Last week I started a project looking at the Yankees’ retired numbers and the players who may have been close to deserving similar honors. The team has so many retired digits that we’ve had to break this into a three-part series, and today we’ll delve into numbers 9-23.
9 - Retired for Roger Maris
Two MVP seasons and a record-breaking home run seasons sum up the peak of Maris’ Yankees tenure, but the rest of his time in the Bronx wasn’t particularly remarkable. In fact, he only spent a little more than half his career in pinstripes.
Graig Nettles wore no. 9 for his entire New York tenure, and put up similar numbers to Maris. Roger’s OPS+ was slightly better with the Yankees - 127 to 114, but prorating their bWAR over 650 PAs puts Nettles at 4.62 and Maris at 4.93, close enough to be a wash. A lot of contemporary fans consider Nettles among the best players to don the pinstripes they’ve ever seen, and he’s an easy choice for the successor to Maris’ no. 9.
10 - Retired for Phil Rizzuto
Where does value come from, for you? The two guys that make the best case for no. 10 are Chris Chambliss and Toney Kubek, separated by almost 30 points of OPS+ but just one-fifth of a win by prorated bWAR. Chambliss made his name as a first baseman while Kubek was a glove-first shortstop. They both won the Rookie of the Year in their inaugural campaign and finished their careers with a couple World Series rings apiece.
Chambliss gets my vote for the God tier sideburns though, which are even better in his BaseballReference photo.
15 - Retired for Thurman Munson
Tom Tresh was the immediate predecessor of no, 15 before the eventual Yankee captain, and his performance in New York was strikingly similar to Graig Nettles above. The two posted identical OPS+ and while Nettles was a much stronger defender, boosting his WAR, Tresh still compiled 22 wins for the club in his time. There’s not much else serious competition for no. 15, and while there may not be any Yankee that could be compared to Munson, Tresh is a solid runner-up for the digit.
16 - Retired for Whitey Ford
Wow, not a lot of great choices for no. 16 either. Monte Pearson had the longest tenure with the club and number, but Bill Bevans had the best overall season in no. 16, finishing in the top five in the AL in ERA+ and top ten in bWAR among pitchers. Had the Cy Young award existed in 1946, Bevans would have probably garnered down-ballot votes, but not finished too high - Bob Feller was putting up a ten win season after all.
20 - Retired for Jorge Posada
For no. 20, we get into an interesting conversation about whether you prefer an overall career or one particular, immortal moment. Horace Clarke and Mike Stanley were both better players than Bucky Dent, especially Stanley, a win and a half better by bWAR/650.
Nobody calls him Mike effin’ Stanley, though. Point for Bucky.
23 - Retired for Don Mattingly
Even if Mattingly weren’t Mattingly, and instead only three-quarters of Mattingly, there’s a good chance he’d be the best player to don no. 23 for the Yankees. Almost everyone else who wore the number was pretty terrible in the major leagues, with a couple of average pieces standing out.
John Ellis was fine but only played for the Yankees for four years, while managing to stay replacement level. Ralph Terry probably edges out Tommy Byrne on the pitching side, with better ERA+ - barely - and more bWAR despite fewer seasons.
As we ascend to higher numbers, we move generally closer to the present, but feature worse players. We’ll conclude this next week with a hunt for someone notable who wore no. 51.