GARY | In the 13 years of the RailCats franchise, the team has held two jersey numbers in retirement, both posted in center field.
The first was No. 42, retired by all of baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson. The second was No. 45, retired to honor former bench coach Joe Gates after his death in 2010.
The third came Saturday and was the first worn by a former player. Willie Glen's No. 23 was unveiled beside Robinson's in center field before Saturday's game against the St. Paul Saints.
Even before Glen's 2010 retirement, RailCats manager Greg Tagert had been holding out No. 23 from the uniform rotation for three years.
"When you talk about HISTORY of the franchise, you’re talking about a limited history, but a franchise with a lot of success and a lot of great moments," Tagert said. "It was time, in my mind I always knew who it would be because being in charge of who wears the numbers, you’ll notice no one has worn No. 23 since he’s left here. In my mind the process began the moment he left."
Glen was picked up by the RailCats in June 2005 and made a member of the four-man rotation. He helped the team to Northern League titles in 2005 and 2007 before his contract was purchased by the Florida Marlins. He returned to the 'Cats in 2010, winning the final Northern League Pitcher of the Year award.
He retired with the franchise's record for most innings pitched (544), wins (43), strikeouts (494), games started (86) and opponent's average against (.224). He also holds the single-season record for wins (12, tied with two others) and strikeouts (162 in 2007).
"If you’ve had a chance to look at the RailCats’ all-time record book, I’m not overstating it to say that Willie Glen was to the RailCats what Bob Gibson was to the St. Louis Cardinals, what Steve Carlton was to the Philadelphia Phillies, what Bob Feller was to the Cleveland Indians," RailCats general manager Pete Lavin told fans Saturday.
Glen, joined Saturday by his wife, Niki, and his parents and sister with her family, eschewed any personal accolades.
"I don’t want it to be about me, because I played with a lot of guys that helped make this night happen," Glen said. "I’d like it more to represent the guys that I played with along with myself, than just me."
Tagert said that while Glen is the first, he likely won't be the last. Without proclaiming who would be the next to have his number retired by the RailCats, Tagert said there are at least another half-dozen players who deserve the honor. Steve Haake, Jay Pecci, Mike Massaro, Adam Klein and Cristian Guerrero were among the players likely next in line, Tagert said.
"For our franchise, the significance of when was the right time to do it and who was the right person, clearly we knew who the right person was," Tagert said. "For me, since I’m the only one here that was in that time period, when the discussions first approached it was when the former ownership and general managers, it was universal who the person should be."