No St. Louis Cardinal has worn No. 57 on his jersey since 2002, but after nearly twenty years, it’s being reintroduced.
The last redbird to don the number was Darryl Kile, a starting pitcher on the 2002 St. Louis squad who suffered a heart attack in the midst of the season and tragically passed away.
It was a shocking event that rocked the entire MLB–Kile was only 33-years-old. Just four days before his death he had thrown 7 2/3 innings of one-run baseball, earning a win that moved the Cardinals to first place in the NL Central.
Kile was known as a pro’s pro and a consummate teammate. He was an 11-year veteran and a three-time All-Star who had played for three teams and recorded 133 career wins. He even had a no-hitter to his name.
Though he had only been in St. Louis for two seasons at the time of his death, St. Louis decided to shelve Kile’s jersey — not officially retiring the number 57, but not exactly handing it out to just anyone.
But now, the jersey’s legacy will be carried on by none other than former Wildcat ace Zack Thompson, who found it hanging in his locker upon arriving to spring training earlier this week.
The Cardinals made Thompson the 19th overall pick of the 2019 MLB Draft. Though he’s only seen limited action as a big-leaguer–15 1/3 innings to be exact–the Indiana native has clearly left a strong impression on the organization.
As the club entered the 2021 season, they found themselves in a number crunch and were forced to discuss what to do with Kile’s No. 57. It clearly wasn’t a decision they took lightly.
“The significance of what Darryl Kile means to this organization is still very real,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. “To me, it’s almost full circle. I think it’s nice that it doesn’t lay in this awkward spot of not used, not retired, and when people get to wear that now they’ll get to reflect on the legacy of Darryl Kile, who he was. I actually think this is a special moment, and that it’s going to be a perpetual moment.”
Noting the former Wildcat’s eagerness to learn and potential to develop into a key piece of their future, Mozeliak, manager Mike Shildt, and clubhouse manager Mark Walsh landed on Thompson as their choice to carry on the uniform’s legacy. Walsh spoke with him about the decision earlier this week.
As promised, Walsh talked with Thompson on Thursday about the number, told him about Kile as a great friend to many people. When Kile arrived via trade from Colorado, he became a presence in the Cardinals’ clubhouse, “the first mentor to young pitchers,” Mozeliak described. The cohesiveness and “team within a team” concept that defines the Cardinals’ rotation, as led now by Wainwright, traces back to Kile. He mentored Morris, who meant a lot to Chris Carpenter, who inspired Wainwright, the modern and lasting standard for Cardinals leadership. Kile “created a chain of events that has different pitchers following similar footsteps,” said Mozeliak.
St. Louis hasn’t officially assigned Thompson a place to start the 2021 season. More than likely, he’ll have to spend some spring months in the minors. But this gesture symbolizes where the Cardinals hope he’ll be by the fall.
After throwing his first bullpen of Spring Training and his first one wearing No. 57, Thompson spoke with reporters.
Thompson has now worn the number that awaits him.
The one the Cardinals say fits him.
“It felt,” he said, “like an honor.”