JUPITER, Fla. • As the carousel of number changes happened for the Cardinals this winter, bench coach David Bell called team officials to say that he had no special attachment to No. 23 if someone else wanted it. The only number he had a fondness for, he explained, was the one his grandfather wore, his father wore, and both he and his brother wore in the majors.
The number summed up three generations in the big leagues.
But that number – 25 – was not in circulation, Bell knew.
The Cardinals decided otherwise.
Bell will be the first Cardinal player or coach to wear No. 25 since Mark McGwire did, first as the team’s 70-homer slugger and then as its hitting coach. The number has been unofficially out of circulation when McGwire wasn't on the team, though the Cardinals did offer it once to Troy Glaus. The All-Star third baseman wore the number with the Angels before becoming a Cardinal.
The Cardinals have 12 numbers officially retired, one more clearly on its way (Yadier Molina’s No. 4), and a handful of others unofficially unavailable. McGwire’s No. 25 was on that rack next to Darryl Kile’s No. 57, Willie McGee’s No. 51, and Albert Pujols’ No. 5. No player is wearing Chris Carpenter's No. 29 this spring. That list of set-aside numbers was longer a few years ago but No. 32 and now No. 25 have returned to active Cardinals' backs. Dave Duncan's No. 18 was not used until rookie Oscar Taveras wore it, and even the No. 15 made famous by Jim Edmonds -- a Cardinals' Hall of Famer -- is now worn by Randal Grichuk.
Recognizing how so many unofficially retired numbers have complicated assigning big-league numbers in recent years those may be the first of these numbers to return. The Cardinals have retired numbers recently for players and managers once they were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame or clearly on their way after retirement. Tony La Russa's No. 10, Whitey Herzog's No. 24, and Bruce Sutter's No. 42 are the most recent retired numbers.
McGwire has been eligible for election to Cooperstown the past nine years, but he's yet to gather enough support from the voters for induction. His place in Cooperstown, once clear when he played, has been reconsidered after he acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs during his career. There is a statue of McGwire that was designed for his eventual induction and inclusion as one of the Cardinals' greats outside the ballpark, and his No. 25 was initially held aside in case of Cooperstown.
This coming winter will be McGwire's final year on the ballot given to eligible writers for voting, and if he does not get the required 75 percent of the vote for induction he can only be considered by the veteran's committees.
The unspoken move here is that McGwire's 25 is no longer waiting.
Cardinals officials surprised Bell when they offered it to him.
Bell, like his grandfather Gus and his father Buddy, wore No. 25 as a player.
The only times he didn't was when shared a clubhouse with some of the most recognizable No. 25s of his generation: McGwire, Barry Bonds, and in Cleveland with Jim Thome.
“I’m going to wear it with a lot of pride not only because of what it means for my family, but also I know what McGwire meant here,” Bell said. “It is special.”