COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#22)
By Paul Semendinger
Sixty two different players wore #22 as a Yankee... and most weren't superstars... or even stars... many weren't even that good.
The following Yankees wore #22 for multiple years and are not in consideration for being the best ever. Let's go from the most recent backwards:
Jacoby Ellsbury (2014-17)
Xavier Nady (2008-09)
Luis Polonia (1989-90)
Gary Ward (1987-89)
Omar Moreno (1983-85)
Jerry Mumphrey (1981-83)
Jim Mason (1974-76)
Jack Aker (1969-72)
Fred Talbot (1966-69)
Bill Stafford (1960-65)
Red Ruffing (1945-46)
Marius Russo (1939-43)
Vito Tamulis (1934-35)
Doc Farrell (1932-33)
Of note, Red Ruffing is a Hall of Famer, but he didn't wear #22 long enough to be considered for this honor. Also, of note, often forgotten, in 1981 and 1982, Jerry Mumphrey led the Yankees in batting, hitting .300+ both years. He was also the ONLY Yankee regular to hit .300 or better in either of those seasons.
Finally, he's not on the list above because he played only one season in New York, but I always loved Ruppert Jones (1980) and I still wish he could have been a Yankees star.
This now brings us to the players who deserve consideration for this honor:
Roger Clemens (1999-2003, 2007)
Jimmy Key (1993-96)
Allie Reynolds (1947-54)
I suspect that Jimmy Key will come in third among these pitchers, but Key was a very important, if oft-forgotten or overlooked pitcher that helped bring the Yankees back to respectability and was a key to their championship 1996 season. Jimmy Key was the ace of the staff as the Yankees climbed out of the cellar. In 1993, he went 18-6. In 1994, he went 17-4. He was simply an amazing pitcher. In 1996, when the Yankees won the World Series, he went 12-11, but he pitched the decisive Game 6 victory. I loved Jimmy Key. Key missed most of 1995, so, basically in just three seasons, he accumulated 13.5 WAR. He was that good.
Roger Clemens went 63-26 in his four full seasons in uniform #22. He changed to #22 (from #12) in July 1999. Clemens went 6-3 in #22 the rest of 1999. He also went 6-6 in his return in 2007. Overall as a Yankee, Clemens won a Cy Young Award and was a two-time All-Star. He earned 21.2 WAR overall.
On a year-to-year basis, Key averaged more WAR per season, taking away the one year he pitched to a 0.0 WAR because of injury. This, of course, is selective mathematics designed to skew the results, in some way, to Key, who, one might argue, was a more important Yankee than Clemens. Key helped bring the Yankees back to greatness. By the time Clemens arrived, the Yankees had already won two World Championships.
But the best #22 as far as I am concerned was a guy who didn't just start, he also pitched in relief. He also dominates Key and Clemens in most important categories: A six-time World Series winner, he was arguably the ace of the staff (along with Vic Raschi and Ed Lopat) for the five consecutive championships from 1949 to 1953. He was also a five-time Yankee All-Star. That man's name was Allie Reynolds.
Let's take a look:
Years in NY - Reynolds (8), Clemens (6), Key (4)
Games - Reynolds (295), Clemens (175), Key (94)
Starts - Reynolds (209), Clemens (174), Key (94)
Relief Appearances - Reynolds (86), Clemens (1), Key (0)
Innings - Reynolds (1,700), Clemens (1,103), Key (604)
Wins - Reynolds (131), Clemens (83), Key (48)
ERA - Reynolds (3.30), Key (3.68), Clemens (4.01).
But, even with all that, Allie Reynolds has only 19.6 WAR as a Yankee. In the game of WAR, Clemens would win, but this isn't about WAR.
In addition to winning more championships, Reynolds did something Clemens and Key never did. He threw a no-hitter. Further, Allie Reynolds did something no other Yankees pitcher ever did... he threw two no-hitters.
The greatest Yankee to wear #22, and it isn't even a question, was Allie Reynolds. Roger Clemens had a longer career, and a better overall career, but as a Yankee, Allie Reynolds was better and more important pitcher. Allie Reynolds was more essential to winning championships, and he was the better Yankees pitcher overall.
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com and the SABR BioProject.
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