It’s fitting Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams made his major-league debut at Dodger Stadium.
It was a Dodger, Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale, who was the best baseball player to wear uniform number 53. The Dodgers retired his number on July 1, 1984.
Adams is the 13th Cardinals player to be issued uniform number 53, according to the Web site BirdBats.
The best-known Cardinals to wear number 53 were pitchers: Greg Mathews, a starter for the 1987 National League champions; Juan Acevedo, closer for the 1998 Cardinals; and Arthur Rhodes, a reliever for the 2011 World Series champions.
Earl Francis, a right-handed pitcher who appeared in two games for St. Louis in 1965, was the first Cardinal to wear uniform number 53.
Adams debuted for the Cardinals on May 20, getting two hits in four at-bats in the Dodgers’ 6-5 victory at Dodger Stadium. Boxscore
At big-league spring training camp with the Dodgers in 1955, Drysdale was issued number 53. In his book “Once a Bum, Always a Dodger” (1990, St. Martin’s), Drysdale wrote about how he got the number:
It’s not only general managers and managers who determine which players will stay with the big club after spring training. The clubhouse man has a voice, too, because he’s in charge of the uniforms, and the higher the number he gives you, the less chance he figures you’ve got of sticking with the major league roster. I had the highest number of the group. Herbie Olson, a catcher, came in with number 55 a year later, but I was high man in 1955 with number 53 _ a number, by the way, I wound up keeping throughout my career.
Because of Drysdale, number 53 received a place in pop culture for its role in the 1968 Disney movie “The Love Bug.” The film starred Dean Jones and Buddy Hackett, but the center of attention was “Herbie The Love Bug,” a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle painted pearl white, converted into a race car and adorned with the number 53. The number was chosen by the lead screenwriter, a Dodgers fan whose favorite player was Don Drysdale.
Though not a popular number with major leaguers, 53 did have an important historical role in big-league history. The 53rd World Series was played in 1956 and included the only no-hitter in World Series history, Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers.
In an article for Yahoo and Rivals.com about why college basketball players shied away from wearing uniform number 53, writer Jeff Eisenberg quoted San Francisco numerologist Sally Faubion as saying 53 is a “very powerful number.”
The “5” in 53, she explained, represents speed and the “3” indicates good luck. The sum of those two numbers equals 8, which, said Faubion, “is the number of money, power and fame. But you must walk the straight and narrow path to get the high side of it. If you don’t, it will take you down.”
Previously: Ankiel to Urbani: No. 24 belongs to Whitey