Today in Sports History: April 16th

A fan holds up a '70 during the Bulls-Bucks game. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Allsport)

4/16/1929 - Yankees and Indians introduce numbers

On the opening day of the 1929 season, the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians walk out with numbers on the back of their jerseys. Though teams had experimented with numbers in the past (the Indians in 1916, the Cardinals in 1923), they had proved unpopular, with a common complaint being that it made the players look like convicts. But the practice stuck thanks to the influence of the Yankees, and a sports tradition was born. By 1931, every baseball team had numbers on the back of their uniforms, with each player wearing a different number.

Although the Yankees received all the attention, it was the Indians who were technically the first to don digits; the first two games of New York's three-game series against the Red Sox were rained out, pushing the Yankees' first game to April 18. The Indians did not have such issues and defeated the Detroit Tigers, 5-4, in extra innings on April 16.

When the Yankees did take the field, they did it with a system. The eight position players were given the number corresponding their order in the lineup, with lead-off hitter Earle Combs getting No.1, Mark Keonig getting No. 2, Babe Ruth getting No. 3, Lou Gehrig getting No. 4, and so on. The three catchers on the team received 8, 9 and 10, while the pitchers were given every number after that -- with the exception of 13, which was seen as an unlucky number.

In later years, players would choose their numbers for a myriad of reasons, least among them their order of use in the batting box. Some numbers would become iconic, such as Michael Jordan's No. 23 and Pele's No. 10. Retiring a number became the ultimate honor a franchise could bestow; Lou Gehrig, shortly after stepping away due to ALS, became the first professional athlete to receive this tribute, and was the only No. 4 to ever play with the New York Yankees.

Prior to Gehrig, teams weren't as ceremonial with who was wearing what. When Babe Ruth had left the Yankees five years earlier, his number was simply passed down to outfielder George Selkirk. It wasn't actually retired until 1948.

4/16/1940 - Feller opens season with no-no

Indians pitcher Bob Feller begins the season in historic fashion. On opening day, the 21-year-old Feller throws a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox, becoming the first and only pitcher to throw a no-no on the first day of the year. Feller later threw two additional no-hitters, making him one of only three pitchers to throw more than one in the 20th century (the others are Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan).

Feller, who also threw 12 one-hitters, was elected into the Hall of Fame on his first opportunity, in 1962. He finished with 266 career wins and a 3.25 ERA, and likely would've joined the illustrious 300-win club had he not served in World War II. Feller missed the entire 1942, '43, and '44 seasons, as well as most of the 1945 campaign, fighting overseas -- four years of his prime that he never got back.

 (Michael Jordan drives around Randolph Keys of the Bucks in game No. 79 of the season. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Allsport)

 4/16/1996 - Bulls win game No. 70

With an 86-80 road victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Chicago Bulls win their 70th game of the season, surpassing the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers for the single-season record and reaching a plateau never before attained in NBA history. Michael Jordan had 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists but shot the ball poorly (9-27). Luc Longley and Scottie Pippen scored 16 apiece while Dennis Rodman came off the bench and added seven points, 19 rebounds and four assists in 41 minutes.

Despite being clearly outmatched, the 24-win Bucks pushed the Bulls to the limit and led for much of the second half. But the Bulls defense picked up in the fourth quarter, and Milwaukee went the final four minutes without scoring a single point.

"I'm glad it's over with," Jordan said after the game. "This was a long time coming. We didn't start out the season to win 70 games. We started out the season to win the championship, and that's still our motivation. It's going to take some time for this to sink in. I feel in the future, when we look back, 70 wins will mean a lot."

The Bulls would finish with a record of 72-10, a win-loss total that no one could have predicted at the start of the season. Because they won a record number of games, because they had Michael Jordan in his prime, and because they were dominant in the postseason and beat the Seattle SuperSonics in the finals, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls are generally considered the greatest NBA team of all time.

Of their 10 losses, only two of them were to sub-.500 teams (Toronto and Denver); only once did they lose two games in a row, which they did to Denver and Phoenix in between 18- and 7-game winning streaks; seven of their ten losses were by six points or less, and their final three losses were all by one point; they won their first 37 home games and finished 39-2 at home, with their lone losses being one-point defeats to the Charlotte Hornets (98-97) and the Indiana Pacers (100-99); only twice did they lose in double-digits: once to the Phoenix Suns (106-96), and the other to the New York Knicks (104-72) in their only blowout defeat of the year; the Indiana Pacers were the only team to beat them more than once; the Bulls beat every team at least once and every eastern team at least twice.

The following season, the Bulls came tenuously close to winning 70 games in back-to-back seasons. However, they lost to the Knicks by two points in the final game of the year and had to settle with 69 wins. In 1998, the final year of their dynasty, Scottie Pippen missed 38 games and the Bulls won only 62 games, which was still good for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Also on this day:

1983: Steve Garvey plays in his 1,118th straight game, breaking an NL record previously held by Billy Williams.

1994: Magic Johnson announces he will not return as the coach of the L.A. Lakers. [See: March 22nd]

1999: Wayne Gretzky announces his retirement after 20 years in the NHL.

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