The Yankees Numbers Game

Numbers are very important to the New York Yankees and their fans. Oh, no, I don’t mean stats, I’m talking about uniform numbers.

Last night, when the news about the Ichiro Suzuki trade first surfaced, some Yankee fans got their dander up immediately. They were worried that Ichiro, who actually wore #51 for the Seattle Mariners to honor Bernie Williams, would take that number and defile it! How dare someone else wear Williams’s number!

Since Bernie’s last game as a Yankee in 2006, no one has worn #51 other than Williams himself during Old Timers’ festivities.

Ichiro wisely stated in his introductory press conference last evening that he would not be taking Bernie’s number. He added that he knew how much it meant to Yankee fans. Ichiro probably saw what happened to poor LaTroy Hawkins when he dared to wear Paul O’Neill’s #21 back in 2008 and knew better. Hawkins was booed with such ferocity that he had to change to #22. (Apparently, Yankee fans didn’t care that Hawkins had switched to Roger Clemens‘s former number.)

Ichiro’ s #31 has been worn by guys like Steve Karsay, Aaron Small, Edwar Ramirez, Tim Raines and Dave Winfield. Winfield himself tweeted last night saying, “Everyone’s asking about my thoughts on Yankees latest #31 Ichiro. I don’t know how many wore it before or after me but I wore it the best.”

See? People were bothering Dave Winfield, who last played for the New York Yankees when I was in high school (1990), to see what his reaction would be. Not only that but Winfield didn’t even wear #31 when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 or when he was with the Minnesota Twins from 1993-1994, he wore #32.

The whole retiring numbers practice was fun in the beginning and I understand why the Yankees started doing it. It was a way to honor legendary New York Yankee stars like Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

And I do understand why today’s fans would want to see O’Neill’s and Williams’s numbers retired, both players were a big part of the 1996-2001 dynasty. But the Yankees can’t retire every number belonging to a player who happened to play on a good team or a number of good teams. If they did, they’d have to start giving out fractions or placing decimals on the uniforms.

So can everyone calm down a little? Just because a guy wants to wear a number that belonged to another Yankee player, it doesn’t make him a bad person.

Stacey is co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money, co-host of the It's About The Money, Stupid podcast and is a monthly contributor to ESPN's SweetSpot Blog. She is a former contributor at Aerys Sports and High Heat Stats. She has contributed to group projects at Baseball: Past And Present and the Hall of Stats. Her work has appeared in USA Today's Sports Weekly and most recently, she wrote four pieces for Derek Jeter: Celebrating the Yankees' Captain Clutch, a magazine printed by i5 Publishing.

3 thoughts on “The Yankees Numbers Game

  1. TWASP

    If T.O. Chris had a number it should be retired! No one comments like T.O. !

  2. RobertGKramer@AOL.Com

    #31 was also worn by Yankee 20 game winner Ed Figueroa in 1978. Ed also won 19 for the Yanks in 1976!

  3. Michael

    They gotta stop with the numbers thing. A monument in the park isnt enough? And its not like Hawkins wearing 21 at all. Ichiro is one of the best baseball players of all time. Your not passing the number to a scrub. Shrewd move on Ichiro not to demand that number which he would have totally been within his rights to do so.

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