April 24, 2014

Cleveland Sports: By The Numbers -#23

What is the greatest uniform number in Cleveland sports history? A number significant to more than just one of the three pro franchises? Today the third part of the week long series…


Some might argue that LeBron is all you need for this number to make the list. In my mind however, one transcendent player wouldn’t be enough. In all honesty, I didn’t expect #23 to make the cut. There simply are no relevant Browns for this list. None. Devin Bush territory. Given that, I didn’t expect #23 would get more than an honorable mention.

But let’s start the list with the obvious - LeBron James. He is simply the best player in Cavalier history, and arguably the best athlete ever to wear Cleveland colors. He already holds career marks for points, free throws and steals, is second in 3 point shots made and assists and rebounds are simply a matter of time and choice (2010). He is the only Cavalier ever named rookie of the year and finally has an MVP trophy to throw in the mix. Not that you needed any more reason to think he is the best #23 in Cleveland sports.

For the Indians, it is the volume of quality players that gets the #23 on the list. Going back to the Tribe’s 1954 AL Championship run, we find 1B Vic Wertz. Wertz wore #23 and represented the number well. Perhaps the name sounds familiar but you aren’t sure quite why? It was Wertz who hit the ball that Willie Mays made a sensational catch over his shoulder in the ’54 World Series. Vic led the team in home runs while he was an Indian, and made the All Star team twice.

The Indians trotted out a few #23s in the ’70s and ’80s (Chris Bando!) but the ’90s saw a parade of good players wear the number. As for prospects, we saw Mark Whiten and Jeremy Burnitz wear it. Then David Justice came to town. Justice played in parts of 4 seasons with the Tribe and hit 96 homers with the team. He posted a .294 average and drove in 335 runs. His postseason performances with the Tribe were disappointing, and that may be the lasting memory of Justice’s time in Cleveland. Taking the number after Justice was traded were Ellis Burks and Julio Franco.

So there you have it. Is Lebron great enough to overcome no significant Browns player? I say yes, and he is helped out by two Indians that led their clubs to World Series appearences.

  • Danny

    just curious how #14 doesnt make the list. otto graham. larry doby. even bob feller wore #14 for 2 years at the beginning of his career. there arent many bigger names in cleveland sports. throw in ira newble for the cavs and you got yourself a winner!

  • mike

    until he wins multiple championships, lebron’s not “the best ever to wear cleveland colors.” that honor still lies with Jim Brown. I’d also put Bob Feller ahead of LBJ right now as best ever to wear cleveland colors.

  • Omar13Vizquel


    So….you’d value someone like Robert Horry over LeBron b/c of championships?

  • mgbode

    @2…I’ll still go with Otto. 10 championship games in 10 years. Yeah, Jim Brown helped out some of those years, but he wasn’t there for all of them.

    i’ll be happy to call it a tie.

  • Painesville

    LBJ is clearly the brightest star to ever wear CLE colors. But I gotta go with Mike, the greatest CLE athlete by any standing is still Jim Brown. I don’t care how many women he smacked around off the field. Bob Feller is a very close second.

  • MrCleaveland


    Actually, Jim Brown wasn’t there for any of them. Otto retired after the 55 season and J.B.’s rookie year was ’57. Also, Brown’s record in NFL title games was only 1-2.

  • mike

    omar – of course not. what a stupid thing to even suggest. nobody is calling robert horry a superstar who led all those teams to championships. he just happened to be there and helped out. jim = superstar. feller = superstar. lebron = superstar. all are clear #1 players on their teams and arguably one of the top talents of all time in their sport. what separates brown from lebron right now is championships. once lebron gets multiple ones of those, he can be called the greatest ever to wear cleveland colors. its the same reason he cant be held to the standard of michael jordan (or even Kobe) yet.