COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#39)
Updated: Oct 3, 2022
By Paul Semendinger
As we wind down, slowly, into the lower numbers, we start to see the numbers that have been used the most in Yankees history.
Uniform #28 has been worn by 74 players.
Uniform #38 has been worn by 71 player and
Uniform #39 has been worn by 67 players.
This is the third most popular Yankees uniform number ever.
No player has worn #28, #38, and #39.
Four players wore #38 and #39. Those players (in chronological order) were Frank Hiller, Loren Babe, Chris Britton, and Chad Green.
Two players wore #28 and #39. Those two players were Tommy Byrne and Melky Cabrera.
(Where else do you get information like this?)
I pride myself on knowing (almost) everything about the Yankees, but among the names of the players who wore #39 were a few that I have never heard of, or have forgotten that they even played for the Yankees:
Mike Chartak (1942) – 16 games as a Yankee
Wally Hood (1949) – 2 games as a Yankee (that was his whole MLB career)
Harry Schaffer (1952) – 5 games as a Yankee (that was his whole MLB career)
George Wilson (1956) – 11 games as a Yankee
Wayne Granger (1973) – 7 games as a Yankee (and who, I could have sworn pitched for the Mets, but never did*)
Jim Magnuson (1973) – 8 games as a Yankee
Don Cooper (1985) – 7 games as a Yankee
Brent Lillibridge (2013) – 11 games as a Yankee
Chris Nelson (2013) – 10 games as a Yankee
*I just thought of it – Wayne Garrett (not Granger) played for the Mets!
The Yankees with the longest tenures with #39 were:
Jim Coates: 1959-62
Steve Hamilton: 1963-70 and
Roberto Kelly: 1987-92
If one were to pick the best ever at #39, it would have to be among those three players.
Of note, in 1963, the Yankees traded Jim Coates to get Steve Hamilton.
Jim Coates pitched in 167 games as a Yankee (37-15, 3.84). He accumulated a grand total of 1.0 WAR.
Roberto Kelly played in 638 games as a Yankee wearing #39 (.280/56/258). His total WAR was 13.7.
And then there was Steve Hamilton. He pitched in 311 games over eight years in pinstripes (34-20, 2.78). His WAR was 9.4.
This becomes a question over total WAR and longevity with the club and the value of a pitcher or an outfielder:
Steve Hamilton was a Yankee for 8 years, Roberto Kelly for 6.
Roberto Kelly played in more than double the amount of games than Hamilton pitched in.
Before doing this exercise, I would have thought that Steve Hamilton would have won this honor hands down, but the more I consider it all, it seems clear that the greatest Yankee to ever wear #39 was…
Although this doesn’t help his case, Roberto Kelly was traded for Paul O’Neill who became a Yankees star. (Steve Hamilton was simply placed on waivers to end his time with the Yankees.)
The greatest Yankee #39 is Roberto Kelly.
(This is fun!)
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com.