So what have we learned in the first two days of the Washington Nationals' 2012 Spring Training? Not much we didn't know. Mike Cameron's decision to decline the Nats' ST invitation and call it a career can't be seen as too much of a surprise. Bryce Harper has arrived. The Nationals' middle infielders have changed their uniform numbers, with Ian Desmond going from no. 6 to no.20 and Danny Espinosa changing from no.18 to no.8, but we already knew that. Some astute readers noticed that Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa's jersey numbers were changed weeks back and we did a little investigating then:
"Danny Espinosa wore no.8 on his jersey at Long Beach State. The Nats' SS@2B also wore the number 8 at some stops in the Nats' system. According to reports at the time, the infielder changed to 18 when he got called up to make his debut with Washington in September of 2010 because then-bench coach John McLaren already had the no.8. Espinosa will return to wearing the no.8 when he returns to the nation's capital this season.
"Ian Desmond will be wearing the no.20 in 2012. I asked and looked around, no good explanation for why. He was born on 9/20/85? To honor the Nats' skipper and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson? Anyone? Those are the cosmetic changes you'll notice around the 2012 Nats' infield."
The second guess on Desmond was apparently correct, as he explained to reporters upon arriving at Spring Training. The 26-year-old shortstop told MLB.com's Bill Ladson in an article entitled, "Desmond honors Robinson with No. 20", that he made the change from no.6 to no.20 to honor Hall of Famer Frank Robinson (and the Detroit Lions' Barry Sanders). Robinson was the manager of the Montreal Expos and the 2005-2006 Washington Nationals and as Desmond explained, Robinson was also, "... the first person in professional baseball to believe in his abilities on the diamond."
In NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman's article on the number switch, Desmond says he didn't talk to the former Nats' skipper about wearing the number the manager wore, (Adam Kennedy's worn it before), but Desmond did say that if he had, Robinson would probably have told, "'You better start hitting some homers before you take that number!'" The NatsInsider and CSNWashington.com reporter did, however, mention that new Nats' right-hander Edwin Jackson requested the no.33 and received permission from Nationals' owner Mark Lerner to wear it. The no.33, of course, is the number Frank Howard wore when he played for the second Senators from 1965-71.
During that time, Howard, aka Hondo, or the Capital Punisher, had a .279/.369/.513 line and a 162-game average of 21 doubles and 34 HR's as the Senators' big middle of the order bat. The popular slugger didn't qualify for a spot on Nationals Park's Ring of Honor, which was reserved for players from the franchise's past (in two previous D.C.-based incarnations and the Montreal franchise which moved to the nation's capital in '05) who've made the Hall of Fame, but Howard is one of three players (along with Walter Johnson and Josh Gibson) who had a statue erected in his honor in the Centerfield Plaza at Nationals Park.
The only numbers officially retired by the franchise (along with no.42 league-wide) are from the Montreal Expos' past of the current franchise (no.8 for Gary Carter, no. 10 for Andre Dawson and Rusty Staub and no.30 for Tim Raines), and those numbers (as we see with Danny Espinosa's no.8) haven't been taken off the list of possible jersey numbers for players to choose from in D.C. Should they be? Probably not, but that's a discussion for another time when we want to get back into the whole Montreal Expos' past not having anything to do with the D.C. baseball history (except in the eyes of MLB, the Nationals and the record books.)
But the #20 and #33? Frank Robinson guided the inaugural Nationals as they moved from Montreal to Washington, D.C. and led them to the best record they've had since baseball returned to the nation's capital. Robinson only managed two seasons in D.C. of course, and he didn't part with the franchise under the best circumstances, but he's a Hall of Famer, the only player to win the MVP in both leagues and an important part of the history of the third baseball team to call the nation's capital its home. Frank Howard was honored at RFK when baseball returned to the nation's capital. Why not honor the two men, retire their numbers and get it over with while you have the chance to invite them to participate in a ceremony? Grandfather Desmond and Jackson in and when they're done in D.C. retire the the numbers 20 and 33 for good.