The tragic death of Yordano Ventura has brought tremendous grief to the Royals and their fans. The outpouring of support throughout the community and fanbase has been amazing, showing the best of Kansas City and Royals fans. Many have wanted to honor the memory of Yordano Ventura with video tributes, stories of his generosity, and a vigil at Kauffman Stadium.
The next step seems pretty obvious. The Royals should retire Yordano Ventura’s #30.
There is some precedent for retiring a number shortly after a death. Just two weeks after the death of manager Dick Howser in 1987 from a brain tumor, the club announced his #10 would be the first retired number in franchise history. Howser might have had his number retired anyway - he managed the club for parts of six seasons, leading them to two playoff appearances and their first championship in 1985. But following his tragic death, the retirement of his number became immediate.
This would not quite be the same as putting him in the Royals Hall of Fame. On merit, he probably does not deserve enshrinement, only because his career was so brief (Ventura is eligible however, having spent three seasons in Kansas City). Had he continued throughout his contract however, he likely would have been pretty meritorious had he stayed healthy and continued to pitch reasonably well. He pitched in two World Series with the Royals, winning a pivotal Game Six. He won 38 games in three seasons with 7.2 rWAR. Had his numbers continued through 2020, he likely would have ended up in the top five in franchise history in most pitching categories.
But retiring numbers for players whose lives were cut short has been done before. The Astros retired the number of Jim Umbricht after he passed away from cancer. The NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves retired the number of Malik Sealy, who died in a car accident. Across the parking lot, the Chiefs retired the number 36 of Mack Lee Hill, who died in surgery just two seasons in his career.
I am only speculating here, but retiring his number is more possible if the final toxicology report confirms authorities’ initial suspicion that alcohol played no role in the accident. This is not a clean analogy, but I think you’ll understand why I mention this: Clark Hunt made it very clear that the Chiefs would not wear a helmet decal, or honor Jovan Belcher in any formal way. It’s hard for me to imagine the Royals retiring the number of a man who died while driving drunk.
So, we all hope that initial suspicion is confirmed. After that, I am sure that any further ways of honoring Ventura’s memory will be discussed among Moore, Ned Yost, the players, and others in the front office. Maybe they’ll leave his locker, with his nameplate and jersey. I don’t know....
My first reaction is that putting his number on top of the Hall of Fame is a bit much. My preference is for that honor to be saved for the select few who earn it on the field. But I don’t know. I could be convinced otherwise.
I understand if the Royals do want to show some caution, however drunk driving (and authorities have said there was no sign of alcohol at the scene of Yordano's death) would not nearly be on par with the acts of Jovan Belcher, who committed a murder-suicide. Drunk driving is awful negligence, but that cannot be compared to a premeditated act of murder. The Miami Marlins did not allow the presence of alcohol and cocaine in the body of Jose Fernandez upon his death in a boating accident prevent them from retiring his number and honoring him with a patch.
The Royals will almost certainly wear a patch this year to honor their fallen teammate. There is talk about Royals Charities coming up with a project fans can donate to honor his memory. But retiring Yordano’s #30 would honor the memory of a pitcher who not only died tragically young, but was an integral part of one of the most exciting eras of Royals history. His story would not only be a reminder of the dizzying highs of two pennants and a championship, but a sober reminder of his loss and perhaps even a cautionary tale for future players.
Add Yordano's #30 to George Brett's #5, Dick Howser's #10, and Frank White's #20. Let no other Royals player wear his number again.
Others had some interesting ideas to honor Ventura.
How about naming the #Royals' Urban Youth Baseball Academy after Yordano Ventura? That would be amazing.— Jeff Rosen (@jeff_rosen88) January 24, 2017
Patch idea rough draft pic.twitter.com/1m10qTgQRm— Conrad McGorkin (@ConradMcGorkin) January 24, 2017