COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#6)
By Paul Semendinger
19 different Yankees have worn uniform #6 for the Yankees.
This list includes two Hall-of-Famers: Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon.
The future President of the American League, Dr. Bobby Brown, wore this number.
A host of Yankee All-Stars wore #6. This includes Ben Chapman, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon, Roy White, and Steve Sax.
Two of the greatest third basemen in Yankees history, Andy Carey and Clete Boyer, wore uniform #6.
And Mickey Mantle wore #6 in his rookie season.
Uniform #6 is retired, but not for any of the players referenced above. It was retired for manager Joe Torre who wore that number when he was guiding the Yankees to their annual post-season appearance between 1996 and 2007 that included 6 World Series and four World Championships.
The number is retired for a manager, but who was the greatest Yankees player to wear uniform #6?
The primary candidates for this honor are Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon, Andy Carey, Clete Boyer, and Roy White.
The following is how these players rank in various counting statistics:
YEARS: White (15), Lazzeri (12), Carey (9), Boyer (8), Gordon (7)
GAMES: White (1,881), Lazzeri (1,659), Boyer (1.068), Gordon (1,000), Carey (688)
HITS: White (1,803), Lazzeri (1,784), Gordon (1,000), Boyer (882), Carey (567)
RUNS: White (964), Lazzeri (952), Gordon (596), Boyer (434), Carey (288)
HOME RUNS: Lazzeri (169), White (160), Gordon (153), Boyer (95), Carey (47)
RUNS BATTED IN: Lazzeri (1,157), White (758), Gordon (617), Boyer (393), Carey (259)
STOLEN BASES: White (233), Lazzeri (147), Gordon (68), Boyer (27), Carey (23)
BATTING AVERAGE: Lazzeri (.293), Gordon & White (.271), Carey (.266), Boyer (.241)
In every category, Tony Lazzeri and Roy White rank as the top two players.
If we expand to look at each player's triple slash (OBP, SLG, OPS), Joe Gordon enters the discussion, but it becomes clear that Carey and Boyer match up with the top three:
OPS+ also favors Lazzeri (120), Gordon (121), and White (121).
Looking at championships, the edge goes to Lazzeri and Gordon (5 World Championships) over White (2 World Championships).
As with so many of these discussions, a case could be made for any of the top three players, but because of the vastly amount of years and games played by Tony Lazzeri and Roy White over Joe Gordon, the debate needs to be between those two players.
Tony Lazzeri against Roy White, at first, might look like it should go to the Hall of Famer Lazzeri. But when we dig deeper, some other factors emerge:
Tony Lazzeri never led the league in any offensive statistics, but Roy White led the American League in Games (two times), Runs, Walks, and Sacrifice Flies (twice).
Roy White was also a stellar outfielder. He led the American League in putouts in left field eight times (in nine years) doing this from 1969-1973 and then from 1975-77. White also led the league in assists twice, and in 1971, he went an entire season without making an error. While they played different positions (Lazzeri was primarily a second baseman, though he did play third base and shortstop), White was clearly the superior defensive player.
WAR, which I have used as a factor in so many of these essays, ranks these two players as extremely close:
White - 46.8
Lazzeri - 46.4
For all intents and purposes, that is a statistical tie. (In Yankees' history, White is 11th, Lazzeri is 12th.) And it goes on and on like this for so many statistics...
Roy White is 13th in runs, Tony Lazzeri is 14th...
Roy White is 11th in hits, Tony Lazzeri 12th...
Tony Lazzeri is 12th in doubles, Roy White is 16th...
Tony Lazzeri is 24th in homers, Roy White is 28th...
Roy White is 12th in singles, Tony Lazzeri is 16th...
Roy White is tied for the 23rd highest OPS+, Tony Lazzeri is tied for the 24th highest OPS+...
Tony Lazzeri leads Roy White in Runs Created but Roy White leads Tony Lazzeri in Adjusted Batting Runs.
Roy White was on base 2,766 times. Tony Lazzeri was on base 2,633 times.
Tony Lazzeri had more sacrifice hits. Roy White had more sacrifice flies.
Of note, neither player is in Monument Park. They both should be.
In the end, it comes down to what matters more, years of service (White) or World Championships (Lazzeri). For every statistic that favors one, there's another that favors the other.
There is the final piece of information that settles this clearly.
Tony Lazzeri wore uniform #5 in 1930 and 1931. In 1932, he wore #23. In 1933, he wore #7. Lazzeri wore #6 only in 1929 and from 1934-37.
Roy White wore #6 from 1969 through 1979. In uniform #6, it is clear that Roy White did more.
The greatest Yankee to wear uniform #6 was Roy White.
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com and the SABR BioProject.
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