Retiring uniform numbers

Andy Pettite‘s son Josh broke the news this weekend that the Yankees will retire #46 this summer in honor of his dad.

Pettitte’s 219 wins rank third on the Yankees’ all-time leaderboard, behind Hall of Famers Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231), but ahead of Ron Guidry, who had his number retired in 2003. (It’s interesting to note that Ruffing and Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez, who falls between Pettitte and Guidry on the Yankees’ all-time win list, have not been honored with retired numbers – though Ruffing’s #15 was later retired for Thurman Munson.)

Pettite’s 2020 strikeouts are the most in Yankee history, though his 3.94 ERA ranks 41st among Yankee pitchers who made at least 100 starts. And Yankee fans won’t be likely to forget that Pettitte was part of five World Series championship teams.

On the other hand, Pettitte’s admitted use of HGH seems like something many Yankee fans are willing to forget, though not all of his former teammates are ready to let it go.

Yankee Stadium's retired numbers (Photo credit: John_from_CT, via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Yankee Stadium’s retired numbers (Photo credit: John_from_CT, via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Leaving aside the cheating issue, it’s interested to reflect on the philosophies of New York’s two teams. The Yankees are quick to retire uniform numbers to honor popular players – in addition to Pettitte’s #46, they will also retire Jorge Posada’s #20 and Bernie Williams’ #51 this season.

Not including the MLB-wide retirement of #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson’s legacy, there are 17 uniform numbers retired by the Yankees, though the team no longer seems to keep an updated list on its website. It is widely expected that Derek Jeter‘s #2 will also be retired.

Citi Field's retired uniform numbers (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)

Citi Field’s retired uniform numbers (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)

Across town, the Mets have retired three uniform numbers since 1962 and only one – Hall of Famer Tom Seaver‘s #41 – honors a player’s legacy. Casey Stengel‘s #37 was retired in a small, private ceremony shortly after the team’s original 75-year-old manager was forced to step down as the result of a broken hip. Gil Hodges‘ #14 was formally retired one year after his death. Hodges, the popular manager who guided the Mets to their first World Series title, passed away of a heart attack while he was still serving as the team’s skipper in 1972.

Many fans keep calling for the organization to honor the legacy of the 1986 team by retiring the numbers of its stars – co-Captains Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter, Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Younger fans push for the team to retire Mike Piazza‘s #31 in honor of the best-hitting catcher who’s yet to make it into the Hall of Fame. Some older fans want to see Ed Kranepool‘s #7 retired to honor his longevity.

At one time, I was part of the group that wanted the Mets to honor our 1980s stars. Now I’m beginning to appreciate their more exclusive approach – I have confidence that Piazza’s number will be retired after he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Met, since that seems to be the criteria these days. Retired numbers should be something really special for the legendary figures in a team’s history.

We’ve got the Mets Hall of Fame to recognize fan-favorites (though that committee needs to do a better job finding players to induct – after honoring John Franco in 2012 and Piazza in 2013, they didn’t choose anyone last year and have been silent so far this off-season.)

But I’m interested in what you think: should the Yankees retire Andy Pettitte’s #46? Which number-retiring philosophy do you prefer? And, I never thought I’d suggest this, but should the Yankees actually have even more uniform numbers retired to honor the Hall of Famers from the earlier years of their history?

About Paul

NY Mets enthusiast, toy collector, amateur gardener, Christian. I like to take pictures & write things.

Posted on February 16, 2015, in Baseball and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. The Lost Collector

    I’d rather just see them honor the player but keep the number in circulation.

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    • I think that’s a better way to go. From this generation’s Yankees, I’d just retire numbers for Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Everybody else gets their day & their plaque, but the number stays in use.

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  2. Counting Jeter’s eventual retired number, the Yankees are all out of single digit numbers.

    Pettitte? Eh, who cares? I just figure that, in about 50 years, when the Yankees run out of numbers, unless they go to three digits, you’ll see stuff like ampersands, number signs (hash tags for all you young ‘uns), asterisks and smiley faces on the back of those pinstripes.

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  3. I’m in favor of retiring numbers to the point where three digit jersey numbers have to be used.

    Also, Hal Chase, Willie Keeler and Jack Chesbro’s ceremonies are far overdue.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll give you Keeler and Chesbro. And we’ll keep their non-existent numbers unlisted. But Chase? He makes A-Rod look like a choir boy. Good thing he never wore a number. Therefore, there’s nothing to retire.

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      • Feel free to disagree (which I’m sure you will) but from a baseball standpoint Hal Chase at least deserves to be in Monument Park (possibly even the Hall Of Fame). It speaks volumes when Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson give you praise. And Chase was also arguably the Yankees’ first superstar, and their first homegrown one at that.
        He doesn’t exactly have the best reputation, but after nearly a hundred years since the walls came crumbling down on him the public will view him with fresh eyes and a different perspective from those that witnessed his rise and fall. And chances are that eighty percent of the public today won’t know who Chase is or bother to look it up and just grumble about how the ceremony for a dead guy they never heard of is taking too long.

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        • Zippy Zappy,

          Here’s a quote from The Sporting News, WHILE HE WAS STILL PLAYING! “That he can play first base as it never was and perhaps never will be played is a well-known truth. That he will is a different matter.” (June 1913)

          To say that “(h)e doesn’t exactly have the best reputation” is a gross understatement. A more accurate one is that, as a player, he is the biggest crook to have ever played the game. It’s a tough call as to who’s number two, as there was plenty of sleaze throughout baseball history. For the sake of argument, I’d probably make A-Rod number two for all the cheating, lying, obfuscation, being a clubhouse cancer and other BS. Read Martin Donell Kohout’s excellent bio of Chase. Or, for a shorter read, peruse Bill James’ comments in the “Historical Baseball Abstract.”

          Disagreeing with you is one thing. But to dismiss Chase the way you did is so incredibly far off the mark to where it can’t even be discussed. And a hundred years of “time heals all wounds” won’t change that.

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        • markruck,

          I get that you obviously don’t like the guy. But tell me this. How exactly can you say that he was the biggest crook who has ever played the game? Did you know him personally? Did you ever meet him? Did he disrespect you straight to your face?
          And what makes him worse than other players in MLB history who also threw games? What makes him worse than other players in MLB history who committed far more heinous crimes?

          Also, what makes you think the general public’s perception of Hal Chase is the same today as it was in 1913? Do you honestly think that giving him a plaque in Monument Park would be as controversial now as it would’ve been in 1915?

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        • Zippy Zappy,

          Trying to keep to Paul’s guidelines here, I can say he’s the biggest crook in the same way you think he should get a monument. And I have documented proof on my side. Additionally, while it helps to have lived history, you can learn a lot studying it. After all, and using your guidelines, how can anyone now say Washington and Lincoln were great men (if, indeed you feel that way about them) if they didn’t know them personally?

          As far as Chase, it wasn’t just the game fixing. It was undermining teammates and managers, too. There was no question about the man’s talents. But he often used them for nefarious reasons. Read his bio. Read the Abstract. Then get back to me.

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  4. I hate to be a defender of Yankee history, but retiring all these numbers cheapens the original honor bestowed upon Ruth & Gehrig. If everybody is special, then nobody is special.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree – and really, aside from marketing, can anyone explain why Bernie Williams is getting his number retired when there are Hall of Famers who were inducted as Yankees who have not received this honor?

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  5. Really, I can’t think of any Mets players worthy of having their numbers retired. Seaver, sure. Piazza, I guess. Maybe Wright, down the road. Carter, but its a little late now. Willie Mays’ 24 is unofficially retired by the Mets (supposedly) in keeping with Mrs. Payson’s wishes. Very few Mets players have spent the majority of their career in New York AND provided the kind of consistent leadership and talent of a Gehrig or Ruth or, heck, even a Bernie Williams. Would I retire Keith Hernandez’ number? Nope. Harrelson? Uh uh. Strawberry? Definitely not. I could see a case for Gooden, but I can see an equal or greater case against. If you’re not going to retire George “Stork” Theodore’s number, then who? Marv Throneberry? Let’s focus on winning some ballgames and leave the retired numbers to the Yankees.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was strongly in favor of retiring Carter’s number after the cancer diagnosis, based on a combination of baseball and sentimental factors. After he died, I couldn’t see the point any longer.

      None of the guys on the 1986 team put together the kind of sustained greatness in a Mets uniform that would make me think that their uniform numbers should be retired alongside Seaver’s.

      If Piazza goes into the Hall of Fame with a Mets logo on his plaque, that will put him in the same class as Seaver…. whether everyone is happy about it or not. And I’m fine with waiting to find out, because I’m very ambivalent about the Bobby Valentine-era Mets.

      But I could easily think of half a dozen guys who are worthy of a day at Citi Field and a plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame. That’s our chance to recognize fan-favorites for what their role in Mets history, whether it’s through their on-field performance or what they meant to fans.

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  6. Guys, I’m enjoying the conversation about turn of the century baseball history, but let’s make sure we stay on topic and don’t let arguments get personal.

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