COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#53)
By Paul Semendinger
In the last Counting Down post, I noted that the Yankees have used #54 often times as the number for their closer out of the bullpen.
Interestingly, #53 has often been used for the set-up man.
The following Yankees set-up men all wore #53:
Ron Davis (1978-79)
Jay Howell (1982-83)
Neil Allen (1985)
Al Holland (1986)
Zack Britton (2018 to present)
Other notable Yankees who wore #53, if only briefly, were:
Bill Skowron (1954)
Alfonso Soriano (2000) and
Bobby Abreu (2006-08)
But the Yankee I want to focus on here was a pitcher who wore the number from 1955 to 1959. I always enjoy having the opportunity to share the stories about some lesser-known players, especially those who should be remembered a little more.
That pitcher is Johnny Kucks.
Between 1955 and 1959, Kucks pitched in 143 games as a Yankee. He made 83 starts. In those years he won 42 games, lost 35, and is credited with saving 6 games.
In 1956, Kucks was an American League All-Star. That year he pitched to an 18-9, 3.85 record. Johnny Kucks is the only player to ever be a Yankees All-Star while wearing uniform #53.
In 1959, Kucks, whose star rose and faded fast, was traded to the Kansas City Athletics in the deal that brought the Yankees Ralph Terry and Hector Lopez.
Kucks deserves consideration, no doubt, but in looking over the roster of players who wore #53 (there were 35 in all), the primary player who should be considered against Johnny Kucks would be Bobby Abreu who had two and a half excellent years with the Yankees:
2006 (58 games) – .330/7/42
2007 (158 games) – .283/16/101
2008 (156 games) – .296/20/100
Those are difficult numbers to argue against.
WAR helps to cut through the noise.
Bobby Abreu earned 7.0 WAR in his Yankees career.
Johnny Kucks accumulated just 0.2 WAR.
Just for the record, Zack Britton, who maybe I should have considered a bit more here, has earned 2.9 WAR.
In the end it is pretty clear, the greatest #53 in Yankees history was Bobby Abreu.
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com.
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