COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#33)
By Paul Semendinger
I hope the next player to wear uniform #33 is the greatest Yankee to wear uniform #33 because he’ll be the 33rd Yankees to wear #33.
I don’t think the most recent #33 will be the greatest ever. That was Tim Locastro in 2021.
When J.A. Happ wore #33, he pitched his way off the team. (He pitched much better in uniform #34.)
Greg Bird had a lot of promise. He wore this number from 2017-19.
And then there were a host of “passing through” guys who wore the number. This list includes Chris Martin, Garrett Jones, Kelly Johnson, Stephen Drew, Travis Hafner, Kelly Stinnett, Jaret Wright, Ryan Thompson, Scott Nielsen, Bob Brower, Steve Shields, and others. Many others.
A number of two-time Yankees, guys who were Yankees, left, and returned during their careers wore #33. This list includes Javier Vasquez, Alfonso Soriano, Charlie Hayes, and Claudell Washington.
There were also a few big time right-handed sluggers who wore #33 as a Yankee. This list includes Ron Kittle, Jack Clark, and Jose Canseco.
But, let’s get to the candidates for the best ever at uniform #33:
Nick Swisher, maybe the most enthusiastic Yankee ever, wore #33 for his four fun seasons in the Bronx. He played 598 games as a Yankee. He hit .268/105/349. He also put up 11.9 WAR and was a member of the 2009 World Championship team.
David Wells wore #33 from 1997 to 1998 and then again in 2002 and 2003. He was a fan favorite also. He pitched a Perfect Game as a Yankee. He was on the 1998 World Champions. As a Yankee, David Wells pitched in 124 games and went 68-28 (winning percentage of .708) with a 3.90 ERA. Wells accumulated 17.1 WAR as a Yankee.
Ken Griffey is the only other candidate here. Griffey was a Yankee from 1982 to 1985. In 552 games, he batted .285/49/251. He accumulated only 6.5 WAR, primarily because he was a negative value defender.
Doc Medich wore #33 in 1974 and 1975. He was a pitcher with promise, winning 19 games in 1974 and 16 games in 1975. He was part of the trade that brought Willie Randolph to the Yankees.
After considering these three candidates, the decision really comes down to the age-old question of who was more valuable, the position player or the pitcher? Swisher played well. Wells pitched well.
In the end, it’s impossible to pick against David Wells. He has the edge (by a significant margin) in WAR. Wells has the Perfect Game. David Wells was also the MVP of the 1998 American League Championship Series. At one point, David Wells went 5-1 over six post season starts.
It seems clear, the greatest Yankee to wear #33 was David Wells.
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com and the SABR BioProject.
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