Thinking about the Yankees’ numbers


As Spring Training nears, the Yankees’ numbers are slowly talking center stage. Now, I’m not talking about wOBA, UZR or other intriguing numbers. Rather, I’m talking about those numbers on the backs of all of the players’ jerseys. As the old concessionaire’s saying goes, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and the Yankees are seemingly running out of numbers.

On Monday afternoon, Ed Price on Tweeter noted how the Yankees are pushing it numerically this spring. With their 40-man roster and 20 invitees, the team will have 60 players in camp, and a whole slew of coaches who need uniform numbers too. Last year, with 64 players in camp, the highest number on the field in Tampa was Kanekoa Teixeira’s 94. This year, the Yanks will again push toward 90.

This problem of numbers — if we can call it a problem — is generally a March-only issue. In recent years, the Yanks have had just two players sport numbers in the 90s range. Brian Bruney donned 99 for a spell in an effort to find some numerically-inspired consistency while Alfredo Aceves has embraced number 91 to honor Dennis Rodman. In 1952, Charlie Keller wore 99 for a spell as well, but when the rosters are pared, most players break camp with numbers at 55 or lower.

Why then are the Yanks heading to Tampa ready to dole out numbers more fit for linebackers and offensive linemen than baseball players? For the Bombers, it is one of nostalgia and historical recognition mixed with some recent stubbornness on behalf of the team and its fans. The Yankees, as we know, have retired 15 numbers — including Jackie Robinson’s and eventually Mariano Rivera‘s 42 — for historical and political purposes. Does Phil Rizzuto’s number 10 need to be shelved? What of Billy Martin’s 1? Ron Guidry’s 49, hung up in Monument Park to lure him back to the team as a pitching coach? Reggie Jackson’s 44?

And then, the Yankees have those numbers than sit in limbo. Joe Torre’s number 6 will remain reserved for a future reconciliation. Bernie Williams‘ 51 has been unissued since Bernie didn’t retire after the 2006 season. And who could forget the uproar over the Yanks’ willingness to issue 21 to LaTroy Hawkins for a few weeks? O’Neill might have been the 41st Yankee to don that one, but in the collective mind of the fans, it belongs only to him.

Eventually, the Yankees will have to hang up a few more numbers. Rivera’s 42, already on ice due to the league-wide retirement of it, will earn a place in Monument Park. Derek Jeter‘s number 2 will never see another player, and if we want to get overly sentimental Andy Pettitte‘s 46, Jorge Posada‘s 20 and maybe even A-Rod‘s 13, depending upon his career accomplishments, might wind up unused forevermore.

So at some point, the Yankees will run out of single-digit numbers to hand out. They’ll have to break that triple-digit barrier unless they do what the White Sox have done and unretire some numbers. Omar Vizquel will wear Luis Aparacio’s number 11 with the Hall of Famer’s permission, and the Yanks, a team that has, in the Steinbrenner era, put its history on a golden pedestal, may need to unretire some respectable numbers. The fans too may have to let go or else we will be cheering on future greats wearing awkwardly large numbers on their uniforms.

Above: Bernie Williams’ 51 remains in limbo. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)

Categories : Whimsy


  1. A.D. says:

    Probably would be better if the Yankees got into retiring “jerseys” rather than numbers, thus leaving the numbers open, or perhaps just keeping those numbers off limits if a player has made it to the HOF vs just having a very good to great Yankee career.

  2. there is nothing wrong with giving out numbers 21, 51, and 6 this season. it has to happen. its just a number.

  3. So at some point, the Yankees will run out of single-digit numbers to hand out.

    Meh, that “some point” is what, a century in the future?

    We have 15 numbers currently retired, and about 5-10 more that are quasi-retired (or are currently issued but will be retired when said players retire). That’s 20-30 total numbers that will be off limits in about 10-15 years from now. Let’s be aggressive and call it 35.

    There’s 99 single or double digit numbers. 99-35=64. Here’s the important point, though: Spring training doesn’t matter. We don’t need 64 non-retired numbers, we only need 40, because 40 is the most number of players that will ever be on a big league roster at the same time.

    It’s not that we’re going to run out of double digit numbers, it’s that we’re simply going to issue non-traditional double digit numbers. Which is fine with me, as it adds to the Yankee uniqueness.

    • MattG says:

      reading comprehension fail.

      Officially, there are 2 single digit numbers left. Unofficially, they are already out of single digit numbers.

      • If you read the quote in context, though, Ben’s contrasting “single digit numbers” with “triple digit numbers”.

        Ben’s basically talking about the dearth of small numbers (both single digit numbers and the numbers in the teens and twenties). I’m addressing the issue in the post, not the literal wording of “single digit numbers”.

  4. Zack says:

    I dont like the whole idea of “unretiring numbers,” even for guys who probably shouldnt of have their numbers retired in the first place. I guess a player telling the team it’s ok to issue it is one thing (but what is a guy like Guidry suppose to say if asked?), but unretiring the number of a guy without asking or a number of a guy who is dead just seems really disrespectful IMO.

    Then again I havent come up with an alternative solution.

    • Alternative solution: Become the first team to regularly issue numbers in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s to players.

      When people complain, remind them that the reason we ran out of small numbers is because we’re a much, much, much, much, much more successful franchise than anyone else and our lack of small numbers is a tribute to our awesomeness.

      You’re welcome.

  5. JGS says:

    They should give out fractions, Eddie Gaedel style

  6. Brooklyn Ed (slacking at work) says:

    Only the GREAT Jesus and Melvin would only be allowed to wear #6,21, and 51. How awesome would that be if Jesus comes to camp with #6?

    no seriously….Mr.Stein went overboard in retiring numbers during his era. Guidry don’t deserve to have his number retired despite that one awesome season he had. I also think Reggie shouldn’t had his number retired too, he had just 5 seasons with the Yanks. It was like the early version of the Rays retiring #12 for Wade Boggs. Good thing when Goose went into the hall, #54 didn’t retire and Kevin Long is wearing it.

    The Yanks should only retire numbers if the player at least 10 season with them.

  7. misterd says:

    I was thinking about this a few months ago and thought, perhaps, it would be at least as much a tribute to a player not to retire their number, but to reserve it. What if the Yankees had kept #4 reserved just for the Yankee captain. That would be a number with tremendous heritage, the number of Gehrig, Munson, Mattingly, Jeter. There could be a special ceremony for catchers who have proven their distinction to the team, being granted the privilege of wearing 8 on their back.

  8. I’m taking this in the other direction:

    Lefty Gomez’s #11 and Red Ruffing’s #15 should be retired. (15 is already up there for Munson, so we’d only be removing one more number). And if you wanted to retire #12 for Waite Hoyt and #16 for Herb Pennock as well, that wouldn’t be a bad move either.

    But Ruffing and Gomez are the forgotten Yankee Hall of Famers. They were both excellent pitchers who helped the Huggins/McCarthy teams win titles with their ace-level pitching for a decade and change.

    Those two deserve to be in Monument Park.

  9. DP says:

    I vote to abolish numbers completely!

    /Old Hoss Radbourn’d

  10. MattG says:

    We can always use emoticons :)

  11. lardin says:

    Does MLB have a rule against triple digit numbers? If so, then eventually the Yankees will have a problem. If there is no rule, who cares. I think it would be kind of cool to see a guy who routinely throws 100mph have the number 100.

    • DP says:

      If they do have a rule (probably do), I’d bet in 2150 when it becomes an issue, they might be willing to make some exemptions.

    • There’s no rule.

      I’d personally love to see Jesus Montero rock 00, Robert Parish style.

    • ROBTEN says:

      (a) (1) All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players uniforms shall include minimal sixinch numbers on their backs. (2) Any part of an undershirt exposed to view shall be of a uniform solid color for all players on a team. Any player other than the pitcher may have numbers, letters, insignia attached to the sleeve of the undershirt. (3) No player whose uniform does not conform to that of his teammates shall be permitted to participate in a game.

      I haven’t found anything yet specifically preventing teams from using triple digits for player numbers, but there is this rule which says that the uniforms have to be “identical.” It could be that moving to triple digits would mean reducing the size of double digital numbers on the backs of uniforms if they started using triple digits, so that all of the number sizes conformed to one another. Or, rather it is this rule that could prevent it, not directly but indirectly. Otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be anything other than “tradition” from stopping them from using triple digits.

    • ColoYank says:

      There was a third baseman on the A’s, Wayne Gross, who Phil Rigney said they were missing a chance when they didn’t issue him 144.

    • MikeD says:

      If there is no rule, I’m surprised no player has tried it yet. Instead of having numbers in the 30s, or 40s or whatever, I’d like to be the first triple digit Yankee. Now batting, #100 catcher, Jesus Montero.

  12. Jake H says:

    Why not just put something in the park saying the first great Yankee to wear #’s like 51 and 21. Only players who are in the HOF should be in along with Thurman.

    • So, you’re going to pull Don Mattingly’s #23 down off the wall?

      Because Donnie’s never getting in. Nor should he. Doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be enshrined as a Yankee great in our own personal HoF, though.

      • Jake H says:

        I think you can put his # up there and point to everything Donnie did. He is my favorite Yankee ever but retired #’s should go to the elite of the elite.

        • Okay, fair enough. So you’re basically making two groupings: a set of retired numbers (Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, etc.) that are on the wall but never get reissued and a set of “honored” numbers (Guidry, Maris, Mattingly, etc) who are on the wall but DO get reissued to players every year.

          Is that right? That’s not a horrible idea. I personally find it unwieldy, but I see the logic behind it.

          • Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

            Kind of like a ring of honor?

          • Jake H says:

            Yes, a set of honored # that can be given out and a set of retired #’s that can’t be given out. You can have a place in the Yankee HOF saying what they did to get their # honored by the Yankees.

            • vin says:

              Isn’t that kind of like getting a monument vs. a plaque?

              Monument = permanantly retired number
              Plaque = redistributable number

              • Jake H says:

                Yes exactly. I mean Reggie had one of the greatest post season moments as a Yankee. But he only played here 5 seasons. He played the same # with the California Angels and more with Oakland. Why can’t someone wear his #?

          • I made this exact argument a long time ago so I agree with Jake H with one exception… It’s totally arbitrary to peg which number should be retired to HOF status. The HOF voters are morons, I don’t see why the Yankees have to follow their lead. For example… Goose Gossage is in the HOF, but I have no intention of permanently retiring his number while not permanently retiring other great non-HOF Yankees’ numbers who might otherwise have their numbers retired. We can decide better than HOF voters who the best of the best in Yankees history are.

            Permanently retire 3, 4, 5 and 7 (and 42 for Robinson, obviously). The only other number I’d consider for permanent retirement status would be 8. All other “retired” numbers get a spot on the wall and an explanatory plaque like they always have, but the numbers themselves remain in circulation. This wouldn’t be a slight against anyone, it would be an acknowledgement that there are just too many numbers retired/to be retired so a new system has to be established that will allow the Yankees to honor their great players but also provide that they aren’t fielding a team of guys with abnormally high numbers on their backs.

            This idea alleviates the number-crunch issue (which I understand some people don’t think exists, but I think it does) and does it with some logical underpinning – only the absolutely inarguable all-time greats get their numbers retired permanently, all others get recognized by the team but have their numbers remain in circulation.

            Personally, I would allow for 15 to be added to the list, but that’s just me. I think making a special allowance for one sentimental favorite of the fans, a captain of the team who died during his prime, is a cool gesture. But he certainly wasn’t in the uppermost echelon with Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio and Mantle, so I have no problem leaving him off.

        • Bob B says:

          That’s what the Hall of Fame is for, the elite of the elite. Retiring numbers for a team is for the elite of that team. Mattingly was an elite for this team during the time he played.

          • Jake H says:

            The problem with that is that you wil run out of #’s and while Donnie is my favorite player ever from the Yankees. He never won a WS. He had some great years but his #’s compare favorably to only 2 HOF players. The rest are good players like Jeff Conine.

            Most of the time guys who are going to wear these very good Yankee players #’s aren’t going to the HOF so why does it tarnish the #?

      • ColoYank says:

        Much as I agree with your prognostication (Mattingly elite production just wasn’t sustained long enough), I once compared Donnie’s career numbers with Bill Dickey’s, and … my mind was blown.

        Try it.

  13. Brooklyn Ed (slacking at work) says:

    Here’s a good one: #9 would also be retired for Nettles. I think that was the reason why Nettles left the Yanks because the Yankees brass decided to retire #9 for Maris.

    • Meh, Nettles was a solid player, but I don’t personally think he was ever great enough while here to merit having his number retired. JMHO.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

        Nettles number was retired by the Superball Company.

      • Debatable… I’m too young to remember anything but the tail end of Nettles’s career, but he compares very favorably with Brooks Robinson offensively, and by accounts he was, if not as good as Robinson defensively at 3B, then he was the next best thing.

        Career OPS+
        Robinson: 104
        Nettles: 110
        (Nettles as Yankee: 114)

        Averages per 162 games:
        Robinson: 15 HR, 76 RBI, .267/.322/.401/.723
        Nettles: 23 HR, 79 RBI, .248/.329/.421/.750
        (Nettles as Yankee: 27 HR, 89 RBI, .253/.329/.433/.762)

        I know the ‘pick out another player who is in the HOF and compare the two’ game doesn’t prove anything, but I think Robinson is a decent comparison since their careers overlapped and Robinson was seen as a surefire no-doubt HOFer at 3B while Nettles never really got that kind of respect. I’ve always thought Nettles got short-changed a bit, I think he has a better HOF case than a lot of people realize.

        And, since I think he has a better HOF case than people realize, it follows that I think he has a better case to have his number retired (or at least recognized, since it’s already retired) by the Yankees. The guy had a very good career in pinstripes, at his position in the context of the era in which he played, for 11 years, during which he also was part of a few postseason teams. I think he’s got a pretty good case.

        • You have opened my eyes a little. Well done, Congressman.

          • No prob… Nettles’s reputation has always interested me a bit. His numbers don’t look wonderful in a vacuum, but compared to other third basemen and especially to those of his era, the guy is really in the upper echelon. Third basemen and catchers really get no HOF love, it’s interesting.

            • ColoYank says:

              Nettles made the sweetest defensive play I ever saw in person – a diving stab into foul territory on a shot – a bullet! – off the bat of Dick Allen in Oakland. I was utterly gobsmacked. I stood up when I saw he’d stopped it, and started hollering “Throw him out! Throw him out!” as he lazily got to his feet, read the label on the ball, and then fired across.

              • Heh, yeah… My dad swears that Nettles was just as good as Robinson defensively. Whenever the late 70s Yankees are on Yankees Classics he makes some comment about how great Nettles was with the glove. I didn’t see both of them so I can’t really comment, and obviously we don’t have good defensive metrics for that era, so it’s tough to compare the two guys… But I think it’s as inarguable as it could be, in the absence of metrics to back up the assertion, that Nettles was pretty fantastic with the glove.

                • thurdonpaul says:

                  Nettles was awesome in the field, it was like his glove was a part of him. IMO he was every bit as good as Robinson, if not better.

                • Andy (different one) in Chilly NYC says:

                  Nettles was truly unreal defensively. Just watch that World Series game (’77?) where he made one jaw-dropping catch after another, and Tommy Lasorda said Nettles beat the Dodgers single-handedly. And he was very underrated as a hitter. I always used to fume when people said Brooks Robinson was so much better. Not true.

            • ColoYank says:

              Two days before that he took Nolan Ryan deep twice in a game in Anaheim – I was there for that, too. He was a very unusual left-hand hitter, in that he liked the ball up.

        • ColoYank says:

          Here’s a quote from Nettles himself on the comparison between him and Robinson: “I think I’ve been playing third base as well as anyone for ten years. If I can do it for another ten, I’ll put myself in Brooksie’s class.” Quoted by Roger Angell in a piece on the ’78 Series.

          You got this from me, who thinks Graig is the greatest Yankee third baseman of all time, non-Rodriguez division.

  14. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    Switch to Roman Numerals.

  15. Chip says:

    I’d love to see Montero come to camp with either 6, 21 or 00 on his back. That’d be legit

    • vin says:

      I was watching the MLB network special on Albert Pujols last night. Going into ST (2001), he wasn’t really expected to make the 25-man roster. He wore # 60-something. Next thing you know he’s with the Cards on opening day and they give him # 5. For a team with as much history as the Cardinals to give a roster-surprise that number is pretty interesting. They must’ve known what they had on their hands – much like the Yanks and Jeter.

  16. Joe says:

    screw it, let’s go back to not using numbers

  17. As Spring Training nears, the Yankees’ numbers are slowly talking center stage.

    Speaking of which:
    Retired – 1 3 4 5 7 8 9 10 15 16 23 32 37 42 44 49
    Currently issued – 2 11 13 14 19 20 24 25 28 29 30 33 34 36 39 41 42 43 45 46 50 52 54 56 57 58 59 62 63 64 65 70 72 91
    Non-issued but in limbo – 6 21 35 51
    Possibly in limbo – 55

    Remaining Numbers below 70: 12 17 18 22 26 27 31 38 40 47 48 53 60 61 66 67 68 69

    Players on the 40 man who have not been issued a number yet (in order of importance):
    Javier Vazquez
    Nick Johnson
    Randy Winn
    Marcus Thames (not on the 40-man yet, but has a good chance of making it)
    Jamie Hoffmann
    Boone Logan
    Greg Golson
    Romulo Sanchez
    Kevin Russo
    Ivan Nova
    Eduardo Nunez
    Reegie Corona
    Hector Noesi

    Who takes what number? Discuss.

  18. bobmac says:

    When Montero is up for good they should hand him #6.

  19. If you haven’t seen this site, you need to.

    It had a graph on when the first Yankee will wear a 3 digit numbe:


  20. MikeD says:

    Under George Steinbrenner, the Yankees went a little crazy on retiring numbers. There’s no way that Billy Martin’s number should have been retired. Guidry? One of my all-time favorites, but unless a player makes the HOF as a Yankee, I would question the move. No way Bernie’s should be retired. Jeter and Mariano should, but both will be in the HOF. By the time it’s all said and done, A-Rod will have played 14 years with the Yankees, may even hit more than 500 HRs as a Yankee. #13 will be retired. Unless Posada and Pettitte make the HOF, then no to retiring thier numbers.

    The Yankees need to create a new class to honor great Yankees by really playing up their induction into the Yankee HOF, even having their day to honor them, maybe even a plaque. But retiring a number should be reserved for the Ruth’s, Gehrig’s, Berra’s, Mantle’s Jeter’s and Rivera’s. Let’s stop them before it really gets out of hand.

    Just my two, maybe two-and-a-half, cents.

  21. yankswin27 says:

    Curtis Granderson – 14 (took it on December 17th)
    Javier Vazquez – 22 (I could see him rockin’ the old Clemens jersey)
    Nick Johnson – 36 (he wore this when he was first with the Yankees, plus Edwar will be DFA’d this year anyways)
    Randy Winn – 12 (wore two last year, I can see him taking 12)
    Marcus Thames – 18 (this is the number he wore as a rookie, so I could see him bringin it back… or 31, who knows)

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