COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#30)
by Paul Semendinger
April 30, 2022
(QUICK NOTE - This article ran on April 15, 2022, but it did not seem to transfer over when we changed platforms. I am re-running this article to keep the archive of these posts complete.)
As I think about this unique countdown, and the debates that might take place over which player was the best at each uniform number, there might not be a number that presents a better debate than #30.
#30 was worn by two Yankees greats. Two exceptional players. Two underrated players.
Two of the most loved players, in many ways, in Yankees history.
This discussion and debate will be an interesting one.
Who was better, the great pitcher or the great second baseman?
In the history of the Yankees, 31 different players have worn uniform #30.
Only the most knowledgeable Yankees fan would even know the names of some of the players who wore #30. These include Gordon Rhodes (1929), Bots Nekola (1929), Mike Chartak (1940), Bill Wight (1946), Dick Starr (1947), Matt Smith (2006), Scott Patterson (2008), and Pete Kozma (2017).
Other names might evoke different reactions. Jay Bruce, who played the last final (and uninspired games of his career) wore #30 in 2021. The late Cory Lidle wore #30 in 2006. Bobby Shantz won four Gold Glove Awards while pitching in uniform #30 during the years of 1957-1960.
And the great Eddie Lopat wore #30 was he served as one of the Yankees big three starting pitchers (along with Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi) from 1948-1955 going 166-122, 3.21 and helping the Yankees to five consecutive World Series titles.
On most teams, a player with Ed Lopat’s resume would easily be the greatest at a uniform number, but in Yankees history, he is overshadowed by Mel Stottlemyre and Willie Randolph.
Let’s jump to the overall numbers as a quick start. Here are the top three Yankees All-Time at uniform #30:
Willie Randolph - 54.1
Mel Stottlemyre = 40.7
Ed Lopat = 17.3
As great as he was, Ed Lopat comes in a distant third place.
The question, outside of WAR, is who was better, Willie Randolph or Mel Stottlemyre?
And, WAR aside, I’m not sure if this can ever be completely determined. They were both great for so long, that it will be difficult to argue for one and against the other.
In Willie Randolph’s case, he has the higher WAR (by a significant margin). Willie Randolph was also on four World Series teams, winning twice. (But Willie was not on the field in 1978.) Willie’s team also went to the the American League Championship Series in 1980. Randolph was also named Co-Captain of the Yankees (along with Ron Guidry) - a title Stottlemyre never had. Willie Randolph was an All- Star five times. He even won a Silver Slugger award.
Some arguments for Stottlemyre would be that he was the ace of the pitching staff for many years. Being the ace of a pitching staff is vastly more important (one could, at least argue) than being a second baseman. Stottlemyre appeared in one World Series (1964) and pitched very well there. In fact, it was Stottlemyre’s great pitching down the stretch that year that helped the Yankees even reach the World Series. Mel Stottlemyre was never the captain, that’s true, but he also played in the era after Lou Gehrig and before Thurman Munson when it seemed likely that that honorary title would never be given to a Yankee again. One could never argue that Stottlemyre, title or not, was a leader on the Yankees throughout his career.
It’s also fair to say that many of the players who played around Stottlemyre were either past their prime or not of the quality of the players that surrounded Willie Randolph. Stottlemyre played during one of the Yankees least successful eras. Randolph played in one of the more successful eras.
Mel Stottlemyre won 20 games three times. He was also a five time All-Star.
This is what makes the debate so intriguing.
They’re both deserving. Vastly deserving. They were both great Yankees.
Willie Randolph was a Yankee from 1976 through 1988, 13 seasons.
Mel Stottlemyre was a Yankee for 11 years from 1964 through 1974.
Mel Stottlemyre was a career Yankee. Willie Randolph played for the Pirates briefly before playing for the Yankees and then the Dodgers, Brewers, A’s, and Mets after his Yankees career.
Both spent time as coaches on the Yankees for championship seasons.
Both also worked with the Mets - Stottlemyre as a pitching coach and Randolph as their manager.
On this one, I am going to declare co-winners. I think it’s only fair. Mel Stottlemyre and Willie Randolph were both great Yankees.
I am very interested to see what our readers and others think.
Who was the best Yankee at #30?
(This will be our Tuesday Discussion question on May 3, 2022.)
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com and the SABR BioProject.