It's Time to Start a NYY HOF.
The Yankees have now retired 22 individual numbers, and it has gotten to be too much. This week we'll look at other ways to honor players.
The Current Yankees Museum:
If you have ever explored the (New) Yankee Stadium, or been on a tour, I'm sure that there are a couple of places that were required stops. One of those places is Monument Park. The other was likely the Yankees Museum. And, while I have my qualms about the placement of the new Monument Park (and how it closes during the game), we're going to talk about the Yankees Museum.
It's a nice sized room with a variety of different permanent displays, highlighted by a few different permanent features: the statues of Don Larsen and Yogi Berra, the baseball autograph "wall", the 7 original Commissioner's Trophies (there was no official trophy before 1967), the 26 World Series rings and pocketwatch (you can find my 6-part series on those artifacts, here), and- most importantly- Thurman Munson's locker.
It's nice museum. There are displays of uniforms and bats and gloves and baseball cards from players across all eras of Yankees history. There are a number of displays to talk about the history of how the Yankees became the Yankees. They explain how the Yankees transcended the sport many times in its history, how it became an important iconography of popular culture, how they were winners. The Yankees have a history of extreme importance to the sport and they have something that they should be proud of.
My idea would scrap the idea of it as a museum in its entirety. Save the memorabilia- especially Thurman's locker- but make it a hall of fame.
If we're thinking about space in the stadium to put something new, this is the obvious place to go and rebrand. (And, while we're at it, take away the branding/sponsorship by Bank of America. Some things should be bigger than turning a quick profit.)
The Yankees Hall of Fame:
It is an honor to be memorialized by your team. It is the highest honor for your team to never issue your number again. However, when it seems that every year the Yankees are honoring another player with another number taken away from the staff to issue, that honor becomes less and less special. Truthfully, it becomes overplayed. It gets old. It feels more like a cash grab to get fans to the stadium than a true honor.
However, one thing that never gets old is getting honored to be a member of a hall of fame...if it is done the right way. There is an understanding about the difference between becoming a hall of famer and a number retired player. Being in a hall of fame is special. Being a hall of famer is humbling. Getting your number retired makes you a legend. Getting your number retired puts you on a pedestal that very very few others will ever reach.
I think it is more than fair to say that Paul O'Neill is not at the same level as a player like Babe Ruth, or Lou Gehrig, or Joe DiMaggio, or Mickey Mantle. That doesn't mean that he isn't/wasn't deserving of being remembered as a great Yankee. But, it is very clear that there is a divide. Luckily, a hall of fame doesn't require that same level (in my mind) of distinction necessary. To be a hall of famer for a team, a player could earn their role by having a big moment, they may have had a short but fantastic career, or they may have been a mainstay in the organization for a long time.
A hall of fame is how your honor great players, managers, coaches, executives, owners, and more.
But, how would the Yankees pull this off?
How to Create the Yankees Hall of Fame:
The Yankees have a team and a history on every side of the organization with great people who should be remembered. Honestly, right now is the perfect time to make something like this happen.
They could start with an inaugural class of the 5 greatest Yankees players of all-time: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Whitey Ford.
From then on, the Yankees could have a ballot at the end of every year where people affiliated with the organization (Yankees media members, YES Network analysts, baseball historians, former players, and ESPECIALLY the fans) would have a ballot- not dissimilar to that of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the BBWAA ballot- where players who meet a percentage of the vote would get inducted.
For the fan vote, the fans vote could count for a 10% stake in the overall results. So, if there were 90 various members voting, the fans would add in another 10 votes- scaled to the final results- to the tally. This would be a HUGE hit amongst the fanbase (a fanbase that is on extreme edge right now with the current state of the franchise) and invigorate them towards great discussions about the Yankees of now and then.
Think of players who have been left out who were great.
Tommy Henrich. Graig Nettles. Roy White. Hideki Matsui. Earle Combs. Red Ruffing. There are so many to name.
After a few years of inducting in the obvious great Yankees (or to avoid this, having all the retired numbered players an auto entry into the NYY Hall), it would bring back some great memories of those forgotten players who were great but overshadowed or just forgotten by the Yankees for whatever reasons.
The Yankees love to sell us on their legacy. Every commercial shows videos of famous home runs hit by Bucky Dent, or Aaron Boone, or Scott Brosius. These are not the names of legends, but these are guys who are remembered.
These are great Yankees. These guys would be great Yankees Hall of Famers.
It's the perfect time to do this now.