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A History of Uniform #45 for the Yankees

It began with Clint Courtney, widely considered to be baseball’s first catcher to wear eye glasses. Clint Courtney, who would be a minor star in the 1950’s mostly for the St. Louis Browns and the Washington Senators, actually began his career as a New York Yankee. In 1951, Courtney played in one game for the Yankees (he went 0-for 2 with a strikeout and was also hit by a pitch) and, in doing so was the very first Yankee to wear uniform number 45.

Forty eight players have worn #45 as Yankee. Gerrit Cole has a chance to be the very best Yankee ever to wear that number. If Cole’s career goes as it should, uniform number 45 will slot in nicely right between retired numbers 44 (Reggie Jackson) and 46 (Andy Pettitte).

Let’s take a look at the players who previously wore uniform #45.

After Clint Courtney, #45 was dormant until 1943 when Don Bollweg a left-hitting (and throwing) first baseman wore that number in 70 games. Bollweg batted .297 that year with six homeruns and 24 runs batted in as Joe Collins’ back-up. Bollweg also pinch hit often – 27 times in all that year. After the 1953 season, Bollweg was included in an eleven player trade with the Philadelphia Athletics. (Interestingly, there were no players of note that were involved in that swap.)

#45 then laid dormant until the final day of the 1959 season when a little-known pitcher named Mark Freeman made his only Yankees appearance starting against the Baltimore Orioles. Freeman threw seven innings that day (allowing six hits, walking two batters, and striking out four). He allowed two runs but didn’t factor in the decision in a game the Yankees eventually lost. The Yankees traded Freeman to the Cubs after the season for pitcher Art Ceccarelli. Ceccarelli never appeared in a game for the Yankees, or any other Major League team for that matter, after the trade.

Rollie Sheldon was the first Yankee to wear #45 for any significant period of time. He wore the number from 1961 to 1965. Sheldon appeared in 91 games as a Yankee making 49 starts. His record over that period was 23-15, 4.14. Sheldon did not pitch in the Major Leagues in 1963 so that year uniform number 45 was dormant. Sheldon appeared for the Yankees in the 1964 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals pitching in Games One and Seven. When he took the mound in Game One, he became the first Yankees to wear #45 in a World Series game. On May 3, 1965, Sheldon was traded (with Johnny Blanchard) to the Kansas City A’s for Doc Edwards.

1965 became a big year for ol’ #45. That was the first time the number was worn by multiple players in the same season. With Rollie Sheldon traded, on July 28, another pitcher, Jack Cullen, came up from the minor leagues and wore that uniform number for the rest of the year and into the beginning of the 1966 season. Cullen wore #45 for a total of seventeen games as a Yankee.

Rookie Stan Bahnsen pitched his first big league game with the Yankees on September 9, 1966. In that game, he wore #60, but somewhere between that first start, and his last one that year, on September 30, (Bahnsen made four starts that year), he switched to uniform #45. Bahnsen pitched with that uniform number for the Yankees for four seasons, 1968 through 1971 (he spent the 1967 season in the minor leagues). Bahnsen is an oft-forgotten Yankees pitcher who was a solid starting pitcher for a long time. He was actually the fourth player taken by the Yankees in the first ever Amateur Draft in 1965. As a Yankee, Bahnsen compiled a lifetime 55-52 record with a splendid 3.10 ERA. In each of those four seasons, Bahnsen threw well over 200 innings. He was traded to the White Sox for Rich McKinney after the 1971 season. As a White Sox, Bahnsen won 21 games in 1972. Bahnsen stuck around in the big leagues until 1982. According to Baseball-Reference, the pitcher whose career was most similar to Stan Bahnsen is Rudy May. (Rudy May would wear #45 for the Yankees from 1980 to 1983, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

After Stan Bahnsen, #45 was assigned to a series of lesser-known Yankees in a fashion that almost said, “If you have this number, you won’t be around long.” Rich Hinton (7 games) and Larry Gowell (2 games) wore the number in 1972 (as Bahnsen was winning 21 games).

Wayne Granger, a pitcher, wore the number for seven games in 1973 and Ed Herrmann, a catcher, had #45 on his back for 80 games in 1975.

After 1975, the uniform number didn’t make a comeback again until Jim Beattie was issued #45 in 1978. JIm Beattie wore #45 for a total of forty games as a Yankee between 1978 and 1979. One of those games was his ill-fated start on June 21, 1978 in Fenway Park against the Red Sox. A rookie, Beattie came into that game with a 2-2 record and sported a nifty 3.33 ERA. But, to put it mildly, he didn’t bring his best stuff into that game. In just over two innings, Beattie allowed eight base runners (five hits and three walks). He also allowed five earned runs as the Yankees lost to the Red Sox 9-2. After the game, George Steinbrenner called Beattie “Gutless” and he was promptly sent to the minor leagues. Most people think that that moment was the end of Beattie’s Yankees career, but he returned to the Major Leagues in July and helped the Yankees in their great comeback by pitching in fourteen games. On September 8 of that season, Beattle pitched 8.2 innings in a 13-2 victory over the Red Sox. After going 3-6, 5.21 in 1979, Beattle was the headliner in the trade with the Seattle Mariner that brought Ruppert Jones to the Yankees.

The first Yankee to wear #45 and lead the league in a major category was the aforementioned Rudy May, a solid left-handed starter (and reliever) who, in his second tour of duty with the Yankees, wore the number from 1980 through 1983. In 1980, May helped anchor the Yankees pitching staff (headlined by Ron Guidry and Tommy John) by going 15-5 and sporting a 2.46 ERA – which led the American League. May also led the AL in WHIP (1.044) that year (although that stat wasn’t invented at the time). By 1981, May was primarily pitching out of the bullpen. He retired after the 1983 season.

Dennis Rasmussen came to the Yankees just before the 1984 season in a trade with the San Diego Padres for Graig Nettles. Rasmussen, a 6’, 7” left-handed pitcher was brought in to anchor the Yankees’ starting rotation. In 1986, he did just that going 18-6, 3.88. Rasmussen, though wouldn’t last in those days of oft-trading players. In August 1987, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Bill Gullickson. Gullickson made 8 starts for the Yankees (going 4-2). He wore uniform numbers 39 and 45. Had Gullickson first worn #45, it would have been the first time the number was traded between two players in Yankees history – a great moment the Yankees missed out on by first assigning #39 to Gullickson.

Bill Gullickson had been a solid national league pitcher with a lot of promise. His best year was 1983 when he went 17-12 for the Expos. The next Yankee to wear #45 was also a solid National League pitcher, and a former World Champion, John Candelaria. Between 1988 and 1989, Candelaria (also a 6’, 7” lefty) went a combined 62-32 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a major contributor on their 1979 World Championship team. The Candy Man came to the Yankees as a free agent. He went 16-10 as a Yankee before he was traded to the Expos for third baseman Mike Blowers in late August of 1989.

Following Candelaria, uniform #45 again bounced around and around over many seasons. Kevin Mmahat, a pitcher, wore it for all of four games in 1989 (after Gullickson was traded), Steve Balboni wore #45 in his second tour of duty in the Bronx in 1990 (he had worn #50 in 1989 when he first returned to the Yankees). Balboni hit .192 with 17 homers in 1990, a long and miserable season for the Yankees. Pitchers Rich Monteleone and Alan Mills wore the number in 1991 before it was assigned to a big free agent acquisition before the 1992 season.

Coming to the Yankees in 1992 was a big power-hitting DH/OF named Danny Tartabull. Taratabull was coming off a .316/31/100 year for the Royals. He was supposed to be THE big presence in the Yankees line-up. Alas! It wasn’t to be. Over four seasons as a Yankee, Danny Tartabull hit .252 with 81 homers. (In 1993, he did blast 31 homers for the Bombers.) In 1995, Tartabull was traded to the Oakland A’s for Ruben Sierra, another slugger who had disappointed in recent seasons.

As the Yankees returned to glory in 1996, one key contributor to that team, catcher Joe Girardi wore #45, at least as the season started. 1996 was Girardi’s greatest season as he hit .294 that year as he guided the Yankees pitchers to the championship. It was during that season that the Yankees traded Ruben Sierra to the Detroit Tigers for Cecil Fielder. Fielder was originally issued #25, but then swapped numbers with Girardi. Fielder had worn #45 with the Tigers and felt more at home with that uniform number. Fielder wore #45 for the rest of 1996 and then all of 1997.

The Yankees brought in Chili Davis to be a presence off the bench and a veteran leader in the clubhouse for the 1998 and 1999 seasons. Davis wore #45 in those seasons as he played in the final 181 games of his career. Davis batted .273/22/87 as a Yankee.

After Chili Davis, the number was worn, again, by passers-by and others. Ryan Thompson (33 games) and Felix Jose (20 games) wore the number in 2000. Jay Witasick (32 games) and Henry Rodriguez (5 games) wore #45 in 2001. In 2002, it was Ted Lilly (16 games) and Alberto Castillo (15 games) who shared the jersey. In 2003, three players wore #45. These three were Armando Benitez (9 games), Jason Anderson (22 games), and Felix Heredia (12 games). Heredia also wore the number in 2004.

In 2005, the Yankees brought in a free agent right handed pitcher to anchor the rotation. This pitcher was coming off an 18-8, 3.00 season. He signed a big four year $39.95 million dollar contract and was supposed to star in New York. Unfortunately, that pitcher was Carl Pavano who became more famous for spending time on the Disabled List than pitching. Pavano appeared in just 26 games as a Yankee winning nine games, losing eight, and putting up a 5.00 ERA.

Then, beginning in 2009 came a series of players, almost too many to name who were issued this uniform number. That list included all of the following: Sergio Mitre (2009-11), Kevin Whelan (2011), Hector Noesi (2011), Dewayne Wise (2012), Casey McGehee (2012), Ben Francisco (2013), Zoilo Almonte (2013), David Adams (2013), Zelous Wheeler (2014), Scott Sizemore (2014), Austin Romine (2014), and Dean Anna (2014).

The much maligned Chasen Shreve, a middling lefty reliever, brought some stability to #45 by wearing it from 2015 to 2018. Shreve wore the number until he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2018. The player he was traded for, Luke Voit, immediately took that number when he suited up for his first game as a Yankee on August 2 of that year. This, finally, became the first time that the number was traded between two players – a major moment for #45 in Yankees’ history.

Luke Voit brought some power and swagger back to the number. He became a fan favorite and #45 seemed to have finally found a permanent home…until yesterday, when it was issued to the forty ninth player who will wear that number as a Yankee – Gerrit Cole.

If Cole delivers excellence (and some championships) over the next nine seasons, it is possible that he will become the final player to ever wear that number in Yankees history.

For #45, it’s been a long ride. It’s never appeared in an All-Star Game and it’s never been worn by a Yankees great, but all of that seems about to change…

#45

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