COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#42)
By Paul Semendinger
The question isn’t, “Who was the best player to wear #42 in Yankees history?” That has a simple answer.
The Great Mariano.
I have a real sense that as time passes, Mariano Rivera’s accomplishments will only grow. As we gain distance and perspective from his career, fans and experts will look back at Mariano Rivera and be in awe.
Mariano will go from a superstar to an all-time great to an inner-circle Hall-of-Fame legend.
In regards to the Yankees, I think Mariano Rivera will be considered the greatest pitcher they ever had and the fifth best player in their long and illustrious history. (The five greatest Yankees of all-time, as I see it, are Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Mariano Rivera.)
Mariano Rivera’s legend will eclipse that of Derek Jeter (easily) and even Yogi Berra.
The Great Mariano was that great. Time and perspective will show this and only make him greater.
For the Yankees, #42 will always, and forever more, be Mariano Rivera’s number.
So, the question today isn’t, “Who was the best Yankee at #42?” We all know that answer.
But who is who is the runner-up?
The answer might surprise most and it’s a player who, in his own right, was a very special ballplayer and human being.
The only player other than Mariano Rivera to wear uniform #42 for more than just a few seasons was Jerry Coleman who wore the number from 1949 to 1957, which was the extent of his entire career. A Yankee lifer, Jerry Coleman played in 723 games as a Yankee batting .263/16/73.
Jerry Coleman played in six World Series. The Yankees were winners in four of them.
Primarily a second baseman, Jerry Coleman also played a little shortstop and third base.
Coleman was an All-Star once. He was the 1950 World Series MVP. He finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 1949. In short, Jerry Coleman was a keck of a ballplayer… when he was on the field.
One might note that his career was absent of awards and the like, but if one were to say that, he would be wrong. Very very wrong.
Jerry Coleman was the only, the ONLY, Major League baseball player to see combat in both World War II and the Korean War. This wasn’t just for show either. Jerry Coleman was a fighter pilot who saw action in 57 missions in WWII and 63 in Korea.
Coleman’s Major League career might be absent of hardware, but he won 13 Air Medals, 3 Navy Citations, and Two Distinguished Flying Crosses.
Jerry Coleman was a hero. His awards and honors trump those of most (if not all) of the players in Major League history.
After his career ended, Jerry Coleman became an announcer for the Yankees and the San Diego Padres. His broadcasting career of over 40 years earned him a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame Broadcasters Wing.
Jerry Coleman was a great Yankee, a great soldier, and a great announcer.
Mariano Rivera was the greatest Yankee to wear #42, but in many ways, Jerry Coleman isn’t far behind.
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com.
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