The next retired number?

A look at five Yankees' cases for enshrinement in Monument Park
05/25/2012 10:45 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Bernie Williams and Joe Torre both won four World Series in pinstripes.(AP)


Dozens of all-time greats have worn pinstripes for at least one game, but as of 2012, the Yankees have only retired 16 numbers in honor of 17 players. Fourteen men have had their number memorialized once, Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra share the retirement of No. 8, and MLB’s league wide enshrinement of Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 makes 17.

There of course will be more in the near future, with at least two current players in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera needing not to wonder if their number will be retired, but where the monument will be placed. And, there are some who are no longer with us who may never see the honor despite still being near or at the top of various hitting (Tony Lazzeri), pitching (Red Ruffing), or managerial (Joe McCarthy) categories.

In between those groups, there are a handful of players who have been key members of the franchise over the last quarter-century. It has been nine years since the Yankees retired a number (Ron Guidry’s No. 49 in 2003), but on this Memorial Day weekend, we present the cases of five men for inclusion in Monument Park, and ask you to vote for the one you feel is most deserving of the honor.

Okay, so Posada just retired a few months ago, so discussion hasn’t even likely begun about whether or not he is worthy of this honor. But if you can speculate on his chances for the Hall of Fame, then you can certainly do the same about his chances to join the Yankees’ personal pantheon of the elite.

Posada spent 15 full seasons and parts of 17 years total in pinstripes, and is eighth in both games played and home runs – amazing feats given that he was a catcher. And, as a member of the vaunted “Core Four,” he was part of five championship teams and along with Jeter and Rivera holds the MLB record for most consecutive seasons a trio of teammates has played together.

So if Mo and The Captain are both going in, why not the third leg of that Triple Crown?

Some say that retired numbers should be reserved for life-long or near life-long Yankees. The antithesis to that argument is of course Reggie Jackson, whose No. 44 is enshrined despite “Mr. October” spending less than a quarter of his career in pinstripes, but O’Neill is one heck of a back-up argument.

“The Warrior” spent nine of his 17 MLB seasons in pinstripes, and as such, you won’t find him in the team’s all-time Top 12 in any of the major offensive categories except batting average (where his .303 mark ranks him exactly at No. 12). But, much like Jackson, O’Neill’s acquisition in 1993 was one of the catalysts that helped turn a fledgling, nearly-rebuilt team into a dynasty.

And, despite the lack of superlative, his numbers are pretty good too. In addition to that .303 hitting mark, O’Neill averaged 19 home runs, 95 RBI, 34 doubles, and 158 hits per season from 1993-2001, was a four-time AL All-Star, and was just the seventh Yankee to win a batting title when he did so in 1994.

The fire and emotion he showed not only gave O’Neill his nickname, but also made him a fan favorite in The Bronx…so much so that in the decade-plus since his retirement, only one man has even been issued No. 21; that was reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who saw such backlash from O’Neill backers in 2008 that he quickly changed his jersey over to No. 22.

The first member of the “90s Dynasty” core to wear pinstripes, Williams came up in 1991 to replace an injured Roberto Kelly, and when he came back in 1992, he didn’t leave for 15 years.

Numbers-wise, Bernie is near the top in every category: sixth in games played, home runs, RBIs, and runs scored, fifth in hits, fourth in at-bats, and third in doubles. He also was the eighth (and so far last) Yankee to win a batting title, and when he did so with his .339 average in 1998, he became the first player to win a batting title, Gold Glove award, and World Series ring in the same year.

And, much like O’Neill and No. 21, no one as of yet has worn Bernie’s No. 51 since Williams last put it on in 2006.

When it comes to No. 6 possibly being retired, you really only need one stat: of all the legends who have sat in the Yankees’ manager’s seat over the last 110 years, only one man has more wins than Joe Torre.

If you do need more, though, know that the leader of that “90s Dynasty” group took over a team primed to break through to the elite and actually helped them do it. In 12 seasons at the helm, Torre took a franchise that had just one playoff appearance in the previous 15 years and piloted it to 12 playoff berths, 10 AL East Championships, six AL pennants and four World Series Championships.

What more needs to be said?

Finally, we come to Piniella, who, while he may not be up near the top of any categories, should be considered for enshrinement simply for being perhaps the Yankees’ truest “five-tool” team player.

From 1974-84, Piniella was an outfielder who hit .295 as a Bomber in the regular season and improved to a .305 mark in the postseason. Then, after serving as the hitting coach in 1985, he was the manager for parts of 1986 and 1987 before moving upstairs to become the team’s general manager in 1988. He also managed the team in part of that season as well and then completed the quintet by becoming a broadcaster in 1989, a role he once again holds today with the YES Network team.

“Sweet Lou” has indeed done it all, and is certainly worthy of adding a sixth Yankees title, that of retired number holder, to his resume. comments