The New York Yankees have retired fifteen uniform numbers. Here are some random thoughts about those whose numbers are retired and who might be considered for this honor in the future.
First there is No. 1 – Billy Martin. Billy was the scrappy second baseman for the great Yankee teams of the early to mid 1950s. He was never a great player, but he played great in the clutch and was at his best in the World Series.
In his years with the team, the Yankees were in the World Series every year and won seven of them.
Martin had a Yankee batting average of only .256 if you throw out 1955 when he played in only 20 games but hit .300. He was by no means a Hall of Fame player.
Martin returned to New York as manager and guided the team to its first World Series crown in fifteen years when they won in 1977.
Billy fought with everybody all his life and it was no different when he was managing the only team he ever really loved. He fought with his players, especially Reggie Jackson. He fought with umpires. And he fought with owner, George Steinbrenner, who fired Billy and rehired him over and over again.
Should Martin’s No. 1 be retired? Statistically, no, he is not deserving. Emotionally, maybe he is. His intensity for the game and his love for the city and the team were perhaps the greatest ever known among the myriad legends who have walked the field in the Bronx.
The next four are “no-doubters.” No. 3 – Babe Ruth; No. 4 – Lou Gehrig; No. 5 – Joe Dimaggio; No. 7 – Mickey Mantle.
All are Hall of Fame players. All are among the greatest to have ever donned a baseball uniform. Much of the mystic that is the New York Yankees rests with those four players.
No. 8 is retired twice – for Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.
Both players are in the Hall of Fame. Both were arguably the greatest catchers of their era. Both were key players on the greatest dynastic Yankee teams of all time.
Dickey played on the Yankee teams of the 1930s and 1940s who won seven World Series titled.
Berra is the only man in history who owns 10 World Series rings, having played from 1946 through 1963. And Yogi was a three time MVP. Without question, both Dickey and Berra deserve the honor.
No. 9 is Roger Maris. The Rajah is a little harder. He played for the Yanks for only seven years, from 1960 through 1965. But in that time he won two MVP awards. And of course, in 1961 he broke Babe Ruth’s single season record for home runs when he stroked 61.
If Roger had not broken Babe’s record it is very doubtful that the team would have retired his number. There are others who have had greater overall numbers and bigger overall impact on the team and did not have their number emblazoned on the wall in Monument Park.
Roger was also not well liked by the fans during this time in New York. A big part of that was that the fans had come to idolize Mickey by that time and felt as though Mickey should have been the one breaking the records instead of Roger.
Number 10 is Phil Rizzuto, a Yankee legend in so many ways. Rizzuto was born in Brooklyn and was a life time New Yorker. When he tried out for his hometown Dodgers, the manager was Casey Stengel who advised Phil to get a shoe shine box and look for work telling him he was too small to play big league ball.
But Phil persevered, was signed by the Yankees and would go on to play on some of the best teams every assembled in the 40s and 50s. Phil would win MVP awards and World Series rings.
When his playing career was over, midway through the 1955 season, Phil moved to the announcers’ booth and for more than forty years he was the voice of the Yankees bringing his joie de vivre and his love for the Yankees to every game and to fans across America.
There is little room to doubt that The Scooter’s Number 10 deserves a place on the Wall.
Then comes No. 15 – Thurman Munson. Thurm is one of the most revered Yankees of all time. Any Yankee fan who was alive in the 70s remembers why Munson meant so much to us.
Thurman Munson was one of the grittiest players who ever donned the pinstripes. All of us can remember him with his uniform covered in dirt, sliding into second with another double.
Or we can see him hobbled and barely able to rise from his stance behind home plate but refusing to come out of the game.
We loved Thurman Munson and his empty locker, preserved for thirty years in the Old Yankee Stadium, is kept now in the Yankee museum in the New Palace. He was killed in a plane crash in August 1979.
In all honesty, we must ask ourselves what his legacy would have been had he lived. Munson had openly talked about leaving the Yankees. He wanted to be closer to his home in Ohio and had said he would consider going to the Indians.
Munson’s career batting average was .292. His 162 game average for home runs was only 13 and for RBI was 80. His career OPS was .756. But he was selected as Rookie of The Year in 1970 and MVP in 1976. And he was the Yankee captain.
And for three years from 1975-1977 he was without question the best catcher in baseball. He won the Gold Glove in each of those years while hitting over .300 and driving in more than 100 runs in each year.
Munson will probably never make the Hall of Fame. He played only nine full seasons for the Yankees. But with his career numbers and what he meant to the team and fans, there is little doubt that Number 15 should have been retired.
No. 16 is Whitey Ford and there are few who will question that he is the greatest Yankee pitcher of all time. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974.
Ford would probably have had better career statistics if he had played for any manager other than Casey Stengel. Casey used Ford in strange ways, not allowing him to pitch in regular rotation and holding him out to pitch against only the strongest teams in the league.
Don Mattingly wore Number 23 which was retired in 1997. Mattingly played 13 full years for the Yankees and, much like Thurman Munson, had his career shortened.
Whereas Munson died prematurely, Mattingly retired at age 34 with back problems that no longer allowed him to play at the level he expected.
Mattingly hit .307 for his career, averaged 20 home runs and 100 RBI per season and won nine Gold Gloves. He was chosen as MVP in 1985. He was also the 10th Yankee Captain and the last before Derek Jeter.
There are some who question whether Mattingly will be elected to the Hall of Fame. But no one can seriously question whether Donnie Baseball should have had his number retired.
Number 32 belonged to Elston Howard. Howard was the first black player for the New York Yankees and was a great catcher. The only problem for Ellie was that he came to the Yankees in 1955 when their catcher was Yogi Berra.
Howard had a hard time finding regular playing time with Yogi behind the dish. But when he did play, he was one of the finest catchers in the game. Howard won two Gold Gloves and was the American League MVP in 1963.
Ellie’s overall numbers do not merit being considered as one of the all time greats. His career batting average was .274 and he averaged 17 home runs and 77 RBI per season. But if he had been given the opportunity to play regularly in his prime, without doubt he would have been great.
Howard died prematurely in 1980 and the Yankees retired his number in 1984. Some could argue that he did not have the statistics to be honored among the all time great Yankees, but he was a great teammate and a tremendous human being.
Casey Stengel wore 37 as the Yankee manager from 1949 through 1960 when he was forced to retire at age 70. In his 12 years at the helm all he did was win ten American League pennants and seven World Series crowns.
Without a doubt Stengel deserved to have his number retired as one of the greatest managers in Yankee history.
(At this point it must be noted that Joe McCarthy, the great Yankee manager of the 1930s and 1940s, also won seven World championships. He did not wear a uniform number with the Yankees, but he is honored in Monument Park with a plaque.)
No. 42 is retired for Jackie Robinson as every other team in major league baseball has done as well.
With the retirement of Yankee closer, Mariano Rivera, in a few years, no other major leaguer will ever again wear the number of the first black man to play major league baseball in the modern era.
Reggie Jackson’s Number 44 was retired in 1993. He played only five years in New York and they were five controversial years. During his time in the Bronx the Yankees would win two World Series titled, their first in fifteen years.
But Jackson created dissent within the Yankees, fought with manager, Billie Martin and many were glad to see him go when his contract ended in 1981.
Perhaps the biggest thorn in the side was the way in which Jacksondisrespected Captain and unquestionable team leader, Thurman Munson, when he famously said: “I am the straw that stirs the drink. Munson can only stir it bad.”
Jackson averaged .279 with 29 home runs and 92 RBI in his five years in the Bronx. Owner, George Steinbrenner, loved Jackson and if not for that his number would probably not be retired.
Three consecutive home runs in the 1977 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers earned Jackson the title “Mr. October” and gave him more good publicity than he was probably worth. Of all the numbers retired, the best argument could be made that Jackson deserved it least.
The final Yankee number retired to date was Number 49 worn by Ron Guidry. “Gator” pitched 14 seasons, all for the Yankees. His career ERA was 3.29. His career WHIP was 1.184. He won 170 games and lost only 91. Those numbers will probably not get Guidry into the Hall of Fame.
But the Yankees retired his number in 2003 recognizing that he was one of the greatest Yankees of all time. Gator’s problem, much like his teammate, Mattingly, was that he was severely limited late in his career with injuries.
In 1985 Guidry won 22 games. But he would never again win more than nine games in a season. But Guidry had proven to be one of the game’s greats in 1978 when he won 25 and lost only 3 with an ERA of 1.74.
He led the Yankees in the ‘78 season that culminating in him pitching in the one game playoff win over Boston that catapulted New York to the World Series and another championship.
Of the current Yankee players there are two who without question will have their numbers retired and plaques on the wall in Monument Park.
Derek Jeter’s No. 2 will never be worn again. Neither will Mariano Rivera’s No. 42. They are without question two of the greatest Yankees of all time.
Jeter will finish his career with more hits than any other Yankee and Rivera will be recognized as the greatest closer in the history of the game.
Time will tell whether No. 13 will also be retired for Alex Rodriguez. If A-Rod finishes his career with New York and breaks the all time home run records, his number should probably be retired.
There are others whose Yankee careers are too young, but have a chance for Yankee immortality. Mark Teixeira, in his first year, has shown the kind of promise that could lead to a place of honor when he retires. So has Robinson Cano, already in his fifth year in New York, but still very young.
Another Yankee single digit uniform number that was destined at one time for retirement was No. 6. Joe Torre won four World Series championships and led the Yankees to the playoffs every year he was manager.
If Torre had left New York quietly, if he had not written the “tell all” book, No. 6 would probably have been retired. Now, time must pass, healing must occur, before it will even be considered.
The last Yankee dynasty of the late 90s and early 2000s had other notable players who endeared themselves to Yankee fans. Two of those certainly deserve some consideration for having their numbers retired.
Paul O’Neill played nine years in the Bronx, including all four World Series crowns the team won from 1996-2000. In his first six years he hit over .300 every year and won the American League batting title in 1994 when he hit .359.
But O’Neill’s contributions to the Yankees were more than just numbers. He was called “The Warrior” and since his retirement at age 38 the Yankees have lacked any player with the kind of fire in the belly that O’Neill had.
If O’Neill’s No. 21 is retired it will be as much because of his intangible contributions and the love shown to him by the fans as for his pure statistics.
Bernie Williams was a different kind of player than O’Neill even though they played side by side in the Yankee outfield for many years. Williams was calm and quiet where O’Neill was fiery and tempermental.
For eight straight seasons, Williams hit over .300 and he also won one batting crown when he hit .339 in 1998. Along with O’Neill, Williams was around for each of the Yankees last four titles.
Bernie Williams is 5th in games played and hits by a Yankee. He is also in the top six in at bats, runs scored, doubles, home runs and RBI.
Statistically, Williams deserves to have Number 51 retired and that honor will probably come in the next few years.