(Authors Note: I haven’t ditched the 5 part ‘Assessing Brian Cashman’ series. I’ll return to it on Monday)
Let me say up front I think its rather excessive how many numbers the Yanks have already retired. I’ve weighed in on the topic here in the past, so I’ll simply recap my thoughts quickly to set the stage for this piece. Just because a player is beloved doesn’t mean the team should retire their number. The Yanks assemble teams loaded with great players all the time, there has to be a more objective, team-related standard to apply for what is a team related honor. Placing highly in major categories on the franchise leader boards is a good place to start. For instance, as storied as Reggie Jackson’s run with the Yankees was, including 4 post season visits 3 AL pennants and 2 WS titles, Mr October only played 5 seasons with the Yanks. He’s 6th on the Yankee list in SLG, but 29th in HRs and 43rd in RBIs. Its difficult for me to imagine retiring Reggies number and not that of, say Charlie Keller (18th in HRs, 22nd in RBIs, 8th in SLG, 6 WS rings) or hall of famer Red Ruffing (ace of 7 WS champs and #2 on franchise list in Wins) As beloved as Phil Rizzuto was as an announcer, he wasn’t a great player. You want to retire his microphone for the Yankee museum? Fine. His number as a player? No.
Popularity with the fans is certainly a consideration, despite as seriously as us hard core fans may take the game, it is after all the entertainment business. But retiring a number forever has to go beyond mere popularity. Sal Fasano was a fan fave a few years ago, if the Yanks retire #26 for Sal’s Pals, I just might have to find myself a new hobby. But I digress. I can understand wanting to recognize historic achievements such as Elston Howard being the first African-American Yankee, or Roger Maris’ magic 1961 campaign. I can understand wanting to recognize the ‘face of the franchise’ from a great era. Don Mattingly was certainly the face of the team from 1984-1995, but it wasn’t a great Yankee era and nobody could argue he was a better overall player than HOF teammate Dave Winfield. Nobody loved Billy Martin more than I did as a kid, but I’ve yet to hear a cogent argument as to why his #1 is retired along side Casey Stengels #37. At best, we seem to have a haphazard standard being applied in these matters. During the momentary love affair we all have with our favorite players, we should caution ourselves to remember that retiring a number is forever. When a kid who’s born today looks at the retired numbers 20 years from now, in the context of the franchise numbers as a whole (and at the time of retirement) will it still make sense? In some prospective cases yes (Derek Jeter) in others (Paul O’Niell) clearly no.
On to Andy. We all know was beloved by most Yankee fans, myself included. He was a rock solid, if unspectacular pitcher on many winning Yankee teams for 13 seasons. He was only considered the ace of his staff one year (1996) and perhaps the forgettable 2008 season as well (though Moose had a big year). As far as the franchise lists go, I’ll run through all the major categories. Andy is #3 in Wins behind only HOFers Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing. He is 44th in ERA. #2 in Games started, #4 in IP. But its the MLB all time post season numbers that argue strongest for Andy. He is #1 all time in Postseason Wins (19) Games Started (42) and IP (263). From a SABR standpoint, that mostly tells us he a good pitcher who had more opportunities than anyone else, but from the perspective of the Yankee brass, that reflects roughly two decades of winning baseball, which is something they will want to tout loudly to fans and the world.
So lets total this up. I’ll use a variation on my standard Hall of Fame argument for retiring Yankee numbers. For the HOF I generally ask “Can we compose a plaque?” that will be sufficient to put the player in question along side the all time greats. For this exercise, I’ll ask “Can we write an introductory speech?” that will be impressive enough to put him in the pantheon of Yankee immortals such as Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, etc. In Andy’s case, I think the answer is yes.
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