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, continuing today with 30-39.
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.
(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 in those other years
30) Brian Mitchell, Washington Redskins’ running back/return specialist (1990-1999)
Runner-up: Bernard King, Washington Bullets’ forward (1988-1991)
B-Mitch’s 23,330 all-purpose yards rank second in NFL history behind Jerry Rice, and his 13 special teams touchdowns rank second behind Devin Hester. One of the best returners of all-time, Mitchell was a huge X-factor for the Redskins in the 1990s. Mitchell led the league with 600 punt return yards in 1991, and the Skins went on to win the Super Bowl that season. He and Jim Brown are the only players to lead the league in all-purpose yards at least four times; Mitchell did so from 1994-1996 and 1998. With all those names he shares company with, it’s a shame he is not more recognized on a national scale.
King spent time with several other teams in his career, but the Hall of Famer had a short stint of success with the Bullets in the late 1980s. He improved his numbers every season he played in Washington, culminating in his final All-Star appearance as well as a Third Team All-NBA selection in his final season with the team, averaging 28.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
31) Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals’ pitcher (2015-present)
Runner-up: Charley Harraway, Washington Redskins’ running back/fullback (1969-1973)
Scherzer joined the Nats as a free agent from Detroit in 2015, immediately becoming the ace in a formidable starting rotation. Since then, Mad Max has finished in the top five in Cy Young voting all five seasons in Washington, winning it twice. He also led the National League in strikeouts three years in a row (2016-2018), and helped lead the team to its first World Series championship in 2019. Already the most decorated pitcher in Nats’ history, Scherzer is the clear pick for No. 31.
Harraway began his career with the Browns before signing in Washington during Vince Lombardi’s first and only season as head coach in 1969. Harraway was Larry Brown’s partner in the backfield, and their rushing attack propelled the team to a string of playoff runs in the early 1970s, including their appearance in Super VII.
32) Dale Hunter, Washington Capitals’ forward (1988-1999)
Runner-up: Chuck Hinton, Washington Senators’ outfielder (1961-1964)
Hunter captained the team to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1998, holding the position from 1994-99. An aggressive forward, Hunter holds the franchise record for penalty minutes with 2,003 (Scott Stevens is second with 1,628), and his 3,565 career penalty minutes are the second-most in NHL history, but he was not just a bruiser. His offensive prowess, while not among the game’s best, still gave him 1,020 career points, making him the only NHLer with 1,000 career points and 3,000 penalty minutes. He’s one of four Caps players with his number retired, proving his significant impact on the franchise.
Hinton was the last Senator to hit .300 in a season, finishing fourth in the American League with .310 in 1962. He led the team in batting average in ’63 and ’64 as well, and he was selected to the All-Star Game in the latter season. The Senators finished with over 100 losses in all four seasons that he was on the team, so to still be recognized as the American League’s best while on a terrible team proves the talent Hinton brought to the diamond.
33) Sammy Baugh, Washington Redskins’ quarterback/defensive back/punter (1937-1952)
Runner-up: Don Beaupre, Washington Capitals’ goaltender (1990-1994)
Baugh revolutionized the quarterback position, becoming the first to play the position as it is today. He led the franchise to its first NFL championship as a rookie in 1937, and that was just the beginning. He led the league in completion percentage eight times, passing yards four times, and quarterback rating three times. Playing as a safety on defense and a punter on special teams, Baugh led the league in completion percentage, yards per punt and interceptions (catching them, not throwing them) in 1943. He’s the only player to have his number officially retired by the Redskins, and he’s third in franchise history in both passing yards (21,886) and interceptions (31; again not in terms of throwing them). A charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Baugh remains one of the biggest names not just in franchise history, but of the entire league’s as well.
Beaupre preceded Olaf Kolzig as the Capitals’ starting netminder, and he turned in several solid seasons in the early 1990s. He made his second NHL All-Star Game in 1993, and led the NHL with five shutouts in 1990-91. The team made it to the playoffs every season he played in Washington, and his 128 wins are third in franchise history behind Kolzig and Braden Holtby.
34) Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals’ outfielder (2012-2018)
Runner-up: Al Iafrate, Washington Capitals’ defenseman (1991-1994)
Harper came with a lot of hype as the first overall pick of the 2010 draft, and immediately became a star once he arrived in the majors in 2012, winning NL Rookie of the Year and helping the team win its first division title at just 19 years old. Headlining a 2015 World Series favorite that fell short of even making the playoffs, Harper still managed to become the youngest unanimous MVP in baseball history at 23 with 42 home runs (most in the NL) and a .330/.460/.649 slash line, with his OBP and slugging percentage leading the majors. He never achieved much team success, as he joined the rival Philadelphia Phillies right before the 2019 season. While most fans hated him upon his departure, he still became the best No. 34 in the city’s history.
Iafrate was a part of an offensively potent defensive unit, notching a career-high 66 points in 1992-93, where he earned Second Team All-Star honors. He also rocked the NHL All-Star weekend that year by setting a record in the hardest shot competition; his 105.2 mph shot would stand as the record for 16 years before being broken by Boston’s Zdeno Chara, who hit 105.4 mph in 2009. Iafrate’s time in DC was relatively short, but it was certainly the most productive stretch of his career.
35) Kevin Grevey, Washington Bullets’ guard/forward (1976-1983)
Runner-up: Al Jensen, Washington Capitals’ goaltender (1982-1987)
After a legendary career at the University of Kentucky, Grevey played a supporting role to Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld in the late 1970s, his best seasons coming in ’78 and ’79. Averaging a modest 14.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists during his time as a starter in Washington, it was his efficient shooting that boosted the team on offense. He shot 43.5 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three during his Bullets tenure. After two years in Milwaukee, Grevey returned to the DC area and opened a sports bar that closed in 2016, displaying his connection to the area.
Jensen backstopped the Caps to their first postseason appearance in franchise history in 1983, and it was the following season where his performance peaked. He led the league with four shutouts, posted a career-best 2.92 goals against average and finished tied for third with fellow Caps netminder Pat Riggin in the Vezina Trophy voting.
36) DJ Swearinger Sr., Washington Redskins’ safety (2017-2018)
Runner-up: Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins’ running back (1987-1988)
Swearinger did not wear burgundy and gold for long, but he was among the best safeties in the league when did, especially in 2018. After leading the team in tackles in 2017, Swearinger was the highest-rated safety by Pro Football Focus for much of 2018. A falling out with Jay Gruden and the coaching staff led to his surprising dismissal from the team, prematurely ending what was budding into a standout career with the team, but he was still good enough to top all other No. 36’s in Washington.
Smith played fewer games in Washington than Swearinger did, and had a largely unimpressive NFL career with the exception of one game, but it was the most important one of his life. As a 23-year-old rookie, Smith broke the Super Bowl rushing record with 204 yards and two touchdowns in Super Bowl XXII against the Denver Broncos. Had Doug Williams not put together an equally-impressive performance, Smith could have easily been named MVP. It was his first career start, and coach Joe Gibbs did not tell him he’d be starting until warm-ups. He was off the team by 1989, but his Super Bowl performance will always be a significant part of the franchise’s history.
Sean Taylor was better than each of these guys while wearing No. 36, but since he already took claim of the No. 21 spot, he does not apply here, but given who he’s up against maybe he should…
37) Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals’ pitcher (2010-present)
Runner-up: Olaf Kolzig, Washington Capitals’ goaltender (1990-2008)
In probably the toughest match-up since No. 11 with Hayes, Mike Gartner and Ryan Zimmerman, Strasburg earns the title for No. 37. His arrival to the majors in 2010 instilled a new sense of hope within the franchise. As the most hyped prospect of all-time, he electrified Nats fans in his thrilling 14-strikeout debut before succumbing to an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery just a couple months later. Injuries have impacted him throughout his career, but he has still finished in the top 10 for Cy Young voting three times, including a third place finish in 2017. His 2019 postseason performance, culminating in World Series MVP honors, solidified his legacy as a National, and his new seven-year mega-deal should keep him in Washington for the rest of his career (hopefully).
Kolzig has the most games played and wins among goalies in franchise history, and he was in net for the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998. He won his first and only Vezina Trophy two seasons later in 1999-2000. He spent his entire career in Washington, with the exception of eight games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008-09. As a full-time starter, he posted an impressive .908 save percentage and 2.67 goals against average.
Pat Fischer was an All-Pro corner for the Redskins from 1968-1977, and is fully worthy of a spot here, but with Kolzig and Strasburg spending most/all of their career in Washington, as opposed to Fischer — who spent seven seasons in St. Louis — they get the slightest edge.
38) George Rogers, Washington Redskins’ running back (1985-1987)
Runner-up: Mike Morse, Washington Nationals’ outfielder/first baseman (2011-2012*)
Rogers’ best years came with the New Orleans Saints, and in 1981 he led the league with 1,674 rushing yards and was named First Team All-Pro and Offensive Rookie of the Year. Still, he had two 1,000 yard seasons with the Redskins, and topped the league with 18 rushing touchdowns in 1986 to go with 1,203 rushing yards.
Morse spent four seasons in Washington, mainly as a bench bat. He got a substantial amount of playing time in 2011 as the starting first baseman, and was by all accounts the team’s best offensive player. He led the team in WAR (3.4), home runs (31), RBI (95), hits (158), total bases (287) and every slash line category (.303/.360/.550). As a result, he finished 19th in MVP voting that season, but fell back to Earth in 2012 as the starting left fielder. A true one-season wonder, Morse is still among the best to wear No. 38 in Washington.
39) David Steckel, Washington Capitals’ forward (2008-2011*)
Runner-up: David Amerson, Washington Redskins’ cornerback (2013-2015)
Steckel was a fine player: a bottom-six center who would tally 10-20 points per season and was one of the team’s best face-off men and penalty killers. He spent close to four full seasons contributing in this role, and at a towering 6’6″, Steckel’s physicality was a valuable asset for the team. He certainly does not stand out when you look at the other names on this list, but of people to wear No. 39, he did the most in DC.
Amerson was the team’s first pick in 2013: a second-rounder tasked to aid a weak secondary. He contributed decently as a reserve corner during his rookie season, starting eight out of 16 games and nabbing two interceptions. He was elevated to a starting role in 2014, and while he did not intercept any passes, he was second on the team with seven pass deflections, and he upped his total tackles to 66 compared 48 the year prior. He fell out of the rotation in 2015, and was soon waived. Still, with a lesser-used number such as 39, he makes this list.