Rhys Hoskins has always worn No. 17 in his career. He'd have liked to continue wearing it with his new team in the Milwaukee Brewers. It wasn't currently being worn by anyone else, it isn't hanging in the rafters, so it should be available, right? Wrong.
Instead, Hoskins had to choose a different number, and he will wear #12 as a Brewer, a number that had been occupied by Jahmai Jones. Jones will now wear #15 this season.
The question many are asking is why can't Hoskins wear number 17 and why is that number still unofficially retired?
The Brewers have not given out jersey number 17 since Jim Gantner retired
Most Brewers fans are at least generally aware that the answer to the above question is Jim Gantner. But what makes Gantner so special that his jersey is effectively retired but it's not hanging in the rafters?
Gantner grew up in Fond du Lac, went to Campbellsport High School, then UW-Oshkosh, then was drafted by the Brewers. He played 17 years in a Brewers uniform, never playing for another team, from 1976-1992.
Gantner was the "heart and soul" of the 1982 AL Champion Brewers and of all those Brewers teams he was on. He was beloved by his teammates and the fans as the hometown kid. "Gumby" had a gritty, hard nosed style of play that also drew many to love him. He formed a double play duo with a Hall of Famer in Robin Yount but Gantner is nowhere near Hall of Fame induction himself. Totaling 22.5 bWAR and just one above-average OPS+ season, Gantner doesn't have the career accolades to get in.
Typically, when it comes to retiring numbers, it's reserved for Hall of Famers, which is why Gantner won't see number 17 in the rafters of American Family Field.
But the Brewers still recognize Gantner's career and have treated his number as if it were retired, as a show of respect to his 17 years with the organization as a beloved, scrappy hometown kid. Those 1982 Brewers are held in high reverence by the team and fans, and Gantner playing such a key role on that team has earned him the legendary status.
Unofficial jersey retirements are uncommon. It's either hanging in the rafters or eventually the number is given back out to somebody. But more than 30 years after Gantner's last game, his number 17 still isn't in the rafters and it still hasn't been worn by anyone else. You have to applaud the Brewers loyalty and commitment to Gantner and standing firm after all these years.
Josh Hader wanted to wear 17, and even as great as Hader was, the Brewers did not give him permission to wear that number, which is why Hader wore 71. Now Rhys Hoskins is a Brewer and he will also be denied his preferred number, despite how good of a player he is.
Perhaps it's time for the Brewers to put 17 back into circulation. After all, it's been more than 30 years since Gantner last played, he's been given plenty of respect and honors for his tenure with Milwaukee. If it's going to be retired, why not put it in the rafters? If there's no plans to put it in the rafters, give it back out. Maybe they could be selective with it, with only really good players getting it or to keep with Gantner's Wisconsin roots, only give it out to Wisconsin-born players.
Having one unofficial retired number is odd enough, but Ryan Braun's number 8 is likely headed for the same fate of not being given back out but not being put in the rafters either. Having two "unofficially retired" numbers just feels like too many.