The case for retiring Willie Randolph's number

Al Bello

It's about time the Yankees honor one of the greatest players in franchise history.

After George Steinbrenner took control of the Yankees in 1973, honoring pinstriped legends of the past and present became somewhat of a trademark for him. In the 70 years before The Boss was at the helm, only seven Yankee players had their numbers retired, all of them Hall of Famers. During the 37 years that he ran the team, nine players got their day at Yankee Stadium and only three of them eventually reached the Hall of Fame. Given that precedence, Hank and Hal are about due for another retirement party. There is a handful of good options for the next plaque in Monument Park, but no man has a better case than the one and only Willie Randolph.

The Yankees acquired Randolph along with Ken Brett (famous for being George Brett's brother) and Dock Ellis (famous for once throwing a no-hitter on LSD) in the winter of 1975 for a good pitcher named Doc Medich who would go on to become a journeyman. Score one for the good guys. Only 21 at the time, Willie was quickly installed as the starting second baseman and the team saw immediate dividends as he was a key contributor to three straight AL pennant-winning teams from 1976 to 1978 as well as World Series champions in 1977 and 1978. For 11 more years, Randolph provided a calming, steady presence to a team that was anything but. He was an on-base machine with speed who fielded second base as well as anybody in the major leagues and made five All-Star teams along the way.

Perhaps more importantly, he accomplished all this without any drama or fanfare even as the Yankees were scoring big free agents and changing managers on a near yearly basis which caused turmoil that was by no means kept secret. In recognition of his skills as a quiet leader, Randolph was appointed co-captain of the Yankees along with Ron Guidry in 1986. As captain, he had a few more productive seasons for some forgettable Yankee squads that unsuccessfully tried to resurrect aging stars (sound familiar?). Still, Willie's legacy as a Yankee player stands up among the all-time greats. In terms of career WAR (baseball-reference version) he ranks eighth among position players behind Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Derek Jeter, Yogi Berra, and Bill Dickey, and is second in career defensive WAR behind only Phil Rizzuto. Better yet, when compared to all second baseman in major league history, he ranks 16th best according to the JAWS system despite getting barely a whiff of Hall of Fame consideration.

On top of his achievements as a player, Willie was a part of the Yankees coaching staff for 11 seasons. This included the teams's run of four World Series championships in five years from 1996-2000 when he imparted his wisdom as a superb fielder by serving as infield instructor as well as third base coach. So, after 24 years of service including six rings, there's no doubt that Willie Randolph and his number 30 (sorry, Houdini) deserve their own day at Yankee Stadium to cement his place among the Yankee greats. His unfortunate reign as manager of a certain crosstown team notwithstanding.

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