Guest Post: Uniform No. 26: The Best of a Bunch of Stragglers

Game 57: Finish the Sweep
Sweep! Yankees mash three dingers, rally from behind for 6-2 win over Angels

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who you know as Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He wrote a guest post about umpire Tim McClelland back in February and will now tackle uniform No. 26. Enjoy.

(Getty)
(Getty)

We complain that the Yankees retire too many numbers (21 by the end of the season) or should un-retire numbers. However, you look at statistics, particularly on Baseball-Reference, the Yankees seem to have an inordinate amount of numbers that have an insane list of players. Yet, 26 seems to stick out. Most recently, we associate the Yankees’ No. 26 with Eduardo Nunez, who was wearing it from 2011-2013 (he wore 12 in 2010, his first season). The first time the No. 26 was assigned by the Yankees was Cedric Durst, a former outfielder for the St. Louis Blues from 1922-1926. Durst joined the Yankees in 1927, but did not get his number 26 until 1929. He only wore 26 for one year, changing to 27 for the 1930 season. That season he was traded to the Red Sox with $50,000 for Yankee legend, Monument Park and Hall of Fame inductee Red Ruffing.

I am not going to go through the entire list of who wore 26 in this blog post, it would take forever. Since Cedric Durst, 71 other players have worn the No. 26 for the Yankees, currently with Chris Capuano wearing it. However, the No. 26 also seems for the most part to deal with a lot of straggler players. In 2012 for example, we had Darnell McDonald wear No. 26 (and cut his famous dreadlocks) for 3 games before being designated for assignment. Since 2009, the Yankees have assigned the No. 26 to 9 players: Austin Kearns, Kevin Russo, Greg Golson and Nick Johnson all in 2010; Eduardo Nunez in 2011; Ramiro Pena, Darnell McDonald and Eduardo Nunez in 2012; Nunez kept it for all of 2013; Yangervis Solarte took 26 after Nunez was designated for assignment in 2014, and after he was traded away, Capuano took the number.

The Best Batter to wear No. 26

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

You’re going to probably watch your eyes melt when you hear me say this, but Eduardo Nunez has arguably had the best statistics for all batters who have worn No. 26. In 270 games with the Bombers, Nunez had 201 hits, 10 home runs and 75 runs batted in. He hit for a .267 average, .313 on-base percentage and .379 slugging. Of course, when the Yankees promoted Nunez in 2010, they thought he was quite possibly the heir at shortstop for Derek Jeter and the future face of the franchise at shortstop. Baseball-Reference’s SABERmetrics have not been so kind to Nunez offensively, as he never produced higher than an 0.4 offensive WAR for the Yankees (he has a 0.5 bWAR for the Twins this season thus far, but he’s only played 17 games due to injury.).

However, his defense has never quite been the same as his offensive production. Nunez has played various positions all over the place since his debut in 2010 (3B, SS, the OF, DH and 2B). From 2010-2013, Nunez managed 30 errors at the shortstop position alone (14 in 2011 and 12 in 2013, correlating with his most active seasons with the Yankees (he spent most of 2012 in the minors, only had 4 errors). At third base, he had another 11 errors, and 1 at second base in 2012. When Yangervis Solarte hit his way into the scene during Spring Training in 2014, the Yankees clearly had enough of Nunez and designated him for assignment on April 1. Regardless of our opinions on Nuney, there has clearly been no sign of a better hitter wearing that number.

The Best Pitcher (and overall player) to wear No. 26

No. 26 has produced many pitchers as well, but there was no one better wearing the number than Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Hernandez, the Cuban free agent, signed on March 23, 1998 with the New York Yankees, two years after his brother Livan signed with the Marlins. During his first stint in New York, Hernandez started 121 games in the regular season for the Yankees, throwing 8 complete games from 1998-2000, when he was in his prime at ages 32-34. He racked up 791.2 innings in that span, striking out 619 (I am not kidding). He allowed 105 home runs and 707 hits. Despite all that, he only had 18 wild pitches when facing 3,324 batters. He had a 114 ERA+ and a 1.232 WHIP. In all, the first stint the Yankees had with El Duque resulted in a 53-38 record and a 4.04 ERA.

As you probably know, the Yankees traded El Duque to the Chicago White Sox on January 15, 2003 for Eddi Candelario and Antonio Osuna. Hernandez was immediately flipped to the Montreal Expos with Rocky Biddle and Jeff Liefer for Jorge Nunez and future-Yankee Bartolo Colon. El Duque did not pitch in 2003 due to a rotator cuff surgery. As a free agent in 2004, El Duque re-signed with the Yankees for $500,000! His 2004 season was definitely not as electric as his first stint with the Yankees, as he only started 15 games for the Bombers at age 38, pitching only 84.2 innings and a 3.30 ERA (which was his best since 1998 at that point). The next year he signed as a free agent to the White Sox and gained his 4th ring in his career. Interestingly, at the end of that season he was traded to the Diamondbacks with future Yankees Luis Vizcaino and Chris Young (!) for another Yankee, Javier Vazquez.

Hernandez, his eephus pitch and his unusual leg kick were one of the best things to come out of the 1998 season. What Yankee fan doesn’t love El Duque? I sure don’t. He had a memorable time in New York, throwing his glove to Tino Martinez at first base, making quality starts constantly and just being unusual compared to most pitchers. Unlike Eduardo Nunez, who has a very timid reputation in Yankee lore, El Duque is forever a favorite and overall the best player to wear No. 26 since 1929.

Notable Runner-Ups

There is no question that El Duque was the best overall player with No. 26, and the best pitcher. However, there are 70 other players who deserve comment, but I want to focus on one batter and one pitcher. Starting with the batter, you have to scroll back to the 1932-1938 seasons for the arguable second-best batter who wore the No. 26. This player was a catcher named Joe Glenn. Glenn was a backup catcher to the legendary Bill Dickey, debuting in 1932 when he was 23 years old. He wasn’t an offensive powerhouse, but as he got older, he managed to start hitting with some average (.233, .271, .283 and .260 from 1935-38). On October 26, 1938, Glenn was traded with Myril Hoag to the Browns for Oral Hildebrand and Buster Mills.

On the pitchers side is a name older Yankee fans should recognize, John “The Count” Montefusco. Montefusco, a recent addition to Old Timer’s Day, was acquired from the Padres by the Yankees in 1983 after a long career with the San Francisco Giants. He only pitched in 18 starts for the Yankees, a majority during the 1984 season. He did, however, managed a 3.55 ERA and a 19-7 record for the most part of that time with a 106 ERA+ in 208 innings. In total, he allowed 209 hits and 19 home runs with a 1.303 WHIP. Yes Montefusco wasn’t amazing as El Duque was, but there’s no question that Montefusco was one of the better pitchers to wear No. 26. The Yankees were actually Montefusco’s last team in the majors.

Finally, you look at the number 26, one of these days, someone is going to get that number and put it to good use. For those curious, after 26, the number 39 is the most-used number. One of the other pitchers who deserve credit for both 26 and 39 is the great Joe Niekro, who played for the Yankees during the same time as Montefusco, strangely enough. While Capuano has held the No. 26, it’s not going to be forever, and at some point, another straggler will probably inherit the number.

Game 57: Finish the Sweep
Sweep! Yankees mash three dingers, rally from behind for 6-2 win over Angels
  • Guesto

    I like Capuano – he wears #26 well. He also has the whole Pettitte lefty delivery motion going for him. Now just waiting for the Pettitte-like success to come. It’s a process.

    • RetroRob

      Capuano’s been a better pitcher than he gets credit for, but Pettitte he’s not quite. : -)

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Congrats from both me and Dr T, Adam. Great write-up here. Pay the man well, Axisa.

    • https://www.flickr.com/photos/roadgeek/ Roadgeek Adam

      Thanks.

  • RetroRob

    The Yankees get criticized by fans of less-accomplished teams for retiring numbers, but the Yankees are one of the longest-tenured and easily the most successful organization in baseball history. Twenty-seven world championships and 40 pennants. Along with the Indians, they were the first to use numbers on uniforms. Of course they have more retired numbers.

    Great post. I am surprised there haven’t been better players with #26. Let’s just ignore Nunie and go with El Duque. : -)

    • https://www.flickr.com/photos/roadgeek/ Roadgeek Adam

      See, I argue (and my friends agree). Retiring a number should not be because you’re a Hall of Fame player. Retiring a number is that you had a major impact on the franchise as a whole. So, we support the idea of retiring numbers as needed.

      • RetroRob

        I’m not sure we’re disagreeing. I think we’re agreeing. I purposely never mentioned the Yankees also have the most HOFers, because that’s not necessarily the defining qualification to me. I believe Don Mattingly’s number should be retired, and he’s not a HOFer. I have no issue that Joe Gordon, a HOFer, did not have his number retired, although it is now for Joe Torre.

        The Yankees have had enormous success, which has been caused by players of impact. Retiring all the Core Four + One More and Joe Torre from the recent dynasty years is fine with me. That’s a group the likes of which we won’t see again. Something else, no doubt, but not quite like those players who collectively had a great impact. In some ways, the four of five World Series wins was as impressive, if not more so than the Yankees teams that won five straight.

        It will be a long time before the Yankees have more numbers to retire, unless there is a warming of relations between Al from Miami and Hal.

        • Some Asshole

          To compare, the Cincinnati Reds have the retired numbers of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez, and Sparky Anderson. All coming from a period of success. Indeed, it was the period of highest success for them.

        • Sir Didihiro Nakamura

          I think people are just a tad bit jealous their teams don’t retire too many numbers ;)

  • Looser Trader FotD™

    El Duque!!!!!!

  • RetroRob

    Removing. Wrong thread!

  • Some Asshole

    Much better than the Asylum. Well done, sir.

  • http://shhhorsie.com Cheval Anonyme

    I am very concerned that the Yankees will run out of numbers, given their long history with so many great players to honor with number retirement. As a computer geek, my recommendation is that they switch to hexadecimal numbers, using the digits 0-9 and A-F. This would give them 256 two-digit numbers to play with, rather than 100, postponing the inevitable day of innumerability until well after the also-inevitable future collapse of civilization (or baseball, which may be the same thing). It also gives them six more single-digit numbers to reserve for the truly great.

    • Some Asshole

      I look forward to the first player wearing E6.

      • Sir Didihiro Nakamura

        Didi Gregorius’ even dumber baseball player descendant.

    • Deep Thoughts

      We should start lobbyng the Analytics Department first, of course.

  • InvalidUserID

    El Duque! He was one of my favorites when I started watching baseball seriously and from my memory, he delivered in the playoffs. And during his 2nd stint, he was one of the better pitchers. I think that was the year when it was just a bunch of random pitchers.

  • Jman1213

    The numbers that I don’t agree with retiring are 9 and 44. Roger Maris was a fine ballplayer, had two awesome seasons (’60 and ’61), and was an important part of great teams. But worthy of retiring his number? I don’t believe so. I think his number being retired was half “Sorry the fans treated you like crap” and half F you to Graig Nettles. As for 44, that was basically a “Sorry I didn’t re-sign you” from George. 49 and 1 are pushing it, too. I heard that the reason George retired #49 was to help Guidry’s HOF chances.

  • vicki

    yay, adam!

  • Pete M.

    Wait, is this worded right?

    “What Yankee fan doesn’t love El Duque? I sure don’t.”

    • Freddy-says

      Yeah, I basically said the same thing last night. I tried to post pretty much the same comment as yours, that it must be a typo, but I guess it never went through.

      • https://www.flickr.com/photos/roadgeek/ Roadgeek Adam

        Yeah it’s a typo, but the idea was that “I don’t hate El Duque”