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The strange and curious saga of Mitch Garver’s jersey number

Attend the tale of Mitchell Garv, whose mitt is strong but his numbers odd...

Oakland Athletics v Minnesota Twins
Seen here in one of his several numbers
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

editor’s note: Please welcome one of our long-time community members, TeamCrazyMatt, to the front page!

In 2017, a promising young catcher named Mitch Garver was called up to the Minnesota Twins. Playing in only 23 games over the course of the season, Garver batted just .196 with a .288 OBP, but somehow managed to turn three of his nine hits into triples.

Come 2018, Garver opened in camp with the Twins as the backup catcher, but was elevated to a starting role after Jason Castro was lost to injury for the season. In 102 games he showed marked improvement, particularly on offense, batting .268 (.335 OBP) with seven home runs, and has positioned himself as a candidate, if not the favorite, for the starting job in 2019 despite Castro’s return.

While this is an impressive story on its own merits for a former ninth-round draft pick, Garver’s tenure with the Twins will offer a strange curiosity at the start of this season: in each of his years in Minnesota, Mitch Garver has worn a different uniform number.

Now, it’s of course not unusual for players to change numbers, even after a couple seasons: ex-Twin Danny Valencia switched to 22 after a pair of seasons wearing 19, and Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. changed to 19 after four years donning No. 25 on his back. But Garver’s changes - three numbers in three seasons - is fascinating.

2017: No. 43

Like all young players, Garver had to work his way towards the lower range of uniform numbers. In 2016’s spring training, Garver wore No. 82 before receiving 43, a number that has rarely been worn by a Twin, the following February. When recalled from AAA-Rochester in August, Garver kept that number, becoming the second straight backup catcher to wear 43 for Minnesota. The previous owner, Josmil Pinto, had last played in Target Field in 2014; before Pinto, no Twin had sported the number 43 on his back for 50 years. (The player in question: pitcher Don Williams, who appeared in three games for Minnesota in 1963 and recorded a 10.38 ERA.)

But Garver’s tenure in those digits would be a short one: in January 2018, the Twins signed Addison Reed, who has worn No. 43 for his entire MLB career. Garver ceded the number to Reed and selected a new one:

2018: No. 23

Backup infielder and September call-up Niko Goodrum had worn 23 in 2017, but with his departure, the number became available for Garver. (Two notes. First, Goodrum has since found success as a Detroit Tiger, which is wonderful for him but unfortunate for Twins fans. Second, in 2017 training camp, a Red Sox announcer called Goodrum’s entire at-bat thinking he was Nick Gordon, who was on deck, and didn’t realize the mistake until the real Gordon came up; I cannot find the video anywhere, which is supremely disappointing.) In the history of Minnesota (and pre-1961 Washington) baseball, 23 has been a far more popular number than 43, with 40 players donning the former number and eight the latter. In fact, Goodrum was the second player to wear a Minnesota uniform with No. 23 on the back in 2017, following the sole 1.2-inning start of Nick Tepesch. And history has shown that most players who wore this number for the franchise have not done so for a lengthy period of time; the longest run of a single Twin wearing 23 was pitcher Dave Boswell from 1964 to 1970.

Perhaps it is then fitting that Garver once again surrendered his uniform number, this time to Nelson Cruz. Instead, when he takes the field this spring, Garver will be wearing...

2019: No. 18

The third number on Garver’s back (not counting that 82 from spring ‘16) is also the most popular in Minnesota, with 48 players in franchise history sporting these digits. The longest-tenured is also the most well-known by fans: former closer and bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, who sported No. 18 from 1993 to 2003, again in 2008 for another brief stint with the team, and again when on the Twins’ coaching staff. The last person to wear the number in Minnesota as a player is Ryan Doumit, like Garver, a catcher. Doumit, however, did not wear 18 for his entire time in Minnesota, but only for the 2012 season, after which he halved it and donned No. 9 for the team in 2013.

Hmm... perhaps Garver’s constant digit-swapping was foreshadowed all along.