COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#50)
By Paul Semendinger
Uniform #50 has been a popular one in Yankees history. But, located between Bernie Williams’ #51 and Ron Guidry’s #49, it is an often forgotten number. Number 50 has been used often, but it does not have a stellar history.
It won’t be retired, if it ever is, for a long long time…
Determining the very best at this number is a challenge as thirty-three players wore this number at some point in their Yankee careers.
The first to ever wear #50 was Ralph Houk in 1947, his rookie year. Houk played in 41 games that year and batted a respectable .272. Beginning in 1948, though, Houk’s number changed to #32. (As a manager, Houk wore #35.)
The next player to wear #50 was Billy Bryan who wore that number for part of the 1967 season…one where he batted .167.
Between 1969 and 1973, uniform #50 was used often, but not by any player who left a lasting imprint on Yankees history:
Bill Burbach (1969-71)
Al Closter (1971-72)
Doc Medich (1972)
Duke Simms (1973)
Dave Pagan (1973)
Of note, Doc Medich was a solid pitcher for the Yankees at the start of his career. In four seasons, he earned 11.2 WAR, but those numbers were earned while wearing uniform numbers 42 and 33. He pitched in only one game in that 1972 season.
Kenny Clay wore #50 in 1977.
Roger Slagle (a Least Among Them Yankee) wore the number for his lone game in 1979.
Paul Mirabella also wore #50 in 1979.
John Pacella and Lynn McGlothen wore #50 in 1982.
Between 1983 and 1984, Jay Howell wore this uniform number. In 1984, he accumulated 2.9 WAR. That put him in the running for the best ever, believe it or not. That 2.9 has actually never been surpassed, but a -0.4 WAR in 1983 hurt Howell’s chances to be the best ever here, although, as we shall see, in WAR, he still is the leader.
The list just continues: Marty Bystrom (1985), Phil Lombardi (1986), Chris Chambliss (for one at bat in 1988), and Steve Balboni (but only in 1989).
John Habyan wore the number in 1990. So did Oscar Azocar.
Alan Mills tried out #50 in 1991 and Robert Eenhoorn had the number in 1994 and 1995.
The number was then given a rest until 2000 when Todd Erdos wore it.
Matt Lawton wore #50 in 2005 before the number was rested again.
In 2015, the number came out again, assigned mostly to a collection of little known players such as Nick Rumbelow (2015).
In 2016, Kirby Yates, Tyler Olson, Conor Mullee, and Richard Bleier all wore #50.
Domingo German wore #50 in 2017.
As did Giovanny Gallegos.
And Tyler Webb.
And Ben Heller.
It seems #50 became the “catch-all” number for the Yankees. If a player was called-up for the day, he’d get #50.
And then, imagine, if you will, being a first year Yankee and having a nice, but not great year. Imagine pitching in 29 games (all starts) and going 8-6, 4.30 in 144.1 innings.
Imagine that that season made you the best ever in Yankees history at your uniform number.
You don’t have to imagine any longer.
While Jay Howell’s lifetime WAR in #50 was 2.5, he did this over 80 total innings making just 13 starts and pitching, also, out of the bullpen. (In 1984, the year he did so well, Howell appeared in 60 games out of the bullpen.)
The greatest Yankee to ever wear #50, earned just 2.2 WAR, but he did it over 144.1 innings. For this reason, I am giving him the honor as the greatest ever.
Jameson Taillon is (for now at least) the greatest Yankee to ever wear #50. (I am basing his award, somewhat, on the projection that he’ll put up (at least) similar numbers next year and take the overall WAR lead. If Taillon has a poor year, Jay Howell might just get the nod.)
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com.
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