On Wednesday afternoon, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner gave an interview mostly about Alex Rodriguez. He also made some comments about the Yankees' upcoming season and how they will honor 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Joe Torre, their former manager from the dynasty years of the late '90s. These plans are unsurprising; regardless of merit, the Yankees have a history of honoring their managerial greats who wore numbers, like Casey Stengel and his number 37 and Billy Martin and his number 1. Shortly after the Veterans Committee voted Torre in, Brian Cashman hinted that the Yankees would likely be honoring Torre sometime in the future. However, Hal revealed perhaps some bigger plans than just retiring Torre's number 6:
The Yankees hope to address shortly a non-Rodriguez matter, Steinbrenner indicated. With former manager Joe Torre set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July, the Yankees appear poised to use that milestone to retire the numbers of not just Torre, but some of those who played under him. "We’re going to figure out just who. He may not be the only one," Steinbrenner said. "We haven’t gotten into it yet."
The Yankees haven't had a double-number retirement ceremony since Roger Maris's number 9 and Elston Howard's number 32 were retired on July 21, 1984. That was the last time they retired multiple numbers in one year, too. If the Yankees are making plans to honor more than just Torre, my curiosity is certainly piqued about who else's number might be retired. The three obvious candidates are Jorge Posada's number 20, Paul O'Neill's number 21, and Bernie Williams's number 51. (The only other possibilities I can think of are Andy Pettitte's 46 and Derek Jeter's 2, but it seems too soon after his retirement for Pettitte, and Jeter's would have to be in his final game, a la Mariano Rivera.)
The Yankees have not issued Bernie or Posada's numbers since their careers ended in 2006 and 2011, respectively. O'Neill's number 21 was kept out of circulation for seven years following his retirement in 2001, but brief attempts in 2008 by the Yankees to return 21 to the regularly-issued uniforms via Morgan Ensberg and LaTroy Hawkins were met with scathing fan criticism. Ensberg simply received the number without request as a non-roster invitee in Spring Training, then switched to another number due to the boos. Hawkins snatched it up because he wanted to honor Roberto Clemente and he started the regular season donning 21. However, he received the same harsh treatment from the fans. (His piss-poor 5.71 ERA and replacement-level play didn't help.) He soon switched numbers and for better or for worse, the Yankees have never issued 21 again.
It would be a bit much to honor O'Neill with a retired number; while he was an excellent player during his nine years in pinstripes, it's difficult to say whether or not he was that much better than other solid championship outfielders of the past, like Hank Bauer or Tommy Henrich. Love ya Paulie, but give him a day and a plaque, return 21 to circulation, and carry on. Bernie and Posada have much more legitimate arguments for number retirement having each spent their entire 15+ year careers as Yankees with tremendous production.
If I had to guess which one the Yankees are leaning toward honoring besides Torre, it would be Bernie. At this point, it's evident that even if Bernie gets elected to the Hall of Fame, it won't happen anytime soon. He fell off the ballot with just 3.3% of the vote in his second year of eligibility during the 2012 no-show elections, and deservedly or not, per BBWAA rules, he won't be eligible for the Hall of Fame until at least 2027. Meanwhile, Posada has not yet appeared on the ballot (he will in 2017), and with hard-hitting catchers such a rarity, he might have a shot at actually hanging around on the ballot with induction a legitimate possibility somewhere down the line. If Posada is elected to the Hall of Fame, he'll have his day in the sun; he might very well have it anyway even if he doesn't make it.
Amusingly, Bernie never officially retired, so he never received a day of honor to himself, let alone even a retirement press conference. If the Yankees decided to retire Torre and Bernie's numbers on the same way, it would be an amazing day in Yankees history. Bernie's was the first great star to emerge from the farm system and lead the Yankees from under .500 to World Series champions. It would only be fitting that he be the first of the '90s Yankees to have his number retired. Who do you think deserves number retirement most out of these three players?
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