I know I have made this case before, but from time to time it’s worth repeating. Different teams have different criteria they use when deciding to retire a player’s jersey number. In some cases it requires being in a hall of fame. In other cases it requires a certain amount of seasons played with the team. In the case of the Boston Red Sox, it requires both. Other franchises like the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs have had so many great players play for them that they would have to use decimal points or greek letters if they retired all the numbers they probably could. In their case, they have done a great job of retiring the true greats and then hanging banners for honored numbers but ones that are still used. I am a big fan of that plan.
But even believing in the plan of honored numbers and think that would be a way of honoring players like Willie McGee for the Cardinals, there remains one number right now that needs to be retired by the St. Louis Blues. #5. Bobby Plager. Yes his number is in the rafters right now, but it’s time to move it to the front row and officially retire it.
You won’t find him near the top in all time franchise list categories of goals, assists, points, hat tricks, or power play goals. He does rank 5th all-time in games played and 9th all time in penalty minutes. Right now Bob may be best known for his love of the Blues, nonstop jokes, and two bar locations in Valley Park and St. Charles. But Bob fits the profile of another kind of all-time great.
To me retired numbers help tell the story of greatness as well as the story of the team. For the Blues the retired numbers include NHL Hall of Famers, team greats, and even honors the life of Bob Gassoff, whose life tragically ended too soon. Bob Plager has been a part of the Blues from day one. On June 6, 1967 he was traded to St. Louis from the New York Rangers and has bled blue ever since. 615 of his 644 games we played as a Blue, and his hip checks are as legendary as any of Brett Hull’s goals. He has served the Blues in every possible capacity, player, coach, minor league coach, scout, broadcaster, and whatever is needed. From day one, Bob has represented what it means to be a Blue, and he is still passing that on to players today. He takes pride in having worn the note. He talks reverently about what it means to come into the NHL as a Blue and staying one.
Bob Plager still takes pride in the #5. It means something to him when a player that plays with the pride and grit of a Barrett Jackman wears the number 5. (it also bothered him when a player like Alexei Gusarov came in and was given the #5). It’s in how he represents the St. Louis Blues, the fact he has been employed by the Blues most of his life, his love of the city of St. Louis, and what it truly means to him that makes Bob Plager a true fan favorite. I fully understand those that argue the numbers. When it comes to Bob, I argue the impact of a 45 year career that tells a complete story of the St. Louis Blues outweighs any numbers you throw at me. Spend some time out and about with Bob Plager and you’ll understand in a hurry.
On top of it all, if you know Bob, you know there may have not been a more important person in his life than his late brother Barclay. There is no doubt what Bob’s favorite number is, but it would be an awesome sight for all Blues fans to see the #5 hanging right next to his second favorite. The #8.
Chris Kerber can be heard on “The Sports Hub” weeknights from 9p-12a on KMOX & KMOX.com