Ever since I started writing the Retired Numbers Series, I have simultaneously been looking forward to and dreading covering the Yankees. I’ve been looking forward to them because of their interesting history and their long list of candidates to see their numbers honored. I’ve been dreading it because of the sheer volume of players to cover. Although, even then, there are good things about their volume; a small part of me would like to see them run out of numbers below 100 in my lifetime, just to see a player eventually wearing 100.
Notes on the Numbers
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.
There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.
The Already Retired Numbers
The Yankees already retired quite a few numbers, including the first one in MLB history. Lou Gehrig received the honor back in 1939, with his number 4 being honored following his famous “Luckiest Man” speech. The Iron Horse’s career, which ran from 1923 to 1949, saw him put up 118 bWAR and 126 fWAR.
Babe Ruth followed him (although it was almost a decade later), becoming the fourth retired number in history. His number 3 was honored for his fifteen years with the team (1920 to 1934), which were worth 150 bWAR and 157 fWAR. His full career, which went from 1914 to 1935, saw him amass 190 bWAR and 178 fWAR, more than anyone else in history.
Joe DiMaggio in 1952 marked the league’s sixth ever retired number, as well as the Yankees’ last honoree before the modern trend caught on with the rest of the league. DiMaggio played with the team from 1936 to 1951, with three years totally off for World War II. Number 5 was worth 84 bWAR and 92 fWAR in his career.
Mickey Mantle’s number 7 was retired just shy of 17 years later. From 1951 to 1968, he was worth 120 bWAR and 123 fWAR. Casey Stengel, his longtime manager and number 37, was honored the following year. I couldn’t include managers in this study, although he did win seven World Series as the head of the team, during a tenure that ran from 1949 to 1960.
Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, both of whom wore number 8, were honored together two years later in a joint ceremony. Dickey played from 1928 to 1943 (with a one year return from WWII in 1946) and amassed 54 bWAR and 64 fWAR. Berra, his successor at catcher, accumulated 62 bWAR and 71 fWAR from 1946 to 1963. He was the first player since Babe Ruth to be honored while not having spent his entire career with the Yankees (although his one season with the Mets, 1965, lasted only nine at-bats).
Whitey Ford continued the team’s run of honoring players from the 1950s and early ‘60s teams, with his number 16 leaving circulation in 1974. From 1950 to 1967 (with 1951 and -2 off for military service), he was worth 55 bWAR.
Thurman Munson in 1979 marked the first non-Hall of Famer in team history to be honored with a retired number following his tragic death. From 1969 to 1979, number 15 was worth 43 bWAR and 44 fWAR while serving as team captain.
Five years later, Elston Howard became the second non-Hall member the team would honor when his number 32 was taken out of service. In addition to being the first African-American in Yankees history, Howard played with the team from 1955 to 1967 while racking up 28 bWAR and 39 fWAR (also, like Berra, he finished his career elsewhere, but it didn’t significantly affect his career value).
On the same day the Howard’s number was retired, Roger Maris’ number 9 was also taken out of use. From 1960 to 1966, Maris put up 32 fWAR and 28 bWAR with the team. In full, he played from 1957 to 1968 and was worth 35 bWAR and 44 fWAR. In addition to being the third straight player the Yankees retired not elected to Cooperstown, Maris also passed Babe Ruth’s mark for most games by an honoree played with other teams.
After retiring two numbers in 1984, the Yankees would retire one number each of the next two years. Phil Rizzuto’s 10 was removed from circulation a decade before he would make Cooperstown through the Veterans Committee. From 1941 to 1956 (with three years off to fight in World War II), Rizzuto amassed 42 bWAR and 47 fWAR.
Billy Martin’s case is interesting. His number was supposedly retired both for his playing days and his managerial days as a joint career. However, his managerial days (.591 winning percentage, two pennants, and a World Series) were far more notable than his on-the-field numbers. In any case, I included his on-the-field numbers in the study. From 1950 to 1961 (excluding 1954, for his military leave of absence), Martin tallied 3.7 bWAR and 7 fWAR. His Yankee days, from 1950 to 1957, saw him worth 7.2 bWAR and 8 fWAR-yes, he was actually worth negative value after leaving the Yankees. Martin wore number 1. (Also, due to the dual nature of his case, I left out his values while comparing team’s standards).
Reggie Jackson was honored by the team in 1993 following his election to the Hall of Fame. Jackson is the first player the Yankees retired to not spend a majority of his career with the Yankees, only playing in Pinstripes for 653 games (compared to 1346 with Oakland and 687 with California). However, his time with the team was memorable, to say the least, and so, 44 was retired. Jackson was worth 17 bWAR and 20 fWAR from 1977 to 1981, his time in the Bronx. From 1967 to 1987, he put up 75 bWAR and 81 fWAR.
Don Mattingly’s 23 was removed from circulation in 1997 following his retirement in 1995. From 1982 until then, he was worth 40 bWAR and 46 fWAR. And finally, Ron Guidry was yet another career Yankee, who pitched from 1975 to 1988 and racked up 44 bWAR. His number 49 was retired in 2003.
Compared to the League
The Yankees obviously outweigh every other team in sheer volume-their 16 retired numbers puts them 3 ahead of the next closest team (the Cardinals). However, there are other ways I can compare teams-specifically, by looking at their numbers with bWAR versus fWAR; their averages versus their medians (to see if it’s just one or two players bringing up the average); and whether the value was career totals or just value with the team.
The Yankees rank in the first quartile in average value of retirees with the team-having Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio really helps to bring up the team average. In everything else, though, the Yankees sort of hover around the league average, sometime above, sometimes below. There’s nothing particularly bad about that; really, it’s a good sign they can retire as many numbers as they have without becoming any less picky than the rest of the league.
So Who’s Next?
And now, the fun part. Who will help the Yankees in their run to three digit uniform numbers? The first place would be to look at the numbers the team has already unofficially stopped giving out.
Paul O’Neill’s 21 has more or less been out of circulation since his retirement in 2001. LaTroy Hawkins wore it for 16 days in 2008 before giving it up due to a negative response. This brings up the question, if players can’t wear 21 without getting a negative response, why is it not already retired? I can’t answer that. In any case, O’Neill served as unofficial captain of the late ‘90s dynasty, and posted 24.1 bWAR and 29 fWAR in his nine years on the team. I would say his chances of getting a number retired are good, if for no other reason than they have to do something with it eventually, right? They can’t just let it sit there unused for the rest of time. If no one can wear it, retiring it makes the most sense.
Bernie Williams’ 51 has also been unused since he retired back in 2006. From 1991 until then, he put up one of the better runs in team history-45.9 bWAR (tenth best Yankee position player, by Baseball-Reference) and 47 fWAR (twelfth best, by Fangraphs). Again, the man is a borderline Hall of Famer. I see no reason not to retire his number. If they’re waiting for him to make the Hall of Fame, though, they may have a wait ahead of them; he only polled 9.6% last ballot, and the upcoming wave of candidates doesn’t bode well for anyone.
Number 6 hasn’t been used since Joe Torre left after 2007. I don’t have all the stuff for managers that I have for players, but obviously, there are a ton of arguments for him: 12 seasons, .605 winning percentage, 6 pennants, and 4 championships. He’ll probably get in to Cooperstown as soon as he’s eligible, though, so even if they put off honoring him or forget about him or something else, they’ll have something to make a ceremony relevant in a few years anyway.
I may as well take this moment to bring up Joe McCarthy, since I though of him while writing about Torre. He was indeed impressive-16 seasons, .627 winning percentage, 8 pennants, and 7 World Series. He also didn’t wear a uniform number, though. No numberless manager has been honored (although numberless players have, in a few cases), so I don’t see it happening now.
Jorge Posada’s number 20 was apparently removed withheld this season following his retirement. Again, like Bernie, he has strong numbers (39 bWAR, 47 fWAR) in fifteen full years spent only with the Yankees, and a borderline Hall case. However, the fact that he retired more recently means they may just be waiting for a season or two to pass before honoring him. There really isn’t a rush or anything.
35 was apparently out of circulation for Mike Mussina when I was compiling information for this project, but it has since been reissued to Michael Pineda. In any case, they may still decide to honor him-in eight years, he posted 33.1 bWAR (and 38.2 fWAR, if you’re interested). It may still happen, and the fact that they already withheld his number for a short time is encouraging. It just may require something like Mussina being elected to the Hall to actually get it done.
We may as well talk about the rest of the ‘90s gang here. There’s Derek Jeter. 67.8 bWAR. 75 fWAR. Fifth in team history (both stats). 18 seasons. 5 World Series. Sentences would only get in the way here. Yes. He’s number 2, by the way (in case you’ve somehow forgot).
There’s Andy Pettitte next, who would be the easy favorite for Comeback Player of the Year in the AL if not for the fact that Adam Dunn was apparently in hyper-sleep all of last year. In his fourteen years in the Bronx, Pettitte has put himself fourth in franchise history in bWAR with 45.1. (He also has 57 fWAR.) Ford and Guidry rank right ahead of him in bWAR, second and third. We’ll get to number one in a second. Again, I see no reason not to retire Pettitte’s 46.
Then there’s number one on their pitcher list, Mariano Rivera. Again, I would say his case is as solid as Jeter’s. A member of all five World Series teams that Jeter’s been on. All-time saves leader. Leads all Yankee pitchers in history with 52.7 (his fWAR isn’t as high, at 39.4, but they grade relievers a little differently I believe). Also, he’s the all-time leader in ERA+ at 206. His case is more or less set in stone, they just need to set the date once he retires.
Now that we have that group out of the way, the best thing would probably be to just go down the WAR leader boards. And, in doing so, the top (non-Jeter) position without a retired number is unanimously Willie Randolph. Through his good fielding and above average hitting (especially for a middle infielder), Randolph managed to accumulate 51.7 bWAR and 56 fWAR in his thirteen years in the Bronx (1976 to 1988). Both marks put him eighth among position players. For as good as number 30 was though, he’s been rather overlooked in history. If the Hall voters (well, Veterans Committee at this point, I suppose) finally decide to elect him to the Hall, that might reopen his case. As it is, I haven’t heard of any particular movement pushing Randolph’s cause. The longer it’s been since he last played, the less momentum there will be to retire his number. Until I hear otherwise, I’m less optimistic about his odds.
Tony Lazzeri also rates well under both forms of WAR. From 1926 to 1937, he was worth 44.7 bWAR and 55 fWAR. He’s also a Hall of Famer and a member of Murderers’ Row, so it isn’t like he’s been forgotten to history, either. But, on the other hand, he hasn’t played in over seventy years. If they haven’t retired his number yet, I’m not sure why’d they would suddenly reconsider. Also making his case awkward is the fact that every number he wore with the Yankees (primarily 6, but also 5, 23, and 7) is now associated with someone else. I think that more or less does his chances in.
Neck-and-neck with Lazzeri is Alex Rodriguez. In his ninth season with the team, A-Rod’s been worth 49.2 bWAR and 50 fWAR (so both rankings have him in the team’s top ten position players), and I would bet that number increases by the time he’s done. He may not be as well liked as some of the other players mentioned, but I still think that his number will be retired in the end. His run with the team has just been too good.
Outfielders Roy White and Charlie Keller also both rank very highly, and have very similar cases. Both are All-Star corner outfielders who are more or less career Yankees (Keller spent about 100 games in Detroit at the end of his career, but it’s close). Keller, who played mostly in the ‘40s, missed time for World War II, but still managed to be worth 39.4 bWAR and 49 fWAR. White played in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, and was worth 43.0 bWAR and 47 fWAR. While both would be good candidates, I can’t imagine them getting their numbers retired without something to build up the momentum behind their case, like a Veterans Committee selection to the Hall. As it is, both have faded from the public consciousness. Not helping matters is the fact that they both also primarily wore numbers that have already been retired. Keller mostly wore 9, but also wore 12 for a few years. Similarly, White mostly wore 6, but also wore 48 for a bit. Neither is in as bad a position as Lazzeri in this regard, but it certainly can’t help. Realistically, Keller is in the better position to be remembered and subsequently honored, as he has the better Hall of Fame case. However, with as few people as the Veterans Committee has been honoring lately, I still wouldn’t bet on it.
Graig Nettles was a better player than either, with 41.0 bWAR and 47 fWAR in his eleven years with the team; and he’s the more recent player, which should mean he’s fresher in everyone’s memory. He should have a better chance at a belated honor than either of them, too, with 62.8 bWAR and 72 fWAR. Again, though, until an actual push at election or something similar to remind everyone of him happens, he’s a little far back on the list of who’s to be honored next. And, again, the number he wore with the Yankees (9) has been retired.
I never know exactly where to cut off consideration for past hitters, but Joe Gordon and Earle Combs seem like as good a place as any. Both are Veterans Committee choices for the Hall of Fame with impressive, yet shortened, careers. Combs, in 12 years with the Yankees (1924 to 1935) was worth 40.0 bWAR and 46 fWAR. Gordon, in seven years with the Yankees (1938 through 1946, with two years off for WWII), was worth 35.1 bWAR and 45 fWAR. These two might actually be at a disadvantage by being in Cooperstown; at least with players like Keller and White, you can dream and say “Maybe people will honor them when they’re elected”. In Combs and Gordon’s cases, they got elected, and there was still no nostalgic movement to retire their numbers. For that reason, I would say they have even worse odds. Also, if you hadn’t already guessed, their numbers (1 for Combes, 6 for Gordon) are now associated with other Yankees.
Going down the pitcher list, after the top four comes Red Ruffing. Ruffing is a Hall of Famer who spent fifteen years in New York, from 1930 to 1946 (with 1942-3 off for war). In that time he was worth 41.7 bWAR. Again, though, he hasn’t played in six and a half decades, which has allowed him to fade from peoples’ attention. He’s probably better off than some of the other players in that he won’t need the Veterans Committee to get elected, but then again, he’s already in the Hall and still hasn’t seen any movement. He is one of the best players in history without a retired number (in part due to his hitting prowess on top of his pitching; 11.6 extra bWAR just with the Yankees), but still, he’s pitched long enough ago that the majority of fans today never saw him pitch, let alone have fond memories of his best days. On top of that (I’m starting to feel like a broken record), his primary number is 15, which has since been retired.
Sixth place among Yankee pitchers is Lefty Gomez, who has a similar case to Ruffing (minus being a surprisingly good hitter). He pitched for 13 seasons in the Bronx, the last of which was 1942. Even if he is a Hall of Famer with 39.5 bWAR, the fact is that he was not as good as Ruffing and he pitched even earlier, meaning his chances are even lower. The one benefit he has is that his number, 11, is shockingly not yet retired. I doubt it’ll make a difference, but it’s nice to see for a change.
That’s probably a good place to cut off the top pitchers list. The next two, Bob Shawkey and Mel Stottlemyre, both rank only slightly ahead of Mussina (39.0 bWAR, 37.5 bWAR, and 33.1 bWAR, respectively) despite both having nearly 1000 more innings in Pinstripes.
I may as well bring up Goose Gossage and Roger Clemens here. Neither spent a majority of their careers as a Yankee, but there may be special circumstances in both cases. Gossage spent more seasons in New York than anywhere else (although he threw more innings with the White Sox). In addition, his Hall plaque has him with a Yankee cap. His 7 years in New York were worth 18.4 bWAR. My verdict? It may happen. Hall voting for relief pitchers already baffles me; I have no idea about the standards for retiring a reliever’s number. It may happen, and the fact that he’s in the Hall already as a Yankee helps. He played recently enough that he’s still in memory, and it’s not like the team has kept him waiting an unreasonable amount of time yet, seeing as he threw his last pitch in 1994. I mean, Ron Guidry was a career Yankee, and he still had to wait fifteen years. I’d say his odds are still around 50/50.
Clemens may get a retired number on the Reggie Jackson basis; star player who came in as a free agent, did well (19.9 bWAR and 24 fWAR in his five and a half years), and dominated while the team won some championships. I do think fan perception of him will soften in time, and I also think he will make the Hall of Fame eventually. Again, like Gossage, I would say his case is close to 50/50; it’ll depend a lot on his relationship with the team, popularity, and other factors. He almost certainly won’t go in the Hall as a Yankee, but that didn’t exactly hurt Reggie Jackson.
That more or less leaves just the current players, and most of the really strong cases were already covered. Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher have both been solid or better in their time with the team, but they’ve only been there for three and four seasons, respectively. It will take a lot more than that to earn the honor, particularly since both will be free agents within the next two years. Their cases depend not only on not getting worse as they age, but also the reaching an agreement to stay with the team.
Mark Teixeira IS guaranteed to be with the team through at least 2017, but age already seems to be wearing down the 32 year old. His OPS has dropped rather significantly for every year he’s been on the team. With only 13.6 bWAR and 14 fWAR with the team to date, I don’t like his odds. Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes are both seem young, but neither has exactly set the world on fire just yet, and they’re 25 and 26, respectively. They may both become good-to-great pitchers, but their peak years will have to far exceed what they’ve shown so far. I’ll throw Michael Pineda into the conversation just because he’s young and good, but it would be nice to see how he comes back from his injury. Brett Gardner has been great when he’s played (14.2 bWAR, 15 fWAR in about three season’s worth of games). But he’s already 28, and he has a lot of ground to make up to get on pace.
Really, there are just two other players on the roster with actually good chances. Robinson Cano, at 29, has been worth 30.0 bWAR and 28 fWAR. He has an option for 2013, meaning he’s only guaranteed to play for the Yankees for another season and a half. If he signs on for longer, he instantly becomes the new favorite for the honor.
The other is CC Sabathia. The 31-year old has just over 800 innings on the team since he joined in 2009, but has already 12.6 bWAR and 21.4 fWAR. A Cy Young Award (or at least another runner-up finish) may help his case, but he’s signed through 2016, so he has plenty of time.
So, In Closing...
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the New York Yankees in the future are, in order: