Why the Yankees Have Retired Too Many Numbers, From a Yankee Fan’s Perspective

Everyone knows the Yankees have the most illustrious history of any team in the four major sports. 27 championships in 40 World Series appearances, the most Hall-of-Famers, and the best winning percentage of all-time. Obviously with great success comes great players, and the Yankees have had no shortage of those. They’ve honored 38 players, managers, or front office members in Monument Park, their own shrine to past greats in center field of the Stadium. Of these 38, 23 have had their numbers retired (8 and 42 are double retired for Yogi Berra & Bill Dickey and Jackie Robinson & Mariano Rivera, respectively.) Despite their great history, there’s no way all 23 of these guys should have their number retired. It takes away a fifth of the number choices. We’ll never again see a single-digit wearing Yankee. Not only are these numbers retired, but certain other numbers are considered somewhat “untouchable” in Yankees lore. Newly acquired Todd Frazier took jersey number 29 because the #21 he coveted was worn by Paul O’Neill, the former outfielder who worn four championships on the legendary 90s teams. O’Neill was a fan favorite, and many believe his number should be retired. No player wants the heat that will come from fans for wearing the #21. Personally, I think that’s really stupid. Frazier grew up a Yankee fan who idolized O’Neill, and it’s not like there are a ton of numbers left to choose from.

Bottom line, the Yankees have retired so many numbers that it’s to the point that it’s lost its significance. The St. Louis Cardinals have the second most retired numbers with 11, with 10 of those players being Hall of Famers. Let’s take a look at each Yankee retired number and determine whether or not it should have been retired.

#1- Billy Martin

Right off the bat, here’s a questionable retired number. While Martin was famous for being hired and fired by George Steinbrenner five times, his only World Series win as a manager came in 1977. He did win 4 championships as a player with the Yanks in the 50’s, but was a marginal player at best. He was only an All-Star once, and retired with a career batting average of .257. He may be one of the most notable managers in Yankee history, but nothing here is really worthy of getting his number retired.

#2- Derek Jeter

Who? Haven’t heard of him. Anyway, I looked up this guy’s stats and they’re pretty good. .310 career average, 6th all time with 3,465 hits, 14-time All-Star, 5-time world champion, 1996 AL Rookie of the Year, 2000 All-Star Game & World Series MVP, 5-time Gold Glove winner, longest tenured captain in Yankees history… yeah I think this guy’s deserving.

#3- Babe Ruth

The original home-run hitter and the cause of the curse of the Bambino, Ruth remains one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. His 714 home runs rank third all-time, and he won four World Series with the Yanks. Retiring Ruth’s #3 is a no-brainer.

#4- Lou Gehrig

Gehrig is another easy number retirement. A six-time world champion, Gehrig batted .340 throughout his career with 493 home runs, twice taking home MVP honors. His career and life were both cut short when he tragically suffered from ALS, now obviously known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His farewell to Yankee fans on July 4, 1939 has become one of the most famous speeches in the history of sports.

 

#5- Joe DiMaggio

Best known for his legendary 56-game hitting streak in 1941, DiMaggio is one of the best Yankees and players of all-time. A 13-time All-Star (every season he played), 9-time world champion and 3-time MVP, DiMaggio’s #5 has deservedly been retired since 1952.

#6- Joe Torre

Manager to the legendary 1996-2001 Yankee dynasty, Torre never missed the playoffs in his 12 seasons managing the Yanks. His four championships and six World Series appearances make him one of the best to ever manage the Bronx Bombers. Although I personally think it’s kind of dumb that managers/coaches wear numbers at all, Torre’s #6 is definitely deserving of retirement.

#7- Mickey Mantle

Another great Yankee outfielder, the Mick is arguably the greatest switch-hitter of all-time. A seven-time world champion, Mantle hit 536 career home runs, won the MVP three times, and won a Triple Crown in 1956. No doubt his #7 is deserving of its spot in Monument Park.

#8- Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey

Two of the greatest catchers in  Yankee history, both Berra and Dickey played for some legendary Yankee teams. Berra recorded 10 championships while Dickey won seven. Berra was a three-time MVP, Dickey was an 11-time All-Star. Between the two of them, #8 should for sure be retired.

#9- Roger Maris

Most famous for his then-record 61 home runs in 1961, Maris was also a great outfielder. While he did win 2 MVPs and 2 World Series for the Yanks, he only played seven seasons for them. However, I think it’s reasonable to say he did enough in those seasons to have his number retired. I think it could go either way, but I don’t have a problem with Maris’ #9 being retired.

#10- Phil Rizzuto

Rizzuto was a 5-time All-Star shortstop for the Yanks, taking home 7 world championships and the 1950 AL MVP award. He later went on to be one of the Yankees’ most famous broadcasters, coining the phrase “Holy cow!” Despite not having overwhelming career numbers, Rizzuto is deserving of his number retirement.

#15- Thurman Munson

Munson was a 7-time All-Star catcher for the Yanks, winning two championships, 3 Gold Gloves, the 1970 Rookie of the Year award, and the 1976 AL MVP. He also served as captain from 1976 until 1979, when he tragically died in a plane crash. Munson remains one of the most beloved Yanks in history, and not only has no one worn his #15 since, no one even used his locker at the old Stadium. It was brought over to the new Stadium, where it resides in the Yankee Museum. #15 is more than deserving of its spot.

#16- Whitey Ford

Ford is arguably the greatest pitcher in Yankee history. His 236-106 career record gives him the best winning percentage (.690) of any 20th-century pitcher. He was a 10-time All-Star and 6-time world champ, taking home both AL Cy Young and MVP honors in 1961. No doubt Ford deserved his number to be retired.

#20- Jorge Posada

I almost forgot the Yankees even retired his number. I love Jorge, but there’s no way he should have his number retired. Yeah, he won 5 championships as part of the “Core Four,” but he barely played in 1996 and wasn’t really the everyday starter until 2000. He was a five-time All-Star with a .273 career average, but nothing he did puts him in the same category of guys like Ruth and Mantle. Sorry, Jorge, but #20 should still be up for grabs.

#23- Don Mattingly

Another Yankee captain, Mattingly batted .307 over his 14-year career, all with the Yanks. He was a 6-time All-Star, winning 9 Gold Gloves, the 1985 AL MVP, and the 1984 batting title. Although they never made the playoffs until his final season in 1995, Mattingly surely did enough for his #23 to be retired, even if he never did trim those sideburns.

 

#32- Elston Howard

The first black player in Yankee history, that’s far from the only reason Howard is deserving of having his number retired. Howard was a 6-time world champ as a Yankee player and coach, appearing in 12 All-Star games as well as taking home 2 Gold Gloves and the 1963 AL MVP.

#37- Casey Stengel

The third-winningest Yankee manager of all-time behind Torre and Joe McCarthy, Stengel won 7 titles and 10 pennants in his 12 years managing in the Bronx. Again, I think it’s dumb managers get jersey numbers at all, but they do, and Stengel’s should definitely be retired.

#42- Jackie Robinson and Mariano Rivera

42 was retired by all of Major League Baseball for Robinson in 1997 anyway, so this discussion is somewhat irrelevant. However, the last player to ever wear 42, Mariano Rivera, surely is also worthy of having it retired in Monument Park. The greatest closer and possibly pitcher of all-time (I’ll save that argument for another time), Rivera was a 5-time world champ with the Yanks. He recorded 652 saves over his 19 seasons, the most in MLB history. Rivera reached another level of greatness in the postseason, with 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA in 96 appearances.

#44- Reggie Jackson

Dubbed “Mr. October” for his postseason success, Jackson won 2 World Series in five seasons in Pinstripes. That’s the problem. FIVE seasons. There’s no denying his career greatness, smashing 563 home runs, but five seasons with the Yanks doesn’t mean you should get your number retired.

#46- Andy Pettitte

Another “Core Four” member undeserving of having his number retired. Let me explain. Sure, Pettitte has five rings. But he was only a three-time All-Star with good but not great career statistics. I could get over that if not for the fact that he left the Yankees to follow his buddy Roger Clemens to the Astros in 2004. He only stayed in Houston for three seasons before coming back home to New York, but he cost the Yankees another potential world championship. No way the Red Sox’ legendary comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS happens if Pettitte is still on the team. Mike Mussina was their only solid starter that year, trotting out the likes of Kevin Brown in Game 7 trying to clinch a pennant. I love Pettitte and don’t hold it against him too much, but 46 should not be retired.

#49- Ron Guidry

Nicknamed “Louisiana Lightning,” Guidry was a 4-time All-Star and 2-time champion with the Yanks. He twice led the AL in ERA and wins, and took home the 1978 Cy Young Award. Guidry could also field his position well, winning 5 Gold Gloves. He also briefly served as captain from 1986-88. While he did play for the rather unsuccessful Yankees of the 1980s, I think Guidry is deserving of having his number retired.

#51- Bernie Williams

Bern, baby, Bern. A 4-time champ with the 90s dynasty teams, Bernie was a 5-time All-Star and 4-time Gold Glover, as well as the 1998 AL batting champion. While he is often overlooked as an integral part of those championship teams, I really think only Jeter and Mariano should have their numbers retired from that era. Bernie is definitely more deserving than Pettitte and Posada, but ultimately undeserving.

 

That’s it for the Yankees retired numbers. Of the 21 currently unavailable numbers, five of them (Bernie’s #51, Pettitte’s #46, Jackson’s #44, Posada’s #20, and Martin’s #1) should definitely not be retired, with a few others on the borderline (Guidry’s #49, Maris’ #9.) Regardless, it’s undeniable all of these players had great impacts on Yankees history, and should be honored with plaques in Monument Park. But unless we want to have players wearing triple digit numbers in 25 years, the Yanks should probably be more selective with which numbers they retire.

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