The best Yankees by uniform number

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 1Earle 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 2Derek Jeter. Duh. For a full history of this uniform number, I wrote a piece about it a year ago this month. I guess I get bored easily in March.

Number 3 - Babe Ruth, of course. Stupidly, the Yankees gave the number to seven more players after Ruth was gone, the best of which was probably George Selkirk.

Number 4 – Only one man has ever worn it. Lou Gehrig.

Number 5Joe 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 8 – This number is retired for two different catchers, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey! These two are much closer than people realize and Yogi comes out on top by a hair.

Number 9 – The number was retired for Roger Maris. But was he the best to wear it? Not in quantity. That would be Graig Nettles by a hair over Charlie Keller.

Number 10Phil Rizzuto. No one else is even close. Second is Chris Chambliss with 25 less wins.

Number 11Fred Stanley? Heck no. Lefty Gomez is the best ever Number 11.

Number 12Ron Blomberg? Uh…no. Gil McDougald. Yes.

Number 13Alex Rodriguez. What did you expect, Mike Pagliarulo?

Number 14 – Not a lot of quality or quantity here. Bill Skowron.

Number 15 – The number was retired for Thurman Munson. But Red Ruffing beats him by a nose.

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 19Dave Righetti just beats out Fritz Peterson and Johnny Murphy.

Number 20Jorge Posada and it is not even close.

Number 21Paul O’Neill by a decent margin over Spud Chandler.

Number 22Roger Clemens over Allie Reynolds..

Number 23Don Mattingly.

Number 24Robinson Cano

Number 25Jason Giambi by the smallest of margins over Tommy John.

Number 26Orlando Hernandez.

Number 27 – This number has been a wasteland. Elliot Maddox or Bob Wickman. Take your pick. Yes, seriously.

Number 28Sparky Lyle.

Number 29 – Really slim pickings here too. Catfish Hunter.

Number 30Willie Randolph, but I sure did love Mel Stottlemyre.

Number 31Dave Winfield.

Number 32Elston Howard.

Number 33Nick Swisher.

Number 34 – Ugh! There is nothing here. A.J. Burnett. Blech

Number 35Mike Mussina.

Number 36David Cone.

Number 37 – Only two players ever wore this number, both in 1946. They were Herb Karpel and Gus Niarhos. Niarhos by default.

Number 38 – Pickings are getting slim. Johnny Blanchard is the best I can do here.

Number 39Roberto Kelly.

Number 40Chien-Ming Wang.

Number 41 = Take your pick between Randy Johnson and Jake Gibbs. Hmm..

Number 42 – .Mariano Rivera.

Number 43Jeff Nelson. It would have been Rudy May if he had not changed the second time around..

Number 44Reggie Jackson

Number 45Stan Bahnsen

Number 46Andy Pettitte.

Number 47Ivan Nova, believe it or not.

Number 48Mike Torrez in one year over Boone Logan. Yeesh.

Number 49Ron Guidry.

Number 50 – Nothing but scrubs here. Let’s go with Jay Howell.

Number 51Bernie Williams

Number 52CC Sabathia

Number 53Bobby Abreu.

Number 54Rich Gossage.

Number 55Hideki Matsui.

Number 56Jim Bouton. Did you know that both Al and Mark Leiter wore this number for the Yankees?

Number 57 – Uh…Steve Howe

Number 58Dooley Womack. Things are going to be bloody awful for the rest of the way.

Number 59Juan Rivera

Number 60 – You know what? Let’s forget the rest, shall we? It’s time for breakfast anyway.

Have a great Sunday.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

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