By: Joe Pohoryles
The Washington, D.C. sports teams have seen plenty of athletes do incredible things while representing the nation’s capital. One of the most recognizable features of these athletes is the numbers they sport on their uniforms.
As we forge on in these times with little going on in the sports world, I will spend the next week-and-a-half exploring which players were the best to wear every possible jersey number, starting today with the single digits.
Of course comparing players across different sports is difficult, but this will take a look at the most impactful and iconic DC sports figures. Some of the names on this will be more prominent than others; several lesser worn numbers will merely be default picks. In any case, it should be interesting to see the distribution.
Football uses every number from 1-99, so there should be many Redskins to choose from. Hockey does not have too many high number players compared to 1-40, but with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (97) and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (87) being two of the best players in the game, those high numbers certainly have a presence, so there may be some Capitals who sneak in at the top.
Baseball also uses every number in the book, but with the relatively short existence of the Nationals, there will not be nearly as many options to choose from (although there are a few Washington Senators on here). Basketball also presents the choice of every number to be utilized, but with so few players to fill up a roster, many numbers are rarely touched (if ever).
Without further ado, here are the best players in DC major sports history to wear to wear a single-digit number:
(Note: For NBA and NHL, a player’s tenure is marked by the year their first season ended until the year their final season ended. For example, John Wall was drafted in 2010 and was a rookie in the 2010-11 season, but since the season ended in 2011, his tenure is listed as 2011-present. This is not necessary for MLB — where the entire season is played in the same calendar year — or NFL — where only the postseason is played in a different calendar year.)
*= the player’s tenure on the team extended longer before or after the stated dates, but said player wore a different number
0/00) Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards’ guard (2004-2010*)
Runner-up: Kevin Duckworth, Washington Bullets’ center (1994-1995)
“Agent Zero” started his career with the Golden State Warriors before spending seven-plus seasons as the Wizards’ starting point guard and franchise star. A three-time All-Star, Arenas was a fan favorite in the 2000s before his career got derailed by the infamous locker room incident of Dec. 2009. That offseason, the team drafted John Wall and brought in a new era for the 2010s, but Arenas will always hold a prominent place in franchise history.
After Arenas, the options are fairly slim. Duckworth spent two seasons in DC averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds.
1) Eddie Yost, Washington Senators’ third baseman (1951-1958*)
Runner-up: Rod Strickland, Washington Bullets/Wizards’ guard (1997-2001)
Surprisingly, the DC area has never had an ultra-prominent player wear the number one, at least in a long time. Yost spent 14 total seasons with the Senators (1944, 1946-1958), accumulating 1,521 hits, 101 home runs, 550 RBI and a .253/.389/.368 slash line. The numbers didn’t pop off the page, but he debuted at age 17 and finished with a 35.0 career WAR. More amazingly, he was walked 1,614 times throughout his whole career, which ranks 11th in the major leagues all-time. “The Walking Man,” was a fixture at third for Washington and was amongst the best third basemen of his era.
Strickland joined Washington for his age 30 season, but held down the starting point guard role for four-plus seasons before being traded to Portland during the 2000-01 season. He averaged 15.1 points and 8.7 assists during his time in Washington, leading the league in assists during the 1997-98 season with 10.5 per game. He’s not really a franchise icon, but he certainly brought solid production for nearly half a decade.
2) John Wall, Washington Wizards’ guard (2011-present)
Runner-up: Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals’ defenseman (2015-2019)
The successor to Arenas’s throne, Wall helped lead the Wizards back to relevancy as the face of the franchise. The five-time All-Star owns the franchise record record for assists (5,282) and steals (976) as well as top ten spots in every major offensive category. Wall defines the Wizards of the 2010s, and fans are eagerly awaiting his return for the 2020-21 season (along with the NBA’s return as a whole).
Niskanen is hardly a franchise face, but his impact on the franchise is undeniable. He was never the team’s best defenseman, but Nisky played a key role in the Caps’ Stanley Cup run in 2018, and came a long way in doing so. Entering the 2018 Cup Final, the top four active players with the most NHL games without playing in a Cup Final was Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and… Niskanen. The other three have been (and hopefully will remain) Caps’ lifers, but of all the other DC athletes to wear No. 2, Niskanen was the most impactful.
I do sort of wish I could give the runner-up spot to God Shammgod for his name alone, but he played just 20 career NBA games, all in the 1997-98 season with the Wizards.
3) Mark Moseley, Washington Redskins’ kicker (1974-1986)
Runner-up: Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards’ guard (2013-present)
This one is a tougher call, but when you’re the only pure placekicker to win MVP in the league’s history, you earn some notoriety. Outside that wacky, strike-shortened 1982 season, Moseley spent 13 seasons as the Redskins’ kicker, and finished as the franchise leader in points with 1,207. As is common with kickers who remain with one team for a long time, Moseley became popular with fans as well, securing his place as an all-time DC sports figure, especially among those who wore No. 3.
Beal has a case for the title, as his role with the Wizards is objectively larger than Moseley’s was with the Redskins. Beal has been leading the team with Wall out, and has been a fan favorite since his rookie season. He even surpassed Wall this season on the franchise points leaderboard, sitting behind only Elvin Hayes’s 15,551 points with 11,425. Still, Moseley’s success, popularity and tenure exceed that of Beal’s. That said, Beal’s story is not yet finished, so this order could change when it’s all said and done.
The Capitals’ Scott Stevens is also worth a mention as the Hall of Fame defenseman spent his first eight years in the NHL with Washington. However, Stevens won three Cups (and the 2000 Conn Smythe) during the final 13 years of his career with the New Jersey Devils. He made four end-of-season All-Star teams in New Jersey compared to just one in Washington. While he was a great player with both teams, his time in New Jersey weakens his case as the best No. 3 in DC.
4) Kevin Hatcher, Washington Capitals’ defenseman (1985-1994)
Runner-up: Moses Malone, Washington Bullets’ center (1987-88)
Hatcher spent 10 seasons as one of the team’s top scoring defensemen. Leading the blue line with Rod Langway, Hatcher was instrumental in the franchise’s first postseason streak from 1983-1996, making the playoffs every season he played on the team. His 426 points with the Caps are the fourth-most in franchise history among defensemen (13th overall). The longtime Cap served as the seventh team captain in franchise history during his final two seasons with the team, sharing the position with Langway in 1992-93 before wearing the ‘C’ by himself the following season after Langway’s retirement.
Malone is a top 10 center in NBA history, and while he is best remembered for playing with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, in two seasons with Washington, he led the team to the playoffs and was named an All-Star both years, averaging 22.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game across those two years. After his departure, the team failed to make the playoffs again until 1997, nine years later. Had he spent most of his career in Washington, he would have been the top choice for No. 4.
Antawn Jamison is another candidate. He spent five-and-half seasons in Washington as a core player behind Arenas. He made the All-Star Game twice while in DC, and averaged 20.6 points and 8.8 rebounds. He also shot 43.6% or better from the field each season. It’s difficult to live up to even two years of Moses Malone, but Jamison still left an imprint in Wizards’ basketball.
5) Rod Langway, Washington Capitals’ defenseman (1983-1993)
Runner-up: Cecil Travis, Washington Senators’ shortstop/third baseman (1935-1941*)
Before the Ovechkin era came around, Langway was the most important player in Capitals’ history. After arriving in a trade from Montreal, Langway was immediately named team captain and led the Caps to their very first playoff appearance in franchise history, winning his first Norris Trophy (for best defenseman) along the way. The team subsequently made the playoffs every year from 1983-1996. The Hall of Famer helped turn the franchise around and remains a present figure within the organization. No one will wear No. 5 for the Caps again, and Langway is the reason.
No one reading this will remember Cecil Travis’s playing days, but Travis played in 12 major league seasons — all with the Senators — from 1933-1941 and 1945-1947. Despite World War II taking away a large chunk of his prime, Travis finished with 1,544 hits, 657 RBI (yet only 27 home runs), and an impressive .314/.370/.416 slash line. The three-time All-Star’s .314 batting average is a record amongst American League shortstops, and ranks just third behind Honus Wagner (.327) and Arky Vaughn (.318) among shortstops all-time. He died at 93 years old in 2006.
Perhaps Kwame Brown, the Washington Wizards’ center from 2002-2005 and former first overall pick, could warrant a look at runner-up for No. 5, although for all the wrong reasons. Brown is widely regarded as the biggest bust in NBA history, and was the subject of an all-time rant from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith back in 2008. Best player to wear No. 5? Not a chance. A DC Sports icon? Maybe in the worst way, but it may still count.
6) Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals’ third baseman (2013-2019)
Runner-up: Calle Johansson, Washington Capitals’ defenseman (1989-2003)
Once the sixth overall pick in a loaded 2011 MLB draft, Rendon developed into one of the best third basemen in baseball, culminating in a World Series title and NL MVP nomination. Despite over five years of good play, Rendon did not make an All-Star team until 2019 (injuries had something to do with that), but this offseason he earned a seven-year/$245 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels that has him leaving DC on top. With not too many big-time No. 6’s in DC history, Rendon is the clear best.
With 983 games played for Washington, Johansson has the most games played in franchise history of anyone not named “Ovechkin,” and while he was never a major superstar, the defenseman spent 14-plus seasons as an integral part of the blue line. He even spent some time as an assistant for the team, so he’s deeply rooted in the franchise.
7) Joe Theismann, Washington Redskins’ quarterback (1974-1985)
Runner-up: Yvon Labre, Washington Capitals’ defenseman (1975-1981)
After leading the team to the Super Bowl in the 1982 season at age 33, Theismann earned First Team All-Pro honors for the first and only time in his career the following season at 34 years old. He spent his entire career in Washington and was respected so much that his number was never assigned to anyone until 2019, when first-round pick Dwayne Haskins Jr. took the number out of its unofficial retirement (with Theismann’s permission). Maybe someday Haskins can earn his way to the top spot, but for now it belongs to this all-time Redskins great.
Labre was the face of the early Capitals’ early years, serving as captain from 1976-78. While the team never achieved any tangible success in this period (and in most years, the opposite of success), Labre brought physical play to the ice and helped grow the presence of the game in the DC area. He was the first in the organization to have his number retired, and while his name may not be at the top of any franchise leaderboards, he is a major figure in Caps history.
8) Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals’ winger (2006-present)
Runner-up: Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins’ quarterback (2014-2017*)
I have made my feelings about “The Great Eight” very clear on this website, so there is not much more I can add. Still, Ovi is an all-time great who was still rolling at 34 before the season shut down (the regular season was supposed to have ended last night). He was on his way to breaking Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, but this break in play may jeopardize that. Regardless, his legacy is cemented. After years of early playoff exits, he finally led the team to the Cup and will be a DC sports legend forever.
Cousins is the next-best No. 8, which I found hard to believe. If we included Baltimore, Cal Ripken Jr. would have been the easy pick, but that is obviously not the case. Cousins put up several years of top five offensive stats in the Jay Gruden–Sean McVay system, and led the team to a playoff appearance in 2015, but never seemed able to truly step up in big moments. He finally won a playoff game with the Minnesota Vikings last season, but individual performance is the only thing he can really hang his hat on in DC (which is not entirely his fault, given the supporting cast and front office, but you’d think there would be a more impactful No. 8 to choose from).
Walt Bellamy would have been in consideration for runner-up, but the Hall of Famer played for the Wizards’ franchise while it was still in Chicago, then Baltimore from 1962-1966, so he is not quite a DC athlete. All four of his All-Star appearances came with the Packers/Zephyrs/Bullets franchise.
9) Sonny Jurgensen, Washington Redskins’ quarterback (1964-1974)
Runner-up: Frank Howard, Washington Senators’ outfielder (1965-1968*)
Arguably the best quarterback in franchise history, Jurgensen began his career in Philadelphia, where he won the NFL Championship in 1960. After being traded to Washington in 1963 and taking over as starter in 1964, Jurgensen made it to the Pro Bowl and was named Second Team All-Pro in his first season. Three more Pro Bowls and one First Team All-Pro selection later, he ranks second in franchise history for passing yards (22,585), touchdowns (179) and wins (52). He received the same treatment as Theismann, as the Hall of Famer’s number has not been assigned to anyone since his retirement.
Howard spent the back-half of his prime with the Senators after beginning his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1968, Howard led the majors with 44 home runs, and in 1970 he led the American League in home runs (44), RBI (126) and walks (132) to finish fifth in MVP voting. The four-time All-Star retired with franchise records in games played, at bats, home runs, RBI, runs, hits, doubles, total bases and slugging percentage (all have since been broken within the Texas Rangers franchise).