I really enjoyed an article on ESPN’s SweetSpot Network by Diane Firstman on uniform numbers. I have written about uniform numbers quite a bit over the years and have enjoyed those written by others–especially those numbers that are retired around the league. Firstman’s article made me think about Yankee uniform numbers and the idea popped into my head about taking a romp through the Yankees uniform numbers over the years to see who the best players for each uniform number were. Obviously, some will be easy, like Number 3. Others, like Number 18 will be a lot more difficult.
.I created some rules for my search. First, the player could have worn a number for one year and then became a Hall of Fame player with another number. I would use the second number and not the first. For example, Whitey Ford first wore Number 18 in 1950 and then Number 19 that same year before picking up Number 16 in 1953 and for the rest of his career. Ford wouldn’t count for Number 18 or 19.
Next, unless there were not enough players to wear a number over the years, players who wore a number longer were given more consideration. For my purposes, quantity beats quality.
The last rule is that the best for each number is only for their Yankee years. If the player ended up being great somewhere else, that is not what counts. Instead, what counts is what the player did for the Yankees.
Okay. Enough for rules, let’s get to it.
Number 1 – Earle Combs (1929 = 1935). Combs is a marginal Hall of Fame player who was the first to wear the number back when the Yankees instituted uniform numbers in 1929. Combs did not have a number for the first five years, so you could be technical and say that his 28 rWAR with the number on his back was just marginally better than Bobby Murcer‘s 27.5 accumulated from 1969 to 1974. But that would be silly. The number is retired for Billy Martin who wore it as the Yankees’ manager. It is a pet peeve of mine that the team retired it for Martin, but anyway…
Number 4 – Only one man has ever worn it. Lou Gehrig.
Number 5 – Joe DiMaggio. Six players wore it before Joltin’ Joe. But none after. It really irks me that people put him before Mickey Mantle on the Yankees lexicon of stars. But I am biased for Mick and against Joe.
Number 6 – The only single digit not yet retired. This one is really close between Tony Lazzeri, Roy White and Joe Gordon. White would have just beat out Lazzeri if he had not worn Number 48 for a few years first.
Number 7 – Mickey Mantle.
Number 14 – Not a lot of quality or quantity here. Bill Skowron.
Number 16 – Whitey Ford.
Number 17 – A LOT of Yankees have worn this number–and many for just a year or two. Vic Raschi is the winner.
Number 18 – These middle numbers saw the most action over the years, especially as the Yankees retired more and more numbers. Would you believe Johnny Damon is the winner here?
Number 20 – Jorge Posada and it is not even close.
Number 23 – Don Mattingly.
Number 24 – Robinson Cano
Number 26 – Orlando Hernandez.
Number 27 – This number has been a wasteland. Elliot Maddox or Bob Wickman. Take your pick. Yes, seriously.
Number 28 – Sparky Lyle.
Number 29 – Really slim pickings here too. Catfish Hunter.
Number 31 – Dave Winfield.
Number 32 – Elston Howard.
Number 33 – Nick Swisher.
Number 34 – Ugh! There is nothing here. A.J. Burnett. Blech
Number 35 – Mike Mussina.
Number 36 – David Cone.
Number 38 – Pickings are getting slim. Johnny Blanchard is the best I can do here.
Number 39 – Roberto Kelly.
Number 40 – Chien-Ming Wang.
Number 42 – .Mariano Rivera.
Number 44 – Reggie Jackson
Number 45 – Stan Bahnsen
Number 46 – Andy Pettitte.
Number 47 – Ivan Nova, believe it or not.
Number 49 – Ron Guidry.
Number 50 – Nothing but scrubs here. Let’s go with Jay Howell.
Number 51 – Bernie Williams
Number 52 – CC Sabathia
Number 53 – Bobby Abreu.
Number 54 – Rich Gossage.
Number 55 – Hideki Matsui.
Number 57 – Uh…Steve Howe…
Number 58 – Dooley Womack. Things are going to be bloody awful for the rest of the way.
Number 59 – Juan Rivera
Number 60 – You know what? Let’s forget the rest, shall we? It’s time for breakfast anyway.
Have a great Sunday.