Retired numbers: New York Yankees

21 have been pulled from circulation; do the Yanks have anyone left to honor?

Adam Ottavino achieved a rare distinction when he joined the New York Yankees as a free agent in 2019.

Ottavino was assigned a single-digit uniform — 0 — making him the first Yankee to wear a number lower than 10 since 2014.

Why the exclusivity? The Yanks have not only been the most successful franchise in big-league history, as evidenced by their 27 world titles, but they have also been the most enthusiastic about honoring their legendary stars.

The franchise has saluted 22 former players and managers by retiring 21 uniform numbers. (Two players wore No. 8 before it was pulled from circulation.) Every numeral from 1 to 9 has been permanently removed from the rotation, along with a dozen double-digit numbers as high as 51.

That puts the Yankees comfortably ahead of the two runners-up in the retired-number derby, the Cardinals and Giants, who have honored 14 apiece.

And it makes the Yankees the ideal franchise to conclude my every-other-Friday breakdown of jersey retirements, a series that began almost 14 months ago. (Go to the bottom of this story for links to the other 29 installments.)

Let’s look over the club’s massive list of honorees — and conduct a brief search for candidates for future retirement ceremonies (if any) at Yankee Stadium.


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Yankees’ numbers already retired

Here’s the complete rundown of New York’s 22 honorees, listed in numerical order:

No. 1 Billy Martin played second base for the Yankees for seven seasons (1950-1953, 1955-1957), though he is primarily remembered for his five stints as the club’s manager (1975-1978, 1979, 1983, 1985, 1988). He won a pair of AL pennants, plus the 1977 world title.

No. 2 Derek Jeter is the club’s all-time leader in games played (2,747), hits (3,465), and stolen bases (358). The shortstop was named to 14 All-Star teams in 20 seasons (1995-2014).

What remains to be said about No. 3 Babe Ruth (1920-1934)? The right fielder, widely considered the greatest player ever, scored more runs (1,959), blasted more homers (659), and hit for a higher average (.349) than anyone else in Yankees history.

Ruth’s teammate, No. 4 Lou Gehrig, spent his entire 17-year career at first base for the Yanks (1923-1939). Gehrig ranks second to Ruth among all Yankees in career batting average (.340) and second to Jeter in hits (2,721).

No. 5 Joe DiMaggio had a relatively short career of 13 seasons in New York (1936-1942, 1946-1951). The center fielder qualified for the All-Star team all 13 years, and he was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player three times (1939, 1941, 1947).

No. 6 Joe Torre brought stability to the dugout at Yankee Stadium, managing the club for 12 seasons (1996-2007). He won six AL pennants and four world titles in the process.

No. 7 Mickey Mantle (1951-1968) was the undisputed star of the great New York clubs of the 1950s and early 1960s. The center fielder won three MVP trophies, as well as the Triple Crown in 1956. His 536 homers put him second to Ruth in franchise history.

No. 8 has been retired in honor of a pair of catchers. The first was Bill Dickey, who batted .313 over a 17-year career (1928-1943, 1946). He ranks eighth on the club’s all-time list for runs batted in (1,209) and ninth for hits (1,969).

No. 8 Yogi Berra arrived as Dickey was saying his farewells. The inimitable Yogi played 18 years for the Yankees (1946-1963) and also managed them to a pennant in 1964. He was voted the league’s MVP on three occasions and was named to 15 All-Star squads.

No. 9 Roger Maris is best remembered, of course, for breaking Ruth’s single-season record by hitting 61 home runs in 1961. But the right fielder was more than a slugger. He won a pair of MVP Awards and a Gold Glove during his seven years (1960-1966) with the Yankees.

No. 10 Phil Rizzuto was associated with the club for more than five decades as a shortstop (1941-1942, 1946-1956) and broadcaster. He was the AL’s MVP in 1950. His skill in the field established him as the club’s all-time leader in defensive wins above replacement (dWAR).

No. 15 Thurman Munson (1969-1979) was just starting his second decade with the Yankees when he died in a plane crash. The catcher was named the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1970 and its Most Valuable Player in 1976.

No. 16 Whitey Ford was the winningest pitcher in club history, piling up 236 victories over 16 seasons (1950, 1953-1967). He also secured 10 World Series wins, the most for anybody with any team. Ford twice led the American League in earned run average (1956, 1958).

Only seven players appeared in a Yankees uniform more frequently than No. 20 Jorge Posada, who played in 1,829 games over 17 seasons (1995-2011), primarily as a catcher. His 275 home runs put him eighth in the club’s all-time rankings.

No. 23 Don Mattingly was one of eight Yankees to pass the 2,000-hit threshold, finishing his 14-year career (1982-1995) with 2,153. The first baseman posted batting averages above .300 in seven seasons. He was named the AL’s MVP in 1985.

No. 32 Elston Howard (1955-1967) made the All-Star team as a catcher every season from 1957 to 1965, peaking with the Most Valuable Player trophy in 1963. He also won a pair of Gold Gloves behind the plate.

It sometimes seemed that No. 37 Casey Stengel was speaking his own language. But his garbled syntax didn’t stand in the way of managerial success. Stengel ran the Yanks for 12 seasons (1949-1960) and won 10 AL pennants and seven world titles along the way.

No. 42 Mariano Rivera was the greatest reliever of his era (1995-2013) and most likely of all time. He registered at least 28 saves for 15 consecutive seasons. His career total of 652 saves is the highest in big-league history.

No. 44 Reggie Jackson spent only half a decade in New York (1977-1981) during his 21-year career, but his brief stay was highly publicized. The right fielder earned All-Star recognition all five seasons. He ranks fifth among all Yankees in career slugging average (.526).

No. 46 Andy Pettitte is one of only three pitchers to post more than 200 victories for the Yankees. He finished with 219 wins over 15 seasons in New York (1995-2003, 2007-2010, 2012-2013). Pettitte reigns as the franchise’s all-time strikeout leader (2,020).

No. 49 Ron Guidry (1975-1988) pitched 2,392 innings for the Yanks, a total surpassed by only six men in the team’s long history. His 1,778 strikeouts put him third among the same group. Guidry won the Cy Young Award in 1978, when he went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA.

No. 51 Bernie Williams (1991-2006) ranks third on the franchise’s all-time list for doubles (449), fifth for hits (2,336), and sixth for games played (2,076) and runs (1,366). He won the AL’s 1998 batting title (.339), along with four Gold Gloves as a center fielder.

Yankees’ candidates for retired numbers

The Yankees have certainly done a thorough job of saluting their greatest players and managers. Who could possibly be left to honor?

I offer the following seven candidates, again in numerical order:

No. 11 Brett Gardner isn’t blessed with outstanding stats, though he has accomplished something unusual in this day and age. The center fielder has spent his entire career (2008-2021) with the Yanks. He ranks third in club history for stolen bases (274) and eighth for triples (73).

You knew this was coming. No. 13 Alex Rodriguez (2004-2013, 2015-2016) won a pair of MVP trophies with New York. The third baseman ranks sixth on the Yankees’ master list for homers (351) and seventh for slugging average (.523). Yet his suspension for steroid use overshadows his numbers.

No. 15 Red Ruffing (1930-1942, 1945-1946) won 231 games for the Yanks, one of the club’s three pitchers to exceed 200. The others, Ford and Pettitte, have had their numbers retired, so why not Red? He, after all, is in the Hall of Fame, unlike Pettitte.

No. 35 Mike Mussina is another New York pitcher (2001-2008) who made it to Cooperstown. His 1,278 strikeouts are seventh on the franchise’s all-time list. He struck out 4.02 batters for every walk he issued, a ratio that is fourth-best in team history.

Only seven pitchers, No. 52 CC Sabathia (2009-2019) among them, started more than 300 games for the Yankees. He twice led the American League in wins (2009, 2010). His 1,700 strikeouts are fourth in team history, and his 134 victories are 10th.

No. 99 Aaron Judge (2016-2021) won’t reach his 30th birthday until next spring, but his early output has been strong. He smashed 52 homers in 2017, winning the AL’s Rookie of the Year Award. The right fielder’s career slugging average of .554 is the fifth-best on the club’s all-time list.

Joe McCarthy had a self-effacing personality, as indicated by his decision to wear a uniform without a number. He managed the Yanks for 16 seasons (1931-1946), amassing 1,460 wins (the most for any of the franchise’s managers) and seven world titles.

The outlook

There’s no pressure in New York to pull any more jerseys from circulation, though it’s only fair that we consider the candidates.

Gardner may be an emotional favorite, but his case for number retirement is fairly weak. The same could be said of Mussina, who performed longer and better for the Orioles than the Yankees during his Hall of Fame career.

Judge, of course, is merely a future prospect. He needs another eight to 10 strong seasons to warrant serious consideration.

The remaining four contenders all have their strong points. Take McCarthy, for instance. Three managers have won at least 1,100 regular-season games for the Yankees. Torre (1,173) and Stengel (1,149) have had their numbers retired, but not McCarthy, who lapped them both with 1,460 wins. (True, he never wore a numeral on his back, but a numberless jersey could easily be retired in his honor.)

This year marks the 75th anniversary of McCarthy’s departure from Yankee Stadium. The club, for whatever reason, has not deigned to honor him, and it seems unlikely to do so at this late date. The same could be said of Ruffing, who was released the same year that McCarthy retired.

That leaves Rodriguez and Sabathia. Both were top-flight players in their era, and both have compelling statistics. But Rodriguez carries the added weight of steroid abuse, which makes his selection unlikely, at least unless he is someday elected to the Hall of Fame.

Sabathia carries a more positive image, and he too has reasons to dream of Cooperstown. If the Yankees decide to retire a 22nd number, it seems likely to be his.

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