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A Number He Had Hoped Was History : Basketball: Jersey No. 42 showed up in a recent 49ers game even though it was retired 17 years ago. Its owner is a little miffed and the university is embarrassed.

December 06, 1990|DICK WAGNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Ed Ratleff, considered the greatest basketball player in Cal State Long Beach history, had his uniform retired in a ceremony before his final home game in 1973, he thought it was his forever.

But now, for the second time, he has learned that someone else has been wearing his old number, 42.

Adam Henderson, a freshman playing his first college game, had No. 42 on his back during the 49ers' 95-68 loss to Arizona last Saturday.

"It's happened before," said Ratleff, a popular figure in Long Beach since his days as a two-time All-American. He tried to shrug off the oversight this week but his voice was tinged with disappointment.

"I guess that's one of the reasons they have problems over there," he said. "They seem to do things wrong over and over again. If you weren't there (at the 1973 ceremony) it doesn't mean anything, I guess. But I'm not upset, they can do what they want to. It's no big deal."

The 49ers also issued No. 42 to a player 10 years ago.

"They could put it on the gym wall so people could see that it's retired," suggested Ratleff, a member of the university's athletic Hall of Fame.

Athletic Director Corey Johnson, Coach Seth Greenberg and Sports Information Director Shayne Schroeder said they were unaware that Ratleff's number had been retired.

Henderson, a center who did not play in the 49ers' first two games this season, would have worn No. 35 against Arizona, but Greenberg said the student manager failed to pack that uniform for the flight to Tucson. So, while going scoreless in 10 minutes, Henderson wore the only extra uniform, which bore No. 42.

That uniform had been assigned, according to the media guide, to freshman Mike Atkinson, who has been redshirted.

"We should have been informed," said Greenberg, who said he called Ratleff to apologize. "We just didn't know. There was nothing there to remind us. I am amazed we don't have anything in the gym with his number on it. I'm going to speak to Corey. When our SID doesn't know, then something needs to be done."

Johnson and Greenberg, both of whom came from the University of Miami (Fla.), have been at Cal State Long Beach since 1987, and Schroeder has been at the university about 10 years.

When asked if there are other former 49ers whose numbers have been retired, Schroeder said: "From what I gather, just Eddie's."

"I've had people call me about it," said Ratleff. "They can't believe it either. I'm sure it's an oversight, but there never should have been one."

The school apparently has no formal procedure for honoring athletes by retiring their numbers.

According to Steve Janisch, the assistant sports information director, the only other numbers the university has retired are No. 38, worn in 1969-'70 by football player Leon Burns, and No. 15, worn by LaTaunya Pollard, who played basketball from 1980 to 1983.

But there is no mention in any of the 49ers media guides that these numbers have been retired. Nor are there reminders around the school or in the University Gymnasium. Unlike many colleges, Cal State Long Beach has no special room in which to display athletic trophies and uniforms of former star players.

"We'll look into it and make something happen," Johnson said. "The hard part is fulfilling promises you don't know about."

The athletic director added that he is surprised that more bits of sports lore haven't been lost because of the frequency with which the athletic department offices have been moved around. Several are housed in temporary trailer-type buildings.

Ratleff, now a 40-year-old insurance broker in Long Beach, was a 6-foot-6 guard for the 49ers from 1971 to 1973, their glory years under Coach Jerry Tarkanian. Ratleff played on the U.S. Olympic team in 1972. He is second behind Michael Wiley on the 49ers career scoring list with 1,820 points and holds school records for career scoring average (21.4) and points in a game (45).

After a five-year career with Houston in the NBA, he held assistant coaching jobs with both the Cal State Long Beach men's and women's basketball teams. In 1987 he had hoped to become the men's head coach, but the job was given to Joe Harrington.

"A lot of people think because I didn't get the job, I have bad feelings for the school, but it isn't true," Ratleff said. "I just do my thing. I have a job, and at night it's not one of my priorities to see Long Beach State play basketball. But I still cheer for them."

Robert Donlan, senior associate athletic director, said that a 49ers basketball player, whose name he could not recall, entered a game in 1980 wearing a No. 42 uniform that had been inadvertently ordered.

"You could hear people murmuring," Donlan said. "(But) none of us knew about it because we weren't there then (in 1973). We discontinued (the uniform) right then and there."

Donlan, who came to Cal State Long Beach in 1974, said such a mistake could be made because of the change in coaches and equipment managers over the years, and because Long Beach has never displayed uniforms with retired numbers.

"It's unfortunate," he said. "I don't blame him for being miffed a little bit."

But Ratleff insisted, "I'm not upset with anybody. Seth called me and said they won't use it again. But if they want to use it, fine. I think I still have one of my old uniforms . . . if they want to use that one, they have my blessings."

It was evident, though, that his feelings have been hurt.

"I'm the only (first-team) All-American they've ever had," he said. "I guess to them that doesn't mean very much."

Others Honored

Besides Ed Ratleff, two other Cal State Long Beach athletes have had their uniform numbers retired, according to university officials:

* No. 15, LaTaunya Pollard, a basketball player from 1980 to 1983, who is the 49ers' career leader in points with 3,001.

* No. 38, Leon Burns, an All-American football tailback in 1969 and 1970, who is the 49ers' career leader in rushing yards with 2,809.

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