A debate on another board got me going on an issue that’s a bit of a pet peeve for me, and that’s the Yanks and their excessive, liberal use of retiring numbers. We were discussing the ‘Great’ Roger Maris, and his HOF and retired number qualifications.
Great is a bit much. He was a very good player who had the good timing to have a career year during an expansion year. He should be remembered fondly, but he’s not a HOF player and I wouldn’t have even retired his number for the Yanks. I’d prefer we keep the retired numbers to HOF players and/or guys who are at the top of the CAREER franchise numbers lists. One great season doesn’t do it for me. Being a fan favorite is a secondary factor, but should be way down on the list of qualifications. I make an exception for Thruman Munson, however. While Thurman Munson wasn’t an all time great, his case was so unique and tragic I think we can all agree on retiring his number. It was important for the franchise to honor him and put that behind them, and he’s still popular with the fans to this day.
The Yanks went a little nuts retiring numbers left and right in the 1980′s. Of the list of retired numbers I wouldn’t have retired Billy Martin, Roger Maris, Elston Howard or . . .brace yourself. . . . Don Mattingly. Being a fan favorite and a very good player just isn’t enough. Retiring a number is forever, so the fans who loved Mattingly will fade over time and you will be left with a guy who’s Baseball card isn’t that of a great player. Mattingly was great for 5-6 years and has no championships. If he’s the standard, we could retire another dozen numbers of guys with rings. Charlie Keller comes to mind off the top of my head, as well as Tommy Henrich, Allie Reynolds and Red Ruffing.
Billy Martin was a nice role player on some great Yankee teams in the 50′s, and won one title as manager of the team. Sorry, that doesn’t make my cut, and I L-O-V-E-D Billy Martin as a kid and still do. Elston Howard was never the best player on his own team, much less the league. He was the first African-American Yankee, and while that’s significant historically he wasn’t a good enough player to warrant retiring his number. He played his first game with the Yanks 8 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, so the trail had already been blazed years earlier.
It just gets ridiculous at some point, and there needs to be a more objective standard applied. Of the recent Yankees, I would have no trouble with retiring Bernie Williams number 51 since he’s so high on the team lists for Hits, ABs, Runs, Hits, Doubles AND he was fan fan fave AND he won championships. That’s it from the recent run, along with the obvious ones being Jeter and Mariano (who’s #42 is already retired around baseball for the immortal Jackie Robinson). I can’t argue against Torre’s #6 either, though since he’s said he has no plans to return to the Yanks and he’s persona non grata after his recent book, I dont expect it.
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