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Rethinking the Retired Numbers: (Part 1 of 2)

The Yankees announced this week that they intend to retire the #21 for Paul O’Neill on August 21st this season. After nearly 20 seasons of the Yankees unofficially retiring the number (except for Hawkins and Ensberg in 2008), they have put it in the works to retire their 22nd number.

We originally ran this article on July 3rd, 2020 and felt it appropriate to re-run a miniseries that generated a lot of discussion.

 

A common thought experiment and discussion in the Yankees community often revolves around trying to understand and simplify the logic behind retired numbers. Ethan Semendinger has compiled a list of 4 of common suggestions for how this may be done.

 

Criteria #1:

Number retirement must be based upon a player’s statistics and accolades from during their playing years.

Rationale:

One common thread that has come up often within the discussion of retired numbers often revolves around trying to dedicate this honor to the players. What this criteria would implement would be the removal of retired numbers going to uniformed coaches (mainly managers). Often times this is continued on to suggest that managers should be treated in the same way that front office personel, broadcasters, and other notable team figures have been enshrined in history with the dedication of a plaque in monument park instead.

For the Yankees in particular, this specific rule would bring about the removal of retired numbers for: Billy Martin (#1), Joe Torre (#6), and Casey Stengel (#37).

 

Criteria #2:

In order to be enshrined with a number retirement, the player must have had a lengthy, 10(+) year, Yankee career.

Rationale:

This is another very common sentiment amongst Yankees fans as a way to more clearly define the methodology for the dedication of getting a number retired. It does appear to be logical as often times becoming a legendary Yankee requires being in pinstripes for a lengthy part- if not all of- a players playing career. However, it is often met with debate as some of the most notable Yankees moments and players in their history have come from players whose careers did not meet that decade long length. Yet, again, others do see this as a potential selling point for negotiations with high-profile players when trying to work in negotiating a deal after a rookie contract or acquiring a superstar in free agency. At the very least, this simple and commonly discussed criteria does bring a lot of intrique.

For the Yankees in particular, this specific rule would bring about the removal of retired numbers for: Roger Maris (#9), Paul O’Neill (#21), and Reggie Jackson (#44).

 

Criteria #3:

During their playing careers, a player must have been a part of multiple World Series winning teams.

Rationale:

Given the amazing history of the New York Yankees and their 27 World Championship titles, this is another point that many fans have brought to the table in this thought experiment. However, I think that this unfairly punishes modern players who have a much harder time making the World Series than teams of old, as they must now go through many rounds of playoff series and the creation of juggernaut teams is much harder to maintain. To this, I would make the following amendments:

-For a player whose career took place before 1993, they must have been a part of multiple World Championship winning teams.

-For a player whose career took place during or after 1993, they must have been a part of multiple World Championship contending (ALCS) teams.

The logic behind the 1993 date comes with the introduction of the Wild Card and thus making getting to the World Series a much more difficult task. However, even without including this caveat, the number of retired number Yankees who are affected is quite small.

For the Yankees in particular, this specific rule would bring about the removal of retired numbers for: Don Mattingly (#23).

 

Criteria #4:

Number retirement must only go to players who have also been enshrined into the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown).

Rationale:

For many, they would like to see the honor of having a players number retired become closely linked with, if not dependent on, the induction of that player first into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. This argument is typically made with putting an emphasis on the number of retired numbers by the Yankees and the way that with more going to more less and less historic players makes the honor less awe-striking and inspiring. Thus comes the need for induction into the BBHOF, which is a way of saying that their name is an important and necessary piece when considering the story of baseball.

For the Yankees in particular, this specific rule would bring about the removal of retired numbers for the most individual Yankees, being: Roger Maris (#9), Thurman Munson (#15), Jorge Posada (#20), Paul O’Neill (#21), Don Mattingly (#23), Elston Howard (#32), Andy Pettitte (#46), Ron Guidry (#49), and Bernie Williams (#51).

 

Two Important Caveats/Exceptions:

Now, two players from the final criteria above are often, and for good reason, ultimately removed from the discussion of rescinding the honor of having their number retired. These two players make up two exceptions or caveats that people also often include as the careers of each player was much more than provided on paper.

First comes Thurman Munson (#15), who was able to reach each of the first 3 criteria but has ultimately failed on receiving induction into the BBHOF. Especially considering how his career was cut-short due to his accident and untimely death, it is fair to say that there is a very strong likelihood that Munson would’ve already been inducted into Cooperstown. From this comes the first exception, where Exceptions can be made in the case of an untimely death to a player.

Second comes Elston Howard (#32), who was the first African-American New York Yankee and helped to break the color barrier in professional team sports. Combined with his 13-year Yankee playing career and 4 World Series rings, Howard almost reaches the whole criteria on his own, speaking to how this is a worthy exception to be made. From this comes the second exception, where Exceptions can be made in the case of a player transcending the sport of baseball and the New York Yankees franchise.

 

What’re Your Thoughts?

It is always interesting to see how much different fans of the New York Yankees will consider and talk about the history, understanding/methodology, and potential changes to the retired number experiment. In this post I looked to detail four of the biggest and most common arguments (or criteria) that Yankees fans seem to mention when this debate gets mentioned while highlighting those players who would be affected by each.

What do you think about each of these ideas? Is there an important consideration that I missed?

Additionally, tomorrow afternoon, I am going to examine how each of these changes would affect the introduction of other Yankees greats back into monument park if these four new criteria were considered and had been in effect since the first uniform numbers were retired for the New York Yankees.

 

Article By: Ethan Semendinger

Original Posting Date: Friday July 3rd, 2020

Publish Date (Edits): Thursday February 24th, 2022

#MonumentPark #RetiredNumbers

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