson, Orioles second baseman (1965–72). HM: Hoyt Wilhelm, Orioles pitcher (1958–62); Bailey Howell, Bullets forward (1964–66); Roy Lassiter, DC United forward (1998–99, 2002); Frank Johnson, Bullets guard (1981–88); Guy Charron, Capitals forward (1976–81); Alan Haworth, Capitals forward (1982–87); Charles Johnson, Bullets guard (1978–79).
16—Dutch Leonard, Senators pitcher (1938–46). HM: Scott McGregor, Orioles pitcher (1976–88); Bengt Gustafsson, Capitals forward (1979–86, 1987–89); Richie Williams, DC United midfielder (1996–2000, 2002); Brian Carroll, DC United midfielder (2003–07); Norm Snead, Redskins quarterback (1961–63); Bump Hadley, Senators pitcher (1926–31, 1935).
17—Billy Kilmer, Redskins quarterback (1971–78). HM: Turk Edwards, Redskins tackle (1937–40); Doug Williams, Redskins quarterback (1986–89); Mike Ridley, Capitals forward (1987–94); B.J. Surhoff, Orioles outfielder (1996–2000, 2003–05); Camilo Pascual, Senators pitcher (1954–60, 1967–69); Bones McKinney, Capitols (defunct NBA franchise) forward (1946–50); Chris Clark, Capitals forward (2005–present).
18—Craig Laughlin, Capitals forward (1982–88). HM: Carlos Llamosa, DC United defender (1997–2000); Nick Rimando, DC United goalkeeper (2002–06); Jeff Conine, Orioles first baseman (1999–2003, 2006); Alex Carrasquel, Senators pitcher (1939–45); Chuck Stobbs, Senators pitcher (1953–58, 1959–60); Pat Kelly, Orioles outfielder (1977–80); Randy Burridge, Capitals forward (1991–95).
19—Dave McNally, Orioles pitcher (1962–74). HM: Charley Malone, Redskins receiver (1937–40, 1942); Brendan Witt, Capitals defender (1995–2006); Joe Aguirre, Redskins receiver (1941, 1943–45); Bob Porterfield, Senators pitcher (1951–55); Bryan Watson, Capitals defender (1976–79); Fred Lynn, Orioles outfielder (1985–88); John Druce, Capitals forward (1988–92).
20—Josh Gibson, Homestead Grays catcher (1929–31, 1937–40, 1942–46). HM: Frank Robinson, Orioles outfielder (1966–71); Michal Pivonka, Capitals forward (1986–99); Alana Beard, Mystics guard (2004–present); Cliff Battles, Redskins running back (1937); Joe Lavender, Redskins cornerback (1976–82); Robert Lang, Capitals forward (2002–04); Larry Hughes, Wizards guard (2002–05).
21—Earnest Byner, Redskins running back (1989–93). HM: Dennis Maruk, Capitals forward (1978–83); Terry Allen, Redskins running back (1995–98); Mike Nelms, Redskins kick returner (1980–84); Sean Taylor, Redskins safety (2004–07); Rob Goode, Redskins fullback (1949–51, 1954–55); Dick Farman, Redskins offensive lineman (1939–43); Archie Clark, Bullets guard (1971–74).
22—Jim Palmer, Orioles pitcher (1965–67, 1969–84). HM: Sam Rice, Senators outfielder (1915–33); Steve Konowalchuk, Capitals forward (1992–2003); Kevin Loughery, Bullets guard (1963–71); Dino Ciccarelli, Capitals forward (1989–92); Charlie Justice, Redskins running back (1950, 1952–54); Mike Thomas, Redskins running back (1975–78); Curtis Jordan, Redskins safety (1981–86).
23—Michael Jordan, Wizards guard (2001–03). HM: Chamique Holdsclaw, Mystics forward (1999–2004); Brig Owens, Redskins safety (1966–77); Sam West, Senators outfielder (1927–32, 1938–41); Eddie Pope, DC United defender (1996–2002); Chris Hoiles, Orioles catcher (1989–98); Tippy Martinez, Orioles pitcher (1976–86); Jim Lemon, Senators outfielder (1954–60).
24—Rick Dempsey, Orioles catcher (1976–86, 1992). HM: Jeff Malone, Bullets guard (1983–90); Champ Bailey, Redskins cornerback (1999–2003); Lemar Parrish, Redskins cornerback (1978–81); Jack Marin, Bullets forward (1966–72); Pete Richert, Senators/Orioles pitcher (1965–71); Bill Malinchak, Redskins receiver (1970–74, 1976); Rick Barry, Caps (ABA franchise) forward (1969–70).
25—Walter Johnson,* Senators pitcher (1907–27). HM: Gus Johnson, Bullets forward (1963–72); Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles first baseman (1994–98, 2004–05); Joe Washington, Redskins running back (1981–84); Don Baylor, Orioles outfielder (1970–75); Doug Jarvis, Capitals forward (1982–85); Bob Sirois, Capitals forward (1975–80); Jackie Brandt, Orioles outfielder (1960–65).