On Sunday afternoon, the Yankees honored Mariano Rivera with a touching tribute, pomp and circumstance and a farewell befitting of his illustrious career as the greatest closer of all time. Due to a combination of longevity, dominance and contributions to championship teams, there will never be another Mariano Rivera.
When the Yankees made the decision to honor Rivera and hang up a second No. 42 (the first, of course, belonging to Jackie Robinson) behind their left field wall, the decision was buoyed by his dominance in October and contributions to a franchise with more World Series titles than any team in the sport.
During Rivera's early years, the Yankees were a dynasty, winning four titles in a span of five years from 1996-2000. With World Series appearances in 2001 and 2003, the dynasty sputtered on, but those first five seasons marked greatness in the Bronx.
Now that Rivera is enshrined for future generations of Yankee fans to admire, which of his dynastic teammates belong next to him?
Using the criteria of regular-season excellence, inclusion on multiple World Series rosters and legacy in pinstripes, here are eight candidates to join Mariano as a retired number in Yankee Stadium.
Future Retired Numbers
Is there even a doubt?
3,316 hits. 1,876 runs scored. 13 All-Star Game selections. 71.6 career WAR. 200 postseason hits.
From a statistical standpoint, Jeter's accomplishments merit induction into any Hall of Fame, including the series of numbers retired at Yankee Stadium, but the reason the great shortstop belongs next to Rivera had more to do with leadership, intangibles and winning than any single number.
From the moment Jeter arrived as a 21-year-old rookie in 1996, the dynamic shortstop had a presence about him, craved the big moment and led his team on the field with a 'lead by example' personality.
Five championships later, Jeter will be the last Yankee to ever wear No. 2.
Ironically, with Pettitte announcing his retirement on Friday, he had the opportunity to say goodbye to the Yankee Stadium crowd on Mariano Rivera Day. The duo, together for so many years as the book end of Yankee victories, will go out together in 2013.
Within a few years, Pettitte's No. 46 deserves to be retired among the greats in Yankee history.
Much like Jeter's legacy of leadership and big moment heroics, Pettitte's 19 career postseason victories sometimes overshadow his consistency and durability as a regular-season pitcher. 255 wins doesn't mean what it once did, but 14 seasons of 30-plus starts helped the Yankees reach October, where he and the team often excelled on a yearly basis.
The fact that Torre's number has not yet been retired is an embarrassment on the part of the New York front office.
Despite a falling out at the end of his tenure and straightforward, brash honesty in his (and Tom Verducci's) book, The Yankee Years, Torre's Yankees were able to do something no other team in the sport has duplicated: win consistently in the crapshoot that is October baseball.
As the years have gone on, the accomplishments of the 1996-2000 Yankees should be glorified even more than they were in the moment. Recently, the best regular-season teams fail to navigate their way through five and seven-game series every fall. Torre's Yankees found a way to dominate the best competition, while playing under the microscope of George Steinbrenner and New York's expectations.
Torre wasn't baseball's greatest in-game tactician, especially with his bullpen, but his team rose to the occasion when titles were on the line.
It's hard to be underrated while playing in New York, especially as part of a championship core during a dynasty. Yet, somehow, Jorge Posada left the game as one of the most underrated offensive catchers in the history of the sport.
Sorting by Wins Above Replacement, Posada is the 17th most valuable catcher in the history of the sport and 11th since 1961, amassing 42.6 WAR in his legendary New York career. To put that number in perspective, Yadier Molina, a two-way threat and legitimate MVP-caliber modern day catcher, has amassed 26.3 career WAR.
In other words, he'll need to play at the level he has in 2013 for three more full seasons just to catch Posada.
Any general manager in baseball would love to develop a durable, switch-hitting catcher with power (275 HR) and the ability to reach base at a high clip (.374 career OBP). During their dynasty years, the Yankees had just that.
DiMaggio, Mantle, Williams.
Although Bernie Williams did not turn out to be the transcendent superstar of his Yankee Stadium predecessors, his No. 51 deserves to be displayed next to theirs among the Yankee greats.
Much like Posada, Williams was a switch-hitter with power and on-base skills. Combine that with 22 career postseason home runs, and you have a major ingredient of a dynasty.
When assessing Williams' career and legacy, advance stats need to be taken into account. Due to be a bit of a late bloomer (his first above-average offensive season didn't come until age 25), Bernie didn't have the opportunity to amass the counting stats (300-plus home runs or 2,500 hits) that would have buoyed his case for Cooperstown.
WAR, or, to be clearer, oWAR (offensive WAR), puts him with outstanding company, though. Among career center fielders with at least 3,000 plate appearances, Bernie's oWAR ranks eighth in the history of baseball, ahead of names like Beltran, Ashburn and Puckett. All seven of the names ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame or heading there (Ken Griffey Jr.) within the next few years.
Bernie Williams was one of the best offensive center fielders ever and a major contributor to four World Series titles.
The heart and soul of a dynasty.
If Rivera was a roster advantage over every other team, Jeter a brilliant offensive shortstop and leader, Posada a power-hitting catcher and Bernie and underrated star, O'Neill's value, aside from an outstanding swing, derived from the passion and fire he supplied to those Yankee lineups.
The numbers (.308/.383/.496 from 1993-2000) were great, but O'Neill's approach at the plate and 'win at all costs' play defined New York's roster for years.
Two examples, among many, stand out and should be part of O'Neill's induction into this illustrious club: His headfirst slide into second base, despite an ailing shoulder, in the 1997 ALDS against Cleveland and the ovation the Yankee Stadium crowd gave him during the final innings of Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, knowing an impending retirement was on the way.
Not Quite Worthy of Enshrinement
Despite 64 career Yankee victories, helping to lead New York back to the postseason in 1995 and a perfect game in 1999, Cone's accomplishments as a Yankee aren't quite enough to retire No. 36 among Yankee greats.
If Cone had arrived in the Bronx at a different juncture of his career, perhaps the star righty would have accrued enough to be considered an all-time Yankee starter. While he was great from 1996-1999 (142 ERA-plus), the 37-year-old was effectively finished by 2000. His 4-14 record, to go along with a 6.91 ERA regulated him to relief duty in the 2000 World Series.
The idea of New York's front office replacing Don Mattingly without years of failure and frustration seemed like a crazy notion in the winter of 1995. After all, the Yankees were saying goodbye to their captain, a former American League MVP and middle-of-the-lineup bedrock for the past 14 seasons.
Against all odds, the Yankees replaced Mattingly on their first try. Tino Martinez, arriving from Seattle in a December 1995 trade, went on to man first base for a dynasty and become a run-producing machine along the way.
Although he was very good (114 OPS-plus) during the 1996-2000 run, his offensive accomplishments are diluted a bit by the run scoring era of that time. 141 home runs in a five-year span is impressive, but in the late 90s, home runs were in abundance.
In the postseason, Tino had big home runs (Game 1 of the 1998 World Series and Game 4 of the 2001 World Series), but overall was just a .231/.321/.351 postseason hitter.
A Yankee fan favorite, but No. 24 shouldn't be off limits for future generations.
Agree? Disagree? Which members of the Dynasty Yankees should have their number retired along Mariano Rivera?
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