Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Retired Numbers

On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig's number four was retired by the Yankees. Since then, many teams in all sports have put a number away for one reason or another, from pure greatness to untimely deaths.

Benjamin Kabak, writing at River Ave. Blues, discusses the status of uniform numbers for the 2010 Yankees. All well and good, until he got to this part:
Finally, we have the numbers that are obviously missing from the uniforms this spring. The Yankees have again held back Joe Torre’s 6, Paul O’Neill’s 21 and Bernie Williams’ 51. Johnny Damon’s 18 remains on the shelf and so does Hideki Matsui’s 55. Of those numbers, the 6 and the 51 should probably be retired while the other three can be returned to circulation.

I love Paul O'Neill. Absolutely loved it the day he was traded to New York. Loved watching his passion. Loved his dedication to playing and winning. He was a joy to see in that uniform.

I also have a high regard for Bernie Williams. Fine player, a winner, and a terrific musician. No. NO!

It's gotten out of hand. Let us go through the numbers again!

1) Billy Martin - this is one that simply drives me bonkers. Loved being a Yankee. Great. Managed them to a championship in '77. Won with them as a player. All true. Also embarrassed the hell out of the team on multiple occasions. Sorry. In my world, the number comes off the wall, or is co-retired with Mr. Bobby Ray Murcer, a man who also lived and died with that uniform, and stuck around as a fine broadcaster and ambassador for the team and BAT.

2) Derek Jeter - duh. It's going to happen, and it should.

3) G.H. "Babe" Ruth - double duh. Simply the greatest ever and as I've said many times: if you're going to retire Jackie Robinson's across the major leagues, then the Babe should be there also. He's that important.

4) Lou Gehrig - The one that started it all. Damn you, Lou. Just kidding - often gets overshadowed by Ruth, DiMaggio, his disease, etc. Among the top 5 ever.

5) Joe DiMaggio - One of the two greatest center fielders in team history. A generation still adores him and a nation turns a lonely eye to him.

7) Mickey Mantle - The other center fielder. Also super-important to a generation - enough so that ESPN broadcast his funeral.

8) Yogi Berra/Bill Dickey - numbers 1 and 1A in team catching history. I think Dickey gets largely overlooked for how great he was. Essentially helped make Berra who he was as a player.

9) Roger Maris - A tough call but I'd keep it retired, and possibly put Graig (and it's NOT CRAIG) Nettles' name alongside. Maris went through hell and we're all appreciating his 1961 season more now than ever. Nettles was uttlerly brilliant - on par with Brooks Robinson. A shame he doesn't get more Hall of Fame love, given the constant watering down in Cooperstown.

10) Phil Rizzuto - Holy Cow, but I might reconsider The Scooter! Yet for his 40-plus years behind the mic, his 1950 MVP, his perfection of the art of bunting, and his winning, I'll leave his number alone.

15) Thurman Munson - I think we all understand why this number has been put aside. His locker had an eerie feel to it, and now it's in the new Stadiums' museum.

16) Whitey Ford - best pitcher in franchise history.

23) Don Mattingly - one of my favorites. I would probably understand a future generation that isn't swayed but they wouldn't quite get the impact "Donnie Baseball" had, and still has.

32) Elston Howard - the Yankees' Jackie Robinson. Played and coached (and would have liked to have managed) with dignity and grace. I get it.

37) Casey Stengel - Arguably the franchises greatest manager (Joe McCarthy can make a case). McCarthy didn't wear a number, by the way.

42) Mariano Rivera - The Yankees don't have to worry about 42 only because of Jackie Robinson. Number 42, in The Bronx, will always belong to Mo.

44) Reggie Jackson - You probably know how I feel about this one. Take it down, as much for the "Billy Martin" theory as for anything else. Yet ultimately, just as with Billy, I don't think either did enough to warrant having his number retired.

49) Ron Guidry - I liked watching "Louisiana Lightning" pitch. A lot. But come on. Really?

I've yanked (ha ha) 1, 44, and 49 off the wall, and I wouldn't add any others (other than 2 and the already-mandated 42). I like that 21 and 51 haven't been issued. Now let's find a player that is worthy of the number and move on. Sorry, Bernie fans - maybe if he played for another team, I might agree with you, but this is the Yankees' uniform we're talking about. I don't think his number should be retired - period. I think you have to be really special - Hall of Fame special - to have a retired number.

I also wouldn't retire 21 for Paulie O. Same reason. Yet when you think about the foundation of the 90's dynasty, look only to O'Neill. Add in Jimmy Key. Done. Also no to 46 for Andy Pettitte, 18 for Scott Brosius, 24 for Tino Martines, and the all-important 38 for Ricky Ledee.

What about Joe Torre and number 6? That's a tough one. Upon his departure, it was a no-brainer to me. But then came the book and the bitterness. So right now, I'm content to wait.

Other than that? Nobody. Sorry. Retiring numbers has gotten out of hand. Time to tighten it up again.

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