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  • Writer's picturePaul Semendinger

COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#1)

By Paul Semendinger

January 25, 2024

***

Well, here we are. This looked to be, when I started this project, the last article in a long series. But, alas! This is not the final article. Three more are forthcoming after this one.


  1. About a year after I started this project, Bryan Hoch wrote an article where he listed who he considered the best Yankee at each uniform number. I have never looked at his list and am eager to. I'll compare his conclusions to my own.

  2. Next, I will look back at the 2022 and 2023 Yankees to see if any of the previous articles in this series need to be updated.

  3. Finally, when Adam Ottovino was the only Yankees player to wear #0, I didn't feel the need to pen an article about him. But, in time, Domingo German also wore number zero. And, I suspect Marcus Stroman might as well. One day I'll have to do a #0 article.


At that point, this project will be completed, save for any updates from new players and such.

***

Let's now look at Uniform Number One...


The Yankees retired #1 for Billy Martin. This was retired, for the most part, for his managerial career, not his playing career.


As a player, Billy Martin was a good, not great, scrappy, second baseman. He played in seven seasons as a Yankee. Martin, in that time, batted .262/30/88. His OPS+ was 88 (on a scale where 100 means a player is an average big leaguer).


Martin did have some big moments. He famously caught a crucial popfly in Game Seven to help the Yankees win the World Series in 1952. He also batted .333 across 28 World Series games. But, while many like to say that he was on five World Series Championship teams, the specifics are less kind to Billy. He didn't play in the World Series in 1950. And in 1951, he played in only one game - as a pinch runner. As such, while he was on five winners, he didn't contribute to all five championships.


But, Martin was only once the every day starting second baseman on the Yankees (1953). In that season, Martin played in 149 games batting .257/15/75. For the rest of his career as a Yankee, Billy Martin was a part-time player. Martin's games played by Yankees seasons were as follows:


1950 - 34 games

1951 - 51 games

1952 - 109 games

1953 - 149 games (mentioned above)

1954 - In Military Service

1955 - 20 games

1956 - 121 games

1957 - 43 games (before he was traded to the Kansas City A's)


In short, it would be impossible to argue that Billy Martin was the best player in uniform Number One on the Yankees.


***

The complete list of Yankees to wear Uniform #1 for the Yankees is:

  • Earle Combs (1929-1935)

  • George Selkirk (1934)

  • Roy Johnson (1936)

  • Frank Crosetti (1937-1944)

  • Tuck Stainback (1944)

  • Snuffy Stirnweiss (1945-1950)

  • Billy Martin (1951-1957)

  • Bobby Richardson (1958-1966)

  • Bobby Murcer (1969-1974)


If we rank them by WAR, for only the years listed when they wore #1, they rank as follows:


  1. Bobby Murcer: 27.4

  2. Earle Combs: 26.2

  3. Snuffy Stirnweiss: 18.7

  4. Frank Crosetti: 9.1

  5. Bobby Richardson: 8.7

  6. Billy Martin: 5.9

  7. George Selkirk: 1.3

  8. Roy Johnson: 0.2

  9. Tuck Stainbach: -0.5


There is a lot to unpack there...


First, Billy Martin wasn't even the best second baseman to wear uniform Number One as a Yankee. By WAR, Snuffy Stirnweiss and Bobby Richardson both out performed him.


Roy Johnson and Tuck Stainback are quick to get overlooked here, but both were long time big leaguers who played for the Yankees just briefly. Johnson had a ten-year Major League career. He batted .296 for his career. In 1934, he batted .320 and even earned some MVP votes.


Tuck Stainback had a 13-year big league career. He spent four seasons with the Yankees (but only one wear he wore Number One). He batted .259 for his career with seven different teams.


George Selkirk was the player who replaced Babe Ruth in right field. He was a career Yankee who batted .290 over nine seasons. For most of his career, a different time back then, he wore #3 (yes, the Babe's uniform number).


Frank Crosetti, a shortstop, was a long time Yankee (who deserves to be in Monument Park). He anchored the Yankees infield and was on eight World Series teams (seven of them were World Champions). After his playing days (although this doesn't "count" for this exercise, Crosetti coached third base for the Yankees. No player in the history of baseball was part of more World Series teams than Frank Crosetti.


George "Snuffy" Stirnweiss has an impressive, but brief, peak during the World War II years. He led the American League in batting in 1945. In both 1944 and 1945, he finished in the top five players in the American league MVP race. During those two years, he led the A.L. in At Bats (once) and Runs (twice), Hits (twice), Triples (twice) and Stolen Bases (twice).


Bobby Richardson was a great Yankees second baseman as well. He won the 1960 World Series MVP after he batted .367 in the series. Richardson is the only player to win the World Series MVP for a losing team.


But, the amazing stat that we have to unpack here is the fact that Bobby Murcer outperformed Earle Combs (by WAR, at least) while wearing this number. Murcer was an excellent Yankee, but was he better than Hall of Famer Earle Combs?


***

Since this isn't an exercise in which player had the highest WAR (it is, after all, just one measure), let's dive in more closely at the years they both wore uniform Number One:


First, of note, for Earle Combs, the years he wore this number were the last years of his career, for Bobby Murcer, these were the first years of his. Combs didn't wear a uniform number (no one did) prior to 1929. Murcer was traded by the Yankees after the 1974 season. He returned in 1979, but when he came back, he wore #2.


Here are Combs' and Murcer's numbers wearing uniform Number One:


Earle Combs: .322/34/394 OPS+ - 127


Bobby Murcer: .285/139/533 OPS+ - 136


It seems clear that Murcer, again, was the better player.


Diving in further, Earle Combs, in those years, never earned an MVP vote. Bobby Murcer never won the award, but he did place in the voting four times:

1971 - 7th

1972 - 5th

1973 - 9th

1974 - 21st


In those years, Earle Combs led the league in a category once, triples, in 1930.


In his years wearing #1, Bobby Murcer led the league in On Base Percentage, OPS, and OPS+ in 1971 and in Runs and Total Bases in 1972.


Again, this favors Murcer.


But, one area where most would believe Murcer falls way short of Combs is in regard to championships...


When one looks back at the Yankees from Earle Combs' era, they often immediately think that the Yankees won the World Series all the time back then, but while Combs wore #1, the Yankees were in only one World Series (1932). A lot of people forget that from 1929 through 1935, the Yankees were in the World Series only once. The Philidelphia Athletics were in three World Series, the Detroit Tigers were in two, and the Washington Senators were in one during those years. In all those years, except 1930, the Yankees were the second place team in the American League.


Bobby Murcer's Yankees never reached a World Series, but it would be impossible to give Earle Combs any significant edge in this area. One championship is greater than none, but not by much...


Over the course of their entire careers, at least by OPS+, the two players were extremely similar:


Earle Combs Career OPS+ = 125

Bobby Murcer Career OPS+ = 124


In the end, while Earle Combs' career was one that brought him to Cooperstown, and while Bobby Murcer isn't a Hall of Famer, the greatest Yankee while wearing uniform Number One was...


BOBBY MURCER.


(How's that for a surprise ending?)


***

To writers, bloggers, sportcasters, all media types, we appreciate that you read our content here at Start Spreading the News. If you use our ideas, content, perspectives, views, and such, please do the correct thing and give credit to this site and the writer of the article. (This is what you would want if someone borrowed your hard work.) Thank you.

***

Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com and the SABR BioProject.

***

PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES: (All the links should work. If not, please let us know.)


7 Comments


Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
Jan 25

Great article about all the #1 s. Well researched and I agree with it all. In the beginning, you referenced a future " #0 " article. I mentioned this a few weeks ago in the comments that long time Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard refused to acknowledge "0" as a number. Being that Sheppard was also a speech professor, he would know. The first player Sheppard ever announced who wore "0" was Al Oliver. Sheppard introduced Oliver this way: “The designated hitter, zero, Al Oliver.” By NOT saying the word "number" before saying "zero", it was his dignified way of denying that zero was a number.

Like

Brian Mosher
Brian Mosher
Jan 25

I just wanted to say welcome back to Luis Torrens, who the Reds (I think) stole out of A Ball in the Rule 5, and then traded him to the Padres, where AJ Preller then put him on their major league roster and destroyed his development trajectory.


He signed a minor league deal with his original team... leaving us with a million +1 catchers. Nice to have him back in the fold.

Like

Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Jan 25

I agree.

Like

yankeesblog
Jan 25

If you hadn't picked Murcer we would have had to step outside 😀

Like
Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Jan 25
Replying to

THe obvious answer was Earle Combs.


Most people would just assume it was Billy Martin or Bobby Richardson.

Like

Alan B.
Alan B.
Jan 25

Seriously Paul, send this post to Michael Kay, he'll love it!

Like
Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Jan 25
Replying to

Thanks. I just tweeted it to him.

Like
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