COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#54)
By Paul Semendinger
When I think of the number 54 in relation to the Yankees, I immediately think of closers.
54 is the number the Yankees seem to give to the big guy, the stopper, the fireman, the closer, who comes out of the bullpen to get the save and close out the game. It all started, I believe, with Rich “Goose” Gossage.
Today’s Yankees closer is Aroldis Chapman. He also wears #54.
In between the Goose and Chapman, the Yankees issued #54 to other guys who came out of the bullpen, some who were prospects, some who the Yankees took a long shot on, and others who were closing out their careers. This list includes:
Brian Fisher (1985-86), who was a right-handed flame thrower who did save 20 games for the Yankees over two seasons, but who was part of the trade that brought Rick Rhoden to the Yankees.
Cecilio Guante (1987) who was acquired with Rick Rhoden, and who also wore #51 and saved 12 games as a Yankee.
Dale Mohorcic (1988-89) who saved only three games as a Yankee, but who had, in 1987, saved 16 games for the Rangers.
Bobby Munoz (1993) who was a right-handed fame thrower who, when he first came up, had many hoping that he’d be a dominant force out of the pen. It wasn’t to be. He pitched in 38 games for the Yankees, put up a 5.32 ERA, and never saved a game for them
Jeff Reardon (1994) who was a top closer for many years (in his career, Reardon saved 367 games), but who came to the Yankees to close out his career and pitched in just eleven games, saving two.
Other notable Yankees who wore #54, if only briefly, include Andy Carey (1952), Ron Guidry (1975), Jay Buhner (1987-88), and Tim Leary (1991-92).
Ultimately this contest comes down to the question of who was the better closer as a Yankee, Rich Gossage or Aroldis Chapman?
As of August 22, the following is the tale of the tape:
Games: Gossage 319, Chapman 255
Innings: Gossage 533, Chapman 242
WHIP: Gossage 1.079, Chapman 1.107
Strikeouts: Gossage 512, Chapman 382
Strikeouts per 9 innings: Chapman 14.2, Gossage 8.6
Wins: Gossage 42, Chapman 19
Saves: Gossage 151, Chapman 137
WAR: Gossage 18.8, Chapman 6.8
World Series Winning Teams: Gossage 1, Chapman 0
All-Star Games: Gossage 4, Chapman 3
Hall-of-Fame: Gossage – Yes, Chapman – Probably Not
This wasn’t as close as I would have thought before I did the exercise. Gossage dominates the head-to-head comparisons with Chapman.
Aroldis Chapman has struggled in 2021, especially recently, and the Yankees seem to be moving away from him as the closer. This would make him closing any of the gap with Gossage less likely. It is also seems possible (if not probable) that the Chapman may not be part of the Yankees plans after this season.
For all of these reasons, Rich Gossage remains the greatest Yankee to ever wear #54. I suspect he’ll be the best ever at this number for a long time going forward…
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com.
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