NEW YORK - MAY 02: Retired numbers and plaques are seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium prior to game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox on May 2, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the White Sox 12-3. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Yankees have more retired numbers adorning Monument Park than any other franchise in MLB. As we explored recently at Bronx Pinstripes, there isn’t always a method to the retired-number madness. We all know the stats and stories surrounding numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7, but what about everybody else?
Let’s dive into the best Yankees whose numbers remain in circulation. To make it a bit more interesting, we’ll add a few other restrictions as well:
No retired numbers. Sorry, Core Four. This isn’t about you.
No Hall of Famers. Not all Yankees in the Hall have their number retired. This knocks out career Yanks like Tony Lazzeri as well as HOF players who visited for a few seasons like Rickey Henderson.
No active players. This is a bigger restriction in some positions (right field) than others (center field). Not only is Aaron Judge excluded, so are still-active former Yankees like Robinson Canó.
No one who played before uniform numbers. The club first issued them in 1929. Even with Lou Gehrig out of the way, Wally Pipp still can’t catch a break.
If a player wore multiple numbers with the Yankees, their most prominent one is listed below. Let’s also give a hat tip to YankeeNumbers.com. If you don’t hear the following names in Bob Sheppard’s voice, you’re doing it wrong.
The Yankees have the most decorated history at the catcher position of any franchise in MLB. For the purposes of this exercise, that disqualifies the starting catcher in 54 of the 93 seasons since 1929, including most of the best ones. Stanley is the best of what’s left, slashing .285/.377/.504 over parts of five seasons in the mid-1990s.
Like Stanley, the honorable mentions all shined in relatively brief stints as the starting backstop. Robinson was an All-Star in the interstice between Dickey and Berra. Wynegar compiled 10.7 bWAR from 1982-1986. McCann belted 69 home runs in three years and won the 2015 Silver Slugger.
First Base #25 Mark Teixeira
Honorable mentions: #10 Chris Chambliss, #24 Tino Martinez, #14 Bill Skowron
Noteworthy ineligibles: #4 Lou Gehrig, #23 Don Mattingly
Teixeira’s eight-year stay in The Bronx petered out towards the end, but it started ferociously. After signing as a free agent in 2009, he immediately led the team to their most recent championship, paced the AL in HR, RBI, and TB, and finished as the MVP runner-up. The switch-hitter socked 206 home runs and collected three Gold Gloves for the Yankees.
At this position group, the honorable mentions are right on the Tex’s heels. Skowron was the AL’s premier first baseman in the Mickey Mantle Era, making the All-Star team each year from 1957-1961. Chambliss compiled a 108 OPS+ from 1974-1979, famously going 11-21 in the 1976 ALCS with a series-clinching walk-off home run. Martinez was a key member of four World Series-winning teams and played 81 postseason games for the Yankees.
Noteworthy ineligibles: #24 Robinson Canó, #6 Joe Gordon, #6 Tony Lazzeri
The Yankees have enjoyed four borderline-HOF second baseman. Gordon and Lazzeri were both enshrined by the Veterans Committee while Canó remains an active player, clearing the competition for Randolph. He represented the franchise on five All-Star teams in 13 years, amassing 54.0 bWAR and stealing 251 bases.
The honorable mentions are largely quantity-over-quality selections. Stirnweiss posted a pair of great seasons in 1944 and 1945 while many other players served in the military. Richardson was a perennial All-Star and Gold Glover who batted leadoff despite a career OBP of .299. He gave way to Clarke, one of the team’s best players during the worst stretch in their history.
Third base is probably the Yankees’ least decorated position but features the unquestionable best player eligible by our criteria. Due to his PED transgressions, ARod might never reach the HOF. Nevertheless, his 12-year stay in New York includes a pair of MVP awards, 351 home runs, and 152 steals. From 2004-2008, he hit .303/.401/.573 and averaged 42 bombs per year.
The position also includes Nettles, the most honorable of mentions who would easily have earned a starting spot at several other positions. His 11 seasons as a Yankee included the 1976 home run crown and 44.4 bWAR fueled by spectacular defense. Boyer was also phenomenal defensively from 1959-1966, though his offense was below average. Rolfe slashed .308/.386/.451 across four consecutive championship seasons from 1936-1939.
McDougald had an excellent career, posting 40.7 bWAR from 1951-1960 and winning the Rookie of the Year over teammate Mickey Mantle. Admittedly, listing him at shortstop is a bit of a stretch. He only played 284 games at the position as opposed to 599 at second base and 508 at third. However, he earned All-Star nods at all three spots and shortstop is thinner on this list than the other positions. He’s a worthy starter, but wouldn’t have beaten out Randolph or ARod.
The honorable mentions were all great glove men who belonged towards the bottom of the lineup. Crosetti spent 17 years with the Yankees, winning six championships and leading the AL in HBP nine times. Kubek was also a career Yankee who won the 1957 AL Rookie of the Year. Dent’s home run in the 1978 tiebreaker game remains one of the most famous moments in baseball history. He went on to win the World Series MVP that same year.
Left Field #6 Roy White
Honorable mentions: #7 Ben Chapman, #9 Charlie Keller, #55 Hideki Matsui
In truth, The Horace Clarke Era ought to be called The Roy White Era. He spent his entire 15-year career with the Yankees from 1965-1979, often serving as the lone bright spot on some dim rosters. His .360 OBP wasn’t appreciated in his time. He averaged 4.7 bWAR per season from 1968-1977. Gardy isn’t technically retired, alleviating a difficult decision. Another player deemed ineligible was Bob Meusel, who starred in the 1920s and had a uniform number in 1929, but that was his final season with the club. The back of his uniform featured only pinstripes for most of his productive years.
Chapman replaced Meusel, playing all three outfield spots as well as second and third base for the Yankees from 1930-1936, hitting .305 and leading the AL in stolen bases three times. Keller was a prodigious slugger in the 1940s who achieved 30 home runs three times and 100 walks five times. Matsui was one of the greatest players in Japanese baseball history who hit .292/.370/.482 over seven years after emigrating to New York in 2003. He earned the World Series MVP in 2009 by hitting .615 with three home runs.
Noteworthy ineligibles: #1 Earle Combs, #5 Joe DiMaggio, #7 Mickey Mantle, #51 Bernie Williams
Much like at catcher, the ineligible players don’t leave much room for anyone else to shine. Murcer never lived up to the impossible expectation that he would become the next Mickey Mantle, but he was a four-time All-Star with the Yankees and successful all-around player. From 1969-1974 he posted a 136 OPS+ with 139 home runs. He later returned for a coda as a useful part-time player from 1979-1983.
Tresh wasn’t a true center fielder; he was a super-utility player who bounced around defensively and swatted 139 home runs from 1962-1968. Rivers spent only three-and-a-half seasons as a Yankee, but participated in three World Series and hit .299 with 93 stolen bases. Granderson had back-to-back (and belly-to-belly) 40-homer seasons in 2011 and 2012.
Right Field #15 Tommy Henrich
Honorable mentions: #9 Hank Bauer, #21 Paul O’Neill, #3 George Selkirk
Noteworthy ineligibles: #44 Reggie Jackson, #99 Aaron Judge, #9 Roger Maris, #3 Babe Ruth, #31 Dave Winfield
As beloved as O’Neill may be, Henrich was even more so when he played from 1937-1942 and 1946-1950. His career overlapped almost perfectly with Joe DiMaggio’s, who called him “the smartest player in the big leagues.” He hit .282/.382/.491 with 39.7 bWAR, serving as the unofficial captain and a team leader on the field.
O’Neill’s number isn’t officially retired, but it’s not really in circulation either. Since his retirement following the 2001 season, the club only tried to reissue #21 in 2008 to resounding boos from the crowd. No player has worn it since. The current YES broadcaster hit .303 over a nine-year Yankee career. Just as Henrich flanked DiMaggio, Bauer did the same for Mantle, making three All-Star teams. Selkirk posted an even .400 OBP from 1934-1942.
Designated Hitter #25 Jason Giambi
Honorable mentions: #25 Don Baylor, #17 Oscar Gamble, #45 Danny Tartabull
Noteworthy ineligible: #27 Giancarlo Stanton
Due to the impermanent nature and shorter history of the DH position, there isn’t as deep of a well here. Giambi signed a seven-year contract as a free agent in 2002 and spent nearly half of it as the DH. He posted a .925 OPS with 209 home runs and 22.0 bWAR over the course of the deal.
Hardly anyone other than Giambi and Stanton had a lengthy run at DH. Gamble was their starting left fielder in 1976, then played mostly as a part-time DH upon his return from 1979-1984. All told, he posted a commendable 141 OPS+ as a Yankee. Baylor was a bonafide starting DH from 1983-1985, slashing .267/.345/.472 with 71 home runs. Tartabull was a three-true-outcomes maven before it was cool, feuling his .372 OBP with plenty of walks and 81 homers from 1992-1995.
Lefty Starting Pitcher #19 Fritz Peterson
Honorable mentions: #24 Al Downing, #30 Eddie Lopat, #33 David Wells
Noteworthy ineligibles: #16 Whitey Ford, #49 Ron Guidry, #11 Lefty Gomez, #16 Herb Pennock, #46 Andy Pettitte, #52 CC Sabathia (sort of)
Sabathia is far and away the best candidate who checks all the boxes. However, his 3,093 strikeouts will surely get him elected to the Hall once he’s been retired long enough. In the spirit of the endeavor, he’s ineligible. That leaves a surprisingly bare cupboard of southpaws. Peterson pitched 11 years for the Yankees with a 3.10 ERA. He led the AL in BB/9 each season from 1968-1972.
Lopat formed a troica of aces with Vic Raschi and Allie Reynolds that pitched the Yankees to five straight championships from 1949-1953. Downing put together 14.3 bWAR from 1963-1967, leading the league in strikeouts in 1964. Wells pitched in pinstripes from 1997-1998 and 2002-2003. Over those four combined seasons he was worth 17.1 bWAR, surpassing 200 innings each year and authoring a memorable perfect game in 1998.
Righty Starting Pitcher #30 Mel Stottlemyre
Honorable mentions: #22 Roger Clemens, #36 David Cone, #22 Allie Reynolds
Noteworthy ineligibles: #45 Gerrit Cole, #35 Mike Mussina, #15 Red Ruffing, #19 Masahiro Tanaka (still active in Japan)
The right-handed ineligibles aren’t as extensive as their left-handed counterparts. Stottlemyre is an easy call. He was a five-time All-Star in 11 seasons from 1964-1974, accumulating 40.7 bWAR. His career ERA is 2.97 and he threw more than 250 innings in nine straight years.
Reynolds gets the honorable-mention nod over Raschi with consecutive top-three MVP finishes in 1951 and 1952. With a pair of no-hitters in 1951, he remains one of only four pitchers ever to throw two in a season. Cone, who will now broadcast national games on Sunday Night Baseball, had a 118 ERA+ in four-and-a-half seasons in New York. He followed up Wells’ perfect game with his own a year later, and frankly, deserves a more thorough look as a HOF candidate. Clemens is of course one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history (with several asterisks, but if ARod is eligible so is he). He pitched for the team from 1999-2003 and 2007, winning his sixth of seven Cy Youngs in 2001.
Lefty Relief Pitcher #28 Sparky Lyle
Honorable mentions: #11 Joe Page, #19 Dave Righetti, #29 Mike Stanton
Who is the greatest lefty reliever of all time? Probably Billy Wagner, but you could reasonably argue that (alphabetically) Britton, Chapman, Lyle, and Righetti round out the top five. We’ll give Sparky the laurels over Rags. He composed a 2.41 ERA for the Yankees from 1972-1978, earning the 1977 Cy Young.
Page was a precursor to modern relievers, leading the AL in games finished each year from 1947-1949 and finishing in the top five in MVP voting twice. Following three successful years as a fireablling starting pitcher, Righetti became the Yankees closer in 1984, putting up a 2.96 ERA and 223 saves through 1990. Stanton paired with Jeff Nelson setting up Mariano Rivera in the late 1990s and early 2000s, riding a big curveball to a 121 ERA+.
Righty Relief Pitcher #19 Johnny Murphy
Honorable mentions: #40 Lindy McDaniel, #55 Ramiro Mendoza, #43 Jeff Nelson
Noteworthy ineligibles: #68 Dellin Betances, #54 Rich Gossage, #57 Chad Green, #42 Mariano Rivera, #30 David Robertson
This section will look a lot different once Betances and Robertson retire. In the meantime, trailblazer Johnny Murphy represents in the bullpen. He starred as a relief ace from 1934-1943. The term “fiereman” was first coined to describe how he could enter a game in relief to put out a potential rally. He earned six champinship rings, yielding just two runs over 16.1 innings in the World Series.
The Yankees traded for McDaniel in July, 1968. He threw 544.2 innings for the team through 1973 with a 2.89 ERA. Nelson’s frisbee slider was the perfect compliment to Stanton, pitching in New York from 1996-2000 and 2003 with a 136 ERA+. His teammate Mendoza was less constrained by traditional pitching roles. He worked in any inning, 1-9+, amassing 11.5 bWAR from 1996-2002.
Manager #35 Ralph Houk
Honorable mentions: #28 Joe Girardi, #21 Bob Lemon, #11 Buck Showalter
Noteworthy ineligibles: #1 Billy Martin, Joe McCarthy (no uniform number), #37 Casey Stengel, #6 Joe Torre
Extending this exercise to managers is admittedly silly, but they do get uniform numbers and get elected to the Hall of Fame, so here we are. Houk took over for Stengel in 1961 and led the team to three straight AL pennants and a pair of Word Series championships. The club brought him back from 1966-1973, which was decidedly less successful.
We have to bend the rules a little for the honorable mentions. Girardi and Showalter are still active managers of the Phillies and Mets, while Lemon is in the HOF as a pitcher. Strict interpretations of the criteria would leave us with only one honorable mention who managed as many as three seasons (Lou Piniella). Both Girardi and Lemon won championships as managers while Showalter piloted the team to the playoffs in 1995 following a 13-year drought.