COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#11)
By Paul Semendinger
Three of the first four players, all pitchers, to wear uniform #11, are in the Hall 0f Fame. Another was the Yankees' most important relief pitcher, at least for a season or two. Yet another pitcher, but not while wearing the Yankees' uniform, was part of a famous baseball saying. Then there was a Yankees pitcher threw a no-hitter while wearing #11. One of the few deaf Major Leaguers wore #11 as a Yankee. As did a player who is getting significant Hall of Fame consideration even today...
The first Yankee to wear #11 was Hall of Famer Herb Pennock. He wore the number only in 1929. He went 9-11, 4.92 that year. Pennock also wore uniform numbers 12 and 16 as a Yankee.
Waite Hoyt, at the tail end of his career, wore #11 for the first part of the 1930 season as a Yankee. Hoyt was traded to the Tigers in May of 1930 after a 2-2, 4.53 start. (Little-known Ownie Carroll also wore #11 in 1930.)
Joe Page, who earned fame as a relief pitcher wore #11 from 1945 through 1950. He was an All-Star in 1947 and 1948 and in 1947 and 1949 was among the top five players in the MVP voting.
Johnny Sain, was a valuable Yankees pitcher in the early 1950s after his noteworthy career with the Boston Braves where he was part of the saying "Spahn and Sain andpray for rain" with the 1948 Braves team. Sain was a valuable part of the Yankees teams that won the World Series in 1951, 1952, and 1953. He started and relieved. He pitched in 130 games, made 39 starts, and went 33-20, 3.31.
In 1996, Dwight Gooden threw his no-hitter while wearing #11.
Curtis Pride, one of the few deaf players ever to play Major League Baseball, wore #11 while playing for the Yankees (for all of four games) in 2003.
Gary Sheffield, who just earned 55% of the BBWAA votes for the Hall of Fame, was a Yankees from 2004 through 2006.
But, none of those players were the greatest in Yankees history to wear #11.
The longest tenured Yankees in uniform #11 were:
Lefty Gomez (1932-42)
Hector Lopez (1959-66)
Fred Stanley (1973-80) and
Brett Gardner (2008-21)
Gomez, was a Hall of Fame pitcher.
Lopez and Stanley were role players, never stars, on the Yankees for a long time. Both, played on numerous World Championship teams.
And then there is Brett Gardner who didn't necessarily star for the Yankees, but was an important player for a long time and wore the number longer than anyone in Yankees history.
In the end, this is a question of who was better, or more significant to the Yankees, the great pitcher (Gomez) or the very good outfielder (Gardner).
Let's examine the stats:
Lefty Gomez pitched in 312 games in #11. He went 166-87, 3.35. In four different seasons, Gomez earned MVP votes. In seven seasons, he was an All-Star. Gomez pitched in five World Series. He went 6-0 in his World Series career. The Yankees won all five of those World Series. Gomez was the ace of those teams, or one of two aces, along with Red Ruffing. In that period, Gomez earned 37.6 WAR. His ERA+ as a Yankee in those years as 125. He is a Hall of Famer.
Brett Gardner was a Yankee for his entire career. (Gomez pitched one game for the Washington Senators in 1943 or he, too, would have been a lifelong Yankee.) Gardner player in 1,688 games and batted .256/139/578. He stole 274 bases and led the league in stolen bases with 49 in 2011. Gardner was also a terrific defensive outfielder. Gardner earned 44.3 WAR. His OPS+ was 100 on the nose. He was an All-Star once and played on one World Championship team.
This is a close call. Gardner was a Yankee longer than Gomez. An an everyday player, he appeared in significantly more games. Gardner also compiled more WAR over his career than Gomez.
But Gomez was the more significant player. He was an ace pitcher on some of the best Yankees teams of all-time including the 1936-39 teams that won four consecutive World Series. His ERA+ demonstrates that he was significantly better than his contemporaries, while Gardner's OPS+ demonstrates that he was, on the whole, an average Major League hitter for his career.
A great case can be made for both players, but it is clear to me that the greatest Yankee to wear #11 was...
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com and the SABR BioProject.
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