While instances of baseball teams wearing numbers on their uniforms date as far back as the 1880s, and the Cleveland Indians began doing it regularly in 1916, the practice didn’t really take off until the New York Yankees in 1929 assigned numbers to their player corresponding to their position in the batting order (Ruth 3, Gehrig 4, etc). By 1932 all teams wore numbers.
Common tradition holds that position players are generally assigned numbers below 25 and pitchers above 25, though exceptions to this practice have always existed. Largely due to the whims of the players, its not at all unusual to see a few nontraditional numbers assigned (Brian McRae’s 56, Rey Ordonez’ 0 or Turk Wendell’s 99 to provide three examples in recent Mets’ history).
Numbers lend the only uniqueness to players that otherwise are all dressed alike. And because only one player can wear a particular number at a particular point in time, a number often defines a player’s moment in team history. Isolate the number, and you have a broader history — what Vonnegut called an “artificial extended family” linking one player’s moment to the next’s. Today’s Luis Castillo is yesterday’s Mookie Wilson is yesteryear’s Richie Ashburn.
As such this project was designed as a kind of guided history, using numbers instead of years to form and follow the history and ongoing progress of the team.
This site first went live on Feb. 22, 1999. It has been updated and redesigned often since then. It has resided at its own address since 2003. A visitor once described MBTN as “an online coffee table book.” The site over the years has garnered acclaim from the Wall Street Journal, Mets Inside Pitch and Paul Lukas’ Uni Watch, among countless links and references on the Internet.
Sometime in 2006, with a new baby at home and several freelance writing projects on the schedule, I decided the site had become far too unweildy to manage “by hand” and began to look into creating a web-based database that would help manage this data, integrated with a “blog-like” interface that would allow for faster and easier updates and additional forms of content (longer stories, interviews, etc). This itself turned into a giant project that went way over budget and way past deadline but was finally completed in 2008.
The site in the in between gave birth to a book, available in early 2008 from Skyhorse Publishing. Although based on the website, and in embryonic development for five years, the book, co-written with Met historian Matthew Silverman, contains a lengthier historic review, information and perspectives on the history of the uniform not included on the site and for the first time, publishes statistics based on mbtn.net’s proprietary research.
Although I liked the idea of an integrated site and database, I was never able to achieve the look and feel the data deserved, not could I keep up with the pace of changes and updates associated with a Drupal site. That led to the decision following the 2012 season to donate the data to the Ultimate Mets Database and set about again retooling the site.