An interesting discussion I was having recently revolved around the question of the Yankees and retired numbers: who, among current or former Yankees, is in line to be added to Monument Park?
I’m going to break this into 3 parts: the locks, the already retired, and the current players.
Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera
I’m lumping these two together because they are both obvious. Even if they never played another game, both would be in the Hall of Fame and would get their jerseys retired. It’s just a matter of when at this point.
The Already Retired:
It is sad that Bernie kind of lingered his last year and simply didn’t announce his retirement. In fact, he still has never announced his retirement. That doesn’t change the fact though that he was the Yankees’ best player during their late-90s championship run and was an above average player up until the very end of his career. He also played his entire career as a Yankee. Awhile back, I made a case for him being a Hall-Of-Famer and – while most commenters wrote in to say he was not one – I still don’t think the idea is that far fetched (if you remember, I wrote it partially as a response to Jim Rice’s induction to the HOF, since Williams is a superior player to Rice).
So does his number get retired? I think so.
It was pretty clear back in 2008 that the Yankees had no intentions of retiring O’Neill’s number 21. After all, they did issue it to LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins was subsequently booed repeatedly, to the point where he changed his number. So clearly, many Yankee fans want O’Neill’s number retired. Should it be though? Paul was undoubtably a very good player for the Yankees, but he played half his career in Cincinnati. He posted a good number of solid seasons in NY, but considering he did not play a premium position, his value was not close to that of a Jeter or a Williams. So, much like teammate Tino Martinez, O’Neill will likely have to settle for being revered by fans for his role as good player on a great team.
The Current Players:
When I have the retired number conversation with people, they tend to forget about Jorge. Fans revere Posada as a member of the late-90’s teams and now a member of the “core 4,” but in some ways he is actually underrated. Much has been made of his mediocre defense, but it often goes overlooked how rare it is to have a catcher continue to perform offensively the way Posada has for 15+ years. The most comparable player to him, according to BaseballReference.com, is Carlton Fisk, who is in the Hall of Fame (and to that end, I’ll have a post exploring Jorge’s HOF chances relatively soon; here’s a hint though: they’re better than you may think). No one would argue that Posada is a great defensive catcher, but even now at age 38, he’s never become the sort of liability of a Mike Piazza type, who you can run on at will.
Like Bernie, I think Posada is a lock if not for all the other great players around him. Even so though, I think he gets it.
Andy’s a tough case. He played 3 seasons in Houston (including what may have been his best season). He’s only had a few seasons in NY where he was really good (oddly enough, this year was shaping up to be one of his best before his injury). In terms of counting stats, Pettitte is right there with Ron Guidry, but he never had a period of dominance like Gator. In Andy’s favor though, no other Yankee starter from the period really has a chance and part of what defined the late-90s Yankees was their great starting pitching. I think it’s more likely that he doesn’t get his number retired, but if he wins another title in NY and/or has another strong season for the Yanks next year, his case will continue to build.
This is even tougher than Pettitte, because there are so many factors involved. If you simply look at the numbers, it would seem to be a no-brainer. Sure, much of his career was played in Seattle and Texas, but he has had a dominant stint with the Yankees that compares favorably to Reggie Jackson. Like Jackson, A-Rod now also has his signature postseason – 2009, where he destroyed the Twins and Angels and had a productive World Series as well. Many Yankee fans don’t like him, but can irrational hate be enough to not retire the guy’s number? If he ends up staying healthy and productive and breaks Bonds’ record, then it’s a sure thing. As of right now, it’d say it’s just better than 50-50.
We could of course speculate on some of the newer Yankees as well, such as CC Sabathia, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira, but it seems to me the players I’ve mentioned are the only ones who have already posted a career worthy of consideration. Monument Park could start getting a bit crowed in the coming years, but that is an excellent problem to have.