NY Sports Day

The NY Yankees Unretired Retired Numbers KIng

When the Yankees honored recent Hall of Fame Inductee Joe Torre by retiring his number 6, they inadvertently inducted another member into a unique fraternity regarding retired numbers – Mickey Mantle.

There are now four former Yankees who wore multiple numbers as Yankees, and now both or all of their numbers worn as Yankees have been retired by the Yankees.

Trivial, yes. Equally fascinating, more so.

The Yankees lead all of baseball with 17 retired numbers: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 23, 32, 37, 42, 44 and 49. Sometimes it seems like future Yankees will soon be wearing three digits on their backs, but each number tells a great and deserving story. And now there are interesting aspects to players who have worn more than one number.

Mantle famously wore No. 6 when he first reported to the Yankees in 1951. The concept being the club knew they had something special in their midst, and they wanted Mantle to succeed the lineage of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio utterly and numerically in importance. However, after failing to make a strong first impression in those first few weeks, Mantle was sent back to the minors “for more seasoning.”

The legend was born when Mantle’s dad, nicknamed Mutt, berated him in a hotel room using reverse psychology by practically ordering him to quit, when in actuality he wanted him to refuse to quit. The plan worked, Mantle was recalled, and the rest was, you know. When Mantle returned to the Bronx, he was issued No. 7. And all these years later, that lucky number still resonates in the hearts of every longtime Yankees fan with unyielding passion.

So now both No. 6 and no. 7 are retired, adding another note to Mantle’s legacy.

DiMaggio and Bill Dickey enjoyed similar numerical histories. DiMaggio was first assigned No. 9 in 1936. But beginning with 1937, he was upgraded to No. 5. (Myril Hoag wore no. 9 in ’37.) No one wore no. 5 in ’36, so maybe they should have just lined him up then with the Babe and Lou, but apparently it took a year of outstanding play to convince them.

And as you may know, Joe D was the last member of the Yankees to wear No. 5, but here’s a little related DiMaggio trivia: During World War II, with Joe D in the service, Nick Etten wore no. 5 between 1943-45.

Dickey was first issued No. 10 in 1929 – the first year the Yankees wore numbers and the first team to wear numbers on a permanent basis – which gave the future Hall of Famer first claim to the double digits. In 1930, Dickey was issued No. 8, and wore that designation through 1943. Other players wore the number during WWII, but when Dickey came back in 1946, he again had 8 on his back, this time as the Yankees’ manager.

In ’48, that lovable squatty catcher from St. Louis, Lawrence Peter Berra, inherited the catcher’s number 8, and the rest, again, is, you know.

So add Joe D and Dickey to the trivia answer that Mantle just qualified for, but as they say on those infommercials, “Wait, there’s more!”

Frank Crosetti was a longtime coach with the Yankees (1946-68), and wore No. 2 all those years, first assigned as such in 1945 when he was still on the playing roster. Primarily a shortstop, who also played a bunch at third, and a handful of games at second, Cro first wore No. 5 beginning in 1932. When DiMaggio was converted to no. 5 in ’37, Crosetti switched to No. 1. So it won’t be a stretch to speculate that when the Yankees retire No. 2 in the next year or so in honor of Derek Jeter, Crosetti will be a three-time retired number recipient.

But since that little trivial note has yet to become an official reality, the final true answer to our concocted question is another Hall of Famer, Tony Lazzeri.

“Poosh ‘em Up” Tony is what they called him, in deference to his ability to move runners up and over, setting up the RBIs for the big guns. But he was no slouch at the plate, either. First called up in 1926, Lazzeri batted .354 in ’29 when he was first issued No. 6, the first Yankee to wear the recently mothballed uni, and backed that up with 193 hits, 18 home runs, and 106 RBIs, in a lineup that featured the likes of No. 3 and No. 4 (you-know-whos).

Lazzeri was a worthy Hall of Famer who averaged 171 hits, a .292 avg. and 111 RBIs in a 14-year career, mostly with the Yankees. The one-time All-Star when the game was invented (1933) and was considered an important cog on those Yankee squads that first established frequent visits to the World Series.

The Yankees never retired his number, perhaps mainly because he wore many numbers. He was most affiliated with no. 6, worn between 1929-37. But from 1930-31, he switched to No. 5. And then in ’32, he wore no. 23. In ’33, he donned No. 7. In ’34, it was back to No. 6.

So essentially, in Yankee-speak, Lazzeri went from Torre, to DiMaggio, to Don Mattingly, to Mantle and then back to Torre.

That makes “Poosh ‘em Up” the Yankee Unretired Retired Number King! He went 4 for 4!

In fairness, Lazzeri went on to play for the Cubs, Dodgers, and Giants in his career, and wore other numbers, but in Yankee Land, he’s a retired number champ.

In this multiple retired number fraternity, the club may soon welcome another new member – Mattingly. Donnie Baseball first wore No. 46 when he was called up (remember that failed experiment as a left fielder?), and eventually graduated to No. 23. So if the Yankees do what many expect to do, and retire Andy Pettitte’s No. 46 in the next year or so, the Dodger manager joins this small team.

Yankees who came close to this quirky honor include Dr. Bobby Brown, who wore 7, 6, and 9, but also 27 as a Yankee. Tommy Henrich wore 7 and 15, but also 22 and 17. Bobby Murcer wore 1 and 2, but also 17 and 27.

The quirkiest in this QuirkFest might be a little-known outfielder named Cliff Mapes. What you might not know is that the Yankees didn’t retire Ruth’s No. 3 until the winter of ’48-’49. When Ruth left the Yankees after 1934, the concept of retiring numbers was new, so the team kept issuing No. 3. Seven other Yankees wore No. 3 between 1935-48.

Mapes was wearing No. 3 when the team famously honored Ruth with a retirement day in ’48, so they took the number off Mapes and reassigned him No. 13. He became the first Yankee to ever wear No. 13. Did you know that, A-Rod?

Perhaps the reputation as an unlucky number won out, so when Mapes reported in ’49, he got a new designation – No. 7!

Hope he had the sense to ask for uniforms to take home each winter, because Mapes is the only Yankee to be so numerically connected to two members of the Yankee Mt. Rushmore – Ruth and Mantle. Nice company, Cliff.

It’s a numbers game, after all.


3 Comments

  1. Michael Rydzynski

    February 24, 2017 at 4:03 am

    There was also Art Jorgens, who wore four retired numbers: 32, 15, 10 and 9. He also wore 28, which No. 15 (Munson) wore when brought up (but did not play before demoted), and 18, which No. 5 (DiMaggio) wore at his first spring training, before switching to 9 by Opening Day. So Jorgens has ties to honored Yankees six different ways!

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