Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Thoughts on the Yankees & Retiring Numbers

The New York Yankees retired Joe Torre's number 6 in August, leaving the only single digit left to the Yankee Captain Derek Jeter. No safer bet exists that Jeter will be the last person to wear number 2. Sadly no more single digits will be worn by Yankees players when Jeter retires. Don't get me wrong if ever a Yankee deserved to have his number retired for being a great Yankee on and off the field it's Jeter. That leads me to the rest of the story regarding the retired numbers of the Yankees.
Let's start with the first number retired and the reason why. It was Lou Gehrig's number 4 and if you don't know about Lou Gehrig you haven't been around baseball. He holds the American league record for most RBI in a season at 184. Not to mention 2130 games in a row and and a.340 lifetime BA and 493 homers. But the story is that Gehrig was cut down by the disease that bears his name and was dead in 1941 two years after leaving baseball. He was the Yankee Captain at the time and the Yankee organization retired his number and proclaimed the Yankees would not have another captain after Gehrig. The idea of retiring the number is associated with the tragedy surrounding Gehrig. Soon after Gehrig passed the great Babe Ruth passed away in 1948 and his number 3 was also retired. Babe died at the young age of 53, part of the curse of the '27 Yankees which is another story. One of Babe's teammates is quoted as saying about Ruth, "he didn't live a long time but he did a lot of living in the time he was alive!" The Babe contracted throat cancer and passed away and the Yankees retired his number 3. Now both of these players were so great that another player would be hard pressed to be considered worthy to wear his number anyway so retiring those numbers is not a tough call. The flood gates are opening.
Joe DiMaggio wore number 5 and was a Yankee winner! He carried the Yankees to nine World Championships and when he retired so was his number 5. This is the first occasion of a number being retired just for being a good ballplayer. And indeed it is hard to argue that number 5 should not be retired. But now the reasoning has changed significantly. Next up is Mickey Mantle's number 7 and he is also a great winning Yankee, 3 time MVP, seven World Series wins and number 7 is retired. At that time the Yankees Organization decided to look at some of their other great players and lo and behold Yogi. He also a 3 time MVP and 10 world Championships to boot. Number 8 is retired. If you look at the Yankee Stadium wall where the numbers are mounted you will see two number 8's. That is because Bill Dickey also wore number 8 and his numbers as a player are phenomenal especially because he was a catcher. So the Yankees did a double-take and decided Dickey had it all too thus they retired the Dickey number 8. One would think that this exercise by the Yankees would slow down but its only picking up steam by this time. The Yankees decide to retire Whitey Ford's number 16 and Casey Stengel's number 37. Now Whitey has the most wins for the Yanks but he only won 20 games twice. Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez won 20 games four times and Mel Stottlemyre three times. Those three pitchers are relative unknowns to Yankee fans. I do believe that Ruffing has a plaque in Monument Park but why no number retired for him. He had 232 wins for the Yanks and 276 overall while Gomez was 189 and 104 and both are in the HOF.
August 2, 1979 and Thurman Munson dies in a plane crash. What a great player and winner. What a terrible heart breaking tragedy for his family and secondly for his fans. One of my all time favorites! He was the Yankee Captain, selected by George Steinbrenner, and while I don't think there should have been another Yankee Captain, Munson certainly filled the shoes of the Iron Horse Lou Gehrig. After the tragedy of Munson's death the Yankees should have stopped naming captains but like the retired numbers the Yankee organization continued. So the Yankees retired Munson's 15 and we are back to the beginning with a good player and a tragedy and a retired number. Following this a slew of Yankee numbers were retired and only Mariano Rivera who wore number 42 was deserving of a retired number. Lets start with the managers.
Torre is number 6; Martin is number 1; and Stengel is number 37. Now number 37 is such an ignominious number that even if it were not retired no player would wear it! I believe Casey won ten pennants, while Torre won 6 pennants. And Martin won 2 pennants and 1981 the shortened season. First of all no managers should have their numbers retired. They don't even have to wear a uniform and Connie Mack is the proof. Miller Huggins has a monument and didn't wear a number so he has some recognition from the Yankees but Billy Martin is totally undeserving of being in the same category as Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth or even the other managers. What about Joe McCarthy; he won eight pennants for the Yanks! Few could even tell what decades he managed. He didn't get his number retired. Torre and Stengel won with the Yanks however they both were terrible managers with all their previous teams til the Yanks. Maybe Yankee talent had something to do with winning? Sorry unretire those numbers.
Now for the rest of the retired numbers that are truly ridiculous. Lets start with number 9. Roger Maris, a great player and 2 time MVP. A winner with the Yanks and later the Cardinals. But he was on the Yankees for seven years and if they respected him enough to retire his number why did they trade him to St. Louis! I would also argue that Graig Nettles who also wore number 9 did as much or more than Roger did while on the Yankees. Unretire number 9 please. Next up is Elston Howard, a Yankee great. He was an MVP and part of the winning Yankees of the 50's and 60's. But his number was retired because he was also the first African-American player on the Yankees. Now all of MLB has retired Jackie Robinson's 42 for the same reason. I think the Yankees are pushing the envelope on this one. I like Howard but the Yankees also traded him at the end of his career and as a player he is not in the Gehrig/Ruth class.
So I vote if I had a vote to unretire 32. Number 10 is Phil Rizzuto and his number was retired also. I think the Yankees felt sorry for him because he kept getting snubbed by the HOF so they retired his number. He finally made it in and he is at best a borderline HOFer. But up against the numbers of Gehrig and Ruth no way is he worthy of a retired number. Reggie Jackson number 44! Only 5 seasons with the Yankees? His number 9 is retired by Oakland and rightfully so; but number 44 should be unretired. Again only 5 seasons and that is not enough. Then we have Donnie Baseball, number 23. If you examine Don Mattingly's career numbers he had 5 super years with the Yanks. Now he is by far the slickest fielding first baseman ever. But he was a loser on a losing team. In 1985 he guaranteed a pennant and came in 2nd. He never brought the team in but he always had something to say. His only saving grace was a tremendous 1995 playoff series with a bad back but also a losing effort. The guy was cursed, well maybe not but he just didn't win. Unretire number 23. Ron Guidry's number 49. I loved this guy and the way he pitched and played. He was great. But that being said I cannot even put him up there with Whitey Ford whose number I probably would unretire also. There were a lot of Yankee pitchers with similar records to Gator like Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat and Vic Raschi to name three. Obviously nobody is retiring their numbers and 49 should be unretired.
The Yankees are still playing games with the numbers. They have yet to give out Bernie Williams number 51, even though it would have been a good fit for Ichiro Suzuki when he joined the Yanks. If they think they are retiring number 51 they are really polluting the waters. Pretty soon if a player has a good year for them they are going to retire his number! It becomes a joke. It has become a joke.
If I had the power to change these things which I don't and probably even the owners themselves have relinquished said power, I would leave numbers 3; 4; 5; 7; 15; and 2 and 42. Number 42 would also be retired for Mariano who was worthy to stand with Ruth Gehrig DiMaggio Mantle and Jeter.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)