Who were the first and last Yankees players to wear the retired numbers?

Al Bello

Joe Torre's number 6 will join the set of retired numbers in Monument Park later this year, but who were the first to wear those numbers?

Throughout the course of their franchise history, the Yankees have retired 16 numbers, and they will put the 17th number in Monument Park later this year when they honor former manager Joe Torre. While the merit of retiring so many numbers can certainly be debated, the retired numbers displayed still stand out as one of the most iconic parts of Yankee Stadium, even though they decided to bury Monument Park under a center field restaurant at the new place for some reason.

The Yankees were one of the first teams to adopt uniform numbers, which they did beginning with the 1929 season to help the fans better identify their favorite players, like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Odds are that there will be several names on this post that you will recognize, but there will be many who were probably only remembered by their families. More players than you might think had their numbers re-issued after they left the team. Regarding managers with retired numbers, I went by the last player to wear the number since that's more relevant. The years noted in the parentheses are the years that the Yankee wore the number, not just the years of his playing career.

1

Retired for: Billy Martin (2B, 1950-57, Mgr., 1975-78, 1979, 1983, 1985, & 1987)
First worn by: Earle Combs (CF, 1929-35)
Last worn by: Bobby Murcer (CF, 1969-74)

I've never been a fan of number 1 being retired for the man who was a big reason why the Yankees' clubhouse was such an uncomfortable place in the '70s and '80s. In fact, it probably would be better served as an honorary for Combs, a Hall of Fame centerfielder whose place in Yankees history is greatly overshadowed by Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. It's a nice touch that Murcer was the last to wear number 1 though, as many fans who fondly remember Murcer's playing days associate him with that number, though he later donned number 2 when he returned to the team in 1979.

3

Retired for: Babe Ruth (RF, 1929-34)
First worn by: Babe Ruth (RF, 1929-34)
Last worn by: Cliff Mapes (OF, 1948)

It's bizarre to consider that the Yankees issued number 3 after Ruth left the team, but the idea of retiring numbers was a foreign concept on those early days. Two-time All-Star outfielder George Selkirk wore number 3 in the eight years after Ruth's departure, and random bit players like Mapes donned it until the Yankees finally retired it on June 13, 1948 in the last year of Ruth's life.

4

Retired for: Lou Gehrig (1B, 1929-39)
First worn by: Lou Gehrig (1B, 1929-39)
Last worn by: Lou Gehrig (1B, 1929-39)

The "Iron Horse" was the only man to ever wear number 4 for the Yankees, and he was the first player in baseball history to ever be honored with a retired number. Ruth and Gehrig wore 3 and 4 because they hit third and fourth in the batting order, which was another part of the reasoning behind adopting numbers on uniforms. While that was untenable, the association of Ruth and Gehrig with 3 and 4 will last forever.

5

Retired for: Joe DiMaggio (CF, 1937-42, 1946-51)
First worn by: Bob Meusel (LF, 1929)
Last worn by: Joe DiMaggio (CF, 1937-42, 1946-51)

"Long Bob" Meusel was another crucial member of the Yankees' "Murderers' Row" of the '20s, and he hit 146 homers as a Yankee, including a league-leading 33 in '25. The '29 campaign was his last as a Yankee though, and the number bounced around familiar names like Tony Lazzeri and Frankie Crosetti until finally landing on the budding superstar DiMaggio in '37. (As a rookie in '36, DiMaggio wore number 9.) While DiMaggio was at war, they gave his number to first baseman Nick Etten, but it naturally returned to the "Yankee Clipper" when he came back. After his retirement in '51, the Yankees promptly retired it the very next April.

6

Retired for: Joe Torre (Mgr., 1996-2007)
First worn by: Tony Lazzeri (2B, 1929, 1934-37)
Last worn by: Tony Fernandez (SS, 1995)

Like Combs and number 1, number 6 should probably be retired for the Hall of Famer Lazzeri, who wore that number more frequently than any other throughout his brilliant Yankees tenure. Other notable names to wear it over the years were fellow Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Gordon, rookie Mickey Mantle in '51, two-time champion third baseman Clete Boyer, Steve Sax, and of course longtime Yankee Roy White. Fernandez, Derek Jeter's predecessor at shortstop, was the last player to wear it before Torre came on board in '96, and it was never issued again after his departure in 2007.

7

Retired for: Mickey Mantle (CF, 1952-68)
First worn by: Leo Durocher (SS, 1929-30)
Last worn by: Mickey Mantle (CF, 1952-68)

Yes, the first Yankee to don the famous number 7 was actually the Hall of Fame Dodgers and Giants manager Durocher, who Ruth nicknamed the "All-American Out" for his crappy play and generally annoying demeanor. After wearing 6 as a rookie in '51, Mantle took 7 in '52 and an inseparable association was born. Like DiMaggio, his number was retired the season after he left the game.

8

Retired for: Bill Dickey (C, 1930-43, Mgr., 1946)
Retired for: Yogi Berra (C, 1948-63, Mgr., 1964 & 1984-85, Coach, 1976-83)
First worn by: Johnny Grabowski (C, 1929)
Last worn by: Yogi Berra (C, 1948-63)

The number 8 has almost always been associated with Yankees catchers, and that even dates back to Grabowski, who along with fellow number 8 Benny Bengough was part of the Yankees' championship teams in '27 and '28. The number then passed to the Hall of Famer Dickey, who wore number 10 in his rookie '29 season, and then bounced around three different players before Berra's emergence. Yogi actually wore 38 and 35 in his first two seasons, something that seems unfathomable now, but later he took his mentor's old number. The Yankees never re-issued it after Berra retired, and they rightfully decided to retire it for both Hall of Famers in 1972.

9

Retired for: Roger Maris (RF, 1960-66)
First worn by: Benny Bengough (C, 1929)
Last worn by: Graig Nettles (3B, 1973-83)

Number 9 has belonged to so many illustrious names throughout Yankees history that it seems silly that it should be forever linked to Maris alone in Monument Park. It would have made sense to keep it in circulation. Terrific players like Charlie Keller, Hank Bauer, Maris, and Nettles wore it for several years at a time until the Yankees hung it up for good in 1984, the season after Nettles left the team. If they were going to retire it for anyone, Nettles would have made more sense than Maris, but alas.

10

Retired for: Phil Rizzuto (SS, 1941-42, 1946-56)
First worn by: Bill Dickey (C, 1929)
Last worn by: Rick Cerone (C, 1980-84)

It first belonged to Dickey but will always be associated with "the Scooter." A fan favorite and broadcaster for 40 years, the Yankees honored Rizzuto by retiring the Hall of Famer's number in August of 1985. It was the only number he ever wore. All-Star shortstop Tony Kubek was a rightful heir to the number, and he wore it for eight years, including three championship seasons. Later, the number 10 would also be linked to first baseman Chris Chambliss in the '70s, who won two titles and slugged his AL pennant-winning homer in '76 with the number 10 on his back. The light-hitting Cerone wore it for five years after Chambliss left, but he obviously had to wear a different number when he returned to the team later in his career.

15

Retired for: Thurman Munson (C, 1969-79)
First worn by: Hank Johnson (SP, 1929)
Last worn by: Thurman Munson (C, 1969-79)

Over the year, 21 seasons of All-Star play were performed by Yankees wearing number 15, none more famously than their beloved captain, Munson. Johnson was an unimpressive pitcher to kick off the uniform's history, but Hall of Famer Red Ruffing pitched excellently with it on his back, as did reliever Hank Borowy. Outfielder Tommy Henrich had four All-Star seasons and three championships wearing 15, and two-time All-Star Tom Tresh added two titles of his own in the '60s. When Tresh was dealt to the Tigers in the lost '69 season though, the Yankees gave number 15 to Munson, the high draft pick catcher who they called up in August. It was the only number Munson ever wore, and he experienced a decade of superb play and a couple titles. On August 3, 1979, the day after he tragically perished in a plane crash, the Yankees retired number 15 and left it hanging in his locker for 29 years until they left old Yankee Stadium.

16

Retired for: Whitey Ford (SP, 1953-67)
First worn by: Tom Zachary (SP, 1929)
Last worn by: Whitey Ford (SP, 1953-67)

A number of pitchers donned number 16 for the Yankees over the years, including Zachary, Hall of Famer Herb Pennock, no-hitter hurler and two-time All-Star Monte Pearson, and relief ace Joe Page for a year. Ford first wore 18 and 19 during his breakout rookie season in 1950, but when he came back from the Korean War, he was given number 16, and no one would ever wear the future Hall of Famer's number again.

23

Retired for: Don Mattingly (1B, 1984-95)
First worn by: Tony Lazzeri (2B, 1932)
Last worn by: Don Mattingly (1B, 1984-95)

Lazzeri really made his tour around the Yankees' retired numbers, didn't he? Number 23 was the fourth number to eventually be retired worn by Lazzeri, but it was issued only six times until the  '50s. Hard-throwing Tommy Byrne and 1962 World Series MVP Ralph Terry each wore 23 for a few years, as did former Red Sox pitcher-turned-Yankee Luis Tiant in '79 and '80. "Donnie Baseball" wore 46 for his first couple seasons and actually, one of his '83 coaches, Don Zimmer, was the last to wear it before Mattingly took it in '84. He became a six-time All-Star, an MVP, and a New York City icon until back injuries forced him into early retirement after the '95 season. His number was retired two years later.

32

Retired for: Elston Howard (C, 1955-67)
First worn by: Arndt Jorgens (C, 1929)
Last worn by: Elston Howard (C, 1955-67)

The number 32 didn't have much of a history when Howard, the first African-American in franchise history, took the number in '55. Jorgens was a third-string catcher who wore the number for less than a year, and though Henrich wore it as a rookie in '37, there weren't many other distinguished players to wear it. Future championship manager Ralph Houk took 32 for six years while serving as a third-string catcher in the late '40s and '50s (when he was a manager, he took 35). "Ellie" was excellent as a Yankee, making nine All-Star teams and paving the way for future African-American Yankee stars, like Willie Randolph, Rickey Henderson, and CC Sabathia. He continued wearing it as a coach after his retirement until his saddening death from a rare heart disease in 1980. It was retired four years later alongside Maris's number 9.

37

Retired for: Casey Stengel (Mgr, 1949-60)
First worn by: Herb Karpel (RP, 1946)
Last worn by: Gus Niarhos (C, 1946)

The number 37 is even more elusive in Yankees history. Only two active players ever wore the number. Karpel only pitched two games in his career. Niarhos was a third-string catcher, though he did appear on the '49 World Series champions with number 38. New skipper Bucky Harris took 37 in '47 and won a World Series, but when the Yankees finished third the next year, he was fired and replaced with Stengel, who took his number and won ten pennants and seven World Series titles. The Yankees did not re-issue 37 after firing Stengel in 1960, and 10 years later, Stengel became the first manager to have his number retired by the Yankees. (The Mets also retired Stengel's 37, making him the only baseball figure honored by both New York teams.)

42

Retired for: Mariano Rivera (RP, 1995-2013)
Retired for: Jackie Robinson (retired by MLB in 1997)
First worn by: Bill Drescher (C, 1946)
Last worn by: Mariano Rivera (RP, 1995-2013)

Moar third-string catchers! Drescher was another random catcher who was the first to wear an eventually-retired number, though it gained more fame when All-Star second baseman and future broadcaster Jerry Coleman donned it for nine years from 1949-57. From then on, it was issued to countless different players on coaches. In '93, Domingo Jean was the last pre-Rivera player to wear it, and coach Mike Brown also had it in '94. Then, Rivera came along in '95 and the rest is history. MLB retired 42 throughout baseball in '97, but players like Rivera and Mo Vaughn who had previously been wearing it were allowed to keep it. Sixteen years later when the future Hall of Fame closer finally retired, the last baseball player to regularly wear 42 left the game and the Yankees ceremoniously retired 42 for Rivera, as well.

44

Retired for: Reggie Jackson (RF, 1977-81)
First worn by: Bob Seeds (OF, 1936)
Last worn by: Reggie Jackson (RF, 1977-81)

The reserve outfielder Seeds was the only Yankees to wear 44 prior to 1953, and in fact, the number was only issued to players on seven occasions prior to Reggie's arrival in the Bronx. Bullpen coach Jim Hegan actually wore 44 longer than any other Yankees, 14 seasons from 1960-73. Nettles wore Jackson's traditional number 9 that he had on the Athletics and Orioles, so he took number 44. It is quite silly that his number is retired from only five seasons of play, but whatever. Jeff Torborg, John Stearns, and Mike Ferraro all wore the number as coaches after Reggie's departure, though it was never given to another player.

49

Retired for: Ron Guidry (RF, 1975-88)
First worn by: Lou Berberet (C, 1954)
Last worn by: Jeff Johnson (SP, 1992)

This list wouldn't be complete without one more third-string catcher, would it? The forgettable Berberet had 49 for five games in '54, and it was only issued seven times until "Louisiana Lightning" switched from 54 to 49 in 1975. Strangely, the Yankees brought it back into circulation four years after Guidry's retirement for random pitcher Jeff Johnson, but that didn't last long. No one else wore it, and the Yankees retired the four-time All-Star's number in 2003.

***

I look forward to Austin Romine's number 53 inevitably being retired one day for someone far superior.

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