Thoughts on Andy Pettitte and Retired Numbers

Andy Pettitte officially retired Friday morning, announcing in a press conference that he was finished with baseball. He was one of my favorites and I have already outlined why. I don’t particularly care if he make the MLB Hall of Fame – if he does I am happy for him but I wouldn’t be upset if he didn’t.

I am more concerned with something that, as a Yankee fan, is much more personal. Monument Park, and the retired numbers. This is a great cause for debate within Yankee-Land. There are some who claim that there are too many retired numbers (Billy Martin, really?) and some who clamor for Paul O’Neill’s 21 to be forever enshrined. SCOTTY BRO!

While I love Paulie and Bernie and Tino, numbers 21, 51 and 24 should not be retired. That honor has to go to the greats. Additionally, a player has to be associated with that number – when I think of the number 3, I automatically think of Ruth.

We start with the shoo-ins: numbers 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 (twice) are automatically retired. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio Mantle, Berra and Dickey are regarded as some of the greatest to ever play, as Yankees, at their positions and overall. Done.

Number 42 was retired across baseball to honor Jackie Robinson, a move I still think was an excellent way to honor a man that did much more than simply play baseball. Additionally, I think 42 will be doubly retired once Mariano finishes his legendary career.

15 is a special case. Thurman Munson seen strictly as a player probably doesn’t get in. But I think 15 has a strong backing in that few players were as beloved as Munson, and few left us in so tragic a way. Combined with the fact that he did lead us back to the Promised Land after the longest stretch of poor Yankee play since 1918, I believe Munson’s 15 should be held out. So we have 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 8, 15, and 42.

Phil Rizzuto is out, as a player at least. He benefited from playing some great teams which his skills fit perfectly. He was worth less WAR than Adrian Beltre and Miguel Tejada. However, his status as the greatest Yankees broadcaster is uncontested – perhaps a bronzed microphone, with a plaque entitled Holy Cow!

Billy Martin? Sorry. He was more of a cult figure than a memorable player. It may be my youth, but I link him more with George Steinbrenner’s frequent firing tendencies than great play or winning, which may be unfair to him. If this was ranking movies, he might be the Big Lebowski. Give him a sentence on George’s plaque and move on.

We come to a unique case: Roger Maris. Maris only played on the Yankees for seven years, but in that time became forever associated with pinstripes. Obviously, his ’61 season was legendary, but does that make his #9 deserving for retirement? I say no. There are other ways to honor it, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

#16 is Whitey Ford. Widely regarded as the best Yankees starting pitcher ever, Ford’s 16 should stay. If for nothing else, we need a starting pitcher on here. In all seriousness, Ford was a great Yankee, the pitching emblem of an era and he leads the Yankees in almost every career pitching statistic. We’re at 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 8, ,15, 16, and 42.

Let’s jump around a bit. Guidry and Reggie are both out. For me at least, both are more known for miraculous special accomplishments than a career of greatness, and the Yankees only enshrine greatness. We will honor these two, but not with number retirement.

As much as I absolutely love Don Mattingly, 23 is open for business. He wasn’t consistently great enough. He was a fan favorite and absolutely deserving of being the Captain, but being forever associated with a number needs greatness.You could argue he wasn’t the best player on his teams; one could go with Dave Winfield.

I don’t like retiring manager’s numbers. For one thing, they are essentially meaningless: players are given numbers to help keep track of in-game statistics and there are no meaningful ones for managers. Casey Stengel’s 37 should be open to use, but again, there are other honors besides having your number retired. To be honest, I didn’t even know Stengel was 37 until recently.

Elston Howard is a tough case. On one hand, he broke the Yankees’ color barrier and was a pretty great player in his own right. On the other hand, I don’t see the number 32 and immediately jump to Howard’s name. Sorry Elston.

So we are finished with the current retired numbers. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 8, 15, 16, and 42. However, there are others who need to be recognized. The great thing about the Yankees is their history outstrips every other franchise’s by far. So while their numbers might not be retired, the Yankees need to remember Maris’ 61, Howard, Stengel and the rest.

First, great managers should have some sort of plaque. Stengel, McCarthy, Huggins and yes Torre, deserve to be enshrined somewhere.

Second, players who weren’t great enough to have their number retired but were still noticeable have their own section. This is where Mattingly, Guidry, and players like Bernie Williams will be honored. Fan favorites would go here – and popularity amongst the fans absolutely plays a factor. We could call this the Paul O’Neill Wing.

Finally, feats of greatness have to be honored. Reggie’s 3 home run game, Maris’ 61, Mattingly’s streak of consecutive games with a home run, etc. These are things that deserve to be remembered but the number should stay open.

On the current group of Yankees, there are two certainties: Jeter’s 2 and Mariano’s 42 will be retired. Jeter is a Yankee Captain, all-time Yankees leader in many offensive categories and one of the best players during his time in the bigs. He was also the face of the Yankees, and in a turbulent time in baseball, Derek Jeter was Bud Selig’s golden boy. Noted Yankees hater Bill Simmons once said only two players could shock him if it came out they used steroids: Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter. Mariano is the greatest relief pitcher of all time. For one inning, he is be the most feared pitcher of our generation, and arguably ever. His numbers are so otherworldly that he awes his teammates and opponents alike.

They are both shoo-ins. Additionally, this is a great indication of the greatness of the past 15 years in the Bronx – two shoo-ins in to such an exclusive club.

Jorge Posada is an interesting case. To a certain extent, he is underappreciated by both baseball and Yankee fans – he has been so much better than every other catcher over the past 15 years, we take him for granted to an extent. But something just feels like it’s missing. Perhaps he is overshadowed by Jeter’s offensive greatness but he just doesn’t merit a retired number. He will definitely be in the Paul O’Neill Wing, with a prominent place in it.

Alex Rodriguez is an interesting case as well. When he finally retires, he will primarily be remembered as a Yankee, despite significant time playing for Texas and Seattle. He will be top 5 in home runs as a Yankee when he is done. And he was the best offensive player on the Yankees in the mid-to-late 2000s. But will his 13 be retired? Somehow, I say no. That’s right – perhaps the most naturally gifted player of our generation can’t get in to this club.

Finally, we come to Andy Pettitte. He is widely regarded as the second best starter in Yankees history, trailing Ford in Ks, innings pitched and games started. As widely reported, his postseason numbers are better than any other starting pitcher ever. Of course, he benefited from playing on a great team as well as in an era with multiple postseason rounds. He is almost the opposite of Guidry – he had a longer career with more consistency but without the amazing peak Guidry had. Guidry didn’t make it, and as much as it pains me to say it, neither should Andy. He will definitely have some sort of monument or plaque to memorialize him, but a retired number? Sorry Andy.

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