Watching the FOX game this weekend, the announcers were having a conversation about retiring Mariano Rivera’s #42. The conversation wasn’t particularly interesting (“Oh yeah, I guess they’d just have two #42s retired!), but it did get me thinking. The Yankees are going to have a long list of numbers to potentially retire soon, as the last of the dynasty-era Yankees see their careers wind down. Some decisions will be easy, but others require some debate.
The Yankees have retired numbers for the following players: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Thurmon Munson, Billy Martin, Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry, Casey Stengal, Reggie Jackson, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard and Roger Maris.
The first thing I wanted to do was determine how many numbers the Yankees should retire based upon the dynasty they put together and precedent. Dividing dynasties and eras up is difficult – they don’t follow clean lines. But I think we should divide it up into the following eras: The Ruth-Gehrig (Retired Billy Dickey, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig) teams of the 20s and 30s, the Joe McCarthy and Joe DiMaggio-led teams (Retired DiMaggio, Dickey) of the 30s and 40s, the Casey Stengal mega-dynasty (Retired Mantle, Berra, Maris, Ford, Rizzuto, Stengal, Howard and arguably Billy Martin) , the late-70s early Steinbrenner championships (Munson, Guidry, Jackson, Martin) and the Torre dynasty. Those groups cover every retired Yankee number except for Don Mattingly. Seven are from the Stengal dynasty, five are combined from the McCarthy and Ruth teams, and four are from the late-70s teams.
From all of those teams, the Yankees retired all of the no-doubt all time Hall of Fame greats (Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, Ford, Berra, Stengal, Dickey), and a bunch of guys with special circumstances (Howard, Munson, Martin, Rizzuto, Maris).. Reggie Jackson stands out as a HOF player who played the majority of his career away from New York, as do Don Mattingly and Ron Guidry as Hall of Very Gooders who were fan favorites, but not all-time greats.
That’s all a long way of saying that the Yankees do not have a history of retiring every top player who was a contributor to a major dynasty. The Yankee Hall of Famers – Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera – should definitely have their number retired. All the other candidates are debatable:
- Andy Pettitte
- Bernie Williams
- Jorge Posada
- Joe Torre
- Paul O’Neil
- Joe Girardi
- Mike Mussina
O’Neil, Torre, Bernie, and Mussina have had their numbers de facto retired since they left the team, as no one else has been issued it. I left A-Rod out, who I think should be considered a member of another era.
Right off the bat, I think that Joe Girardi could get his number retired, but only after a long, successful, championship-laden managerial career. What number they choose to retire 45, 25, 27, 32 (after 5 more WS), would be debatable, but its irrelevent right now. He was a member of the dynasty teams, but his time as a manager is more important.
I also don’t think that any of these candidates fall into the special circumstances category. Munson’s death was a powerful tragedy, Howard broke important ground, Billy Martin was an all-time character, Maris held the record, and Rizzuto was a beloved announcer on television.
The best players of the group were Pettitte, Bernie, and Posada. All three have borderline HOF cases in their own right. Posada and Pettitte also won a 5th World Series in another era. That should push those two over the edge. Bernie and Paul O’Neil are another matter entirely. O’Neil would probably be the worst non-circumstances player to have his number retired. He would also have the second-shortest tenure in New York, after Reggie Jackson. I’m sitting at my desk looking at a signed Paul O’Neil baseball from 1998, but I can’t say that he’s worthy of a monument park spot, given the precedent. Bernie Williams, on the other hand, was both a career Yankee and a better player than O’Neil. I think he’s in. I don’t see any case for Mike Mussina, honestly.
Anyone who has been reading what I’ve written for awhile knows that I have no love for Joe Torre. He would not be the most successful Yankee manager not to have his number retired – McCarthy holds that honor, and Miller Huggins has an argument.
So, my vote is Bernie, Jeter, Mo, Posada and Pettitte in, Girardi on hold, and O’Neil, Mussina, and Torre out. The five retired numbers would slightly over represent the dynasty versus other great Yankee teams, but not in the extreme sense. Still, I think that an argument at least exists for Paul O’Neil and Joe Torre, and I’m willing to argue them.
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