The most successful franchise in baseball history, the New York Yankees, have always shown a great interest in honoring its storied past. It has been more than 80 years since the Yankees constructed the first memorial to remain in the stadium for one of its early icons to always be remembered.
Three years after his untimely passing in 1929, former Yankee skipper Miller Huggins was honored at a ceremony where a monument to him was unveiled in center by his sister. Mayor Jimmy Walker and Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert were on the field to head the tribute.
As the years passed, the monument to Huggins was joined by one to Lou Gehrig in 1941 and Babe Ruth in 1949.
The number of monuments and plaques has grown greatly over the years. There are now approximately three dozen that honor players, managers, executives, owners, the three popes who celebrated Mass at the ballpark and a monument that pays homage to those lost on the September 11 attack and the heroes of that somber day.
Initially, customers were allowed to circle the playing field on the warning track and depart through the gates behind center field. Thus, the fans were given the thrill to walk on the same space as their heroes in uniform and have a close-up look at the memorials.
Since the park was remodeled and reopened in 1976, the plaques and monuments have been removed from the field and enclosed in Monument Park. Early arrivals to the ballpark are allowed to enter Monument Park to take photos and gaze at the memorials to their heroes.
In addition to the many plaques and monuments, the Yankees have retired more numbers of players and managers than any sports franchise. Seventeen uniform numbers have been retired, which include 19 individuals. Number 8 represents Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey and #42 was worn by Mariano Rivera, but previously retired by MLB to honor Jackie Robinson.
During the 2014 season, four plaques were placed in Monument Park to honor Joe Torre, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, and Rich “Goose” Gossage. Torre’s uniform #6 was added to those previously retired.
The Yankee recently announced four former players will be honored during the 2015 season also. As with last year’s group of honorees, only one of the four was a Yankee prior to the 1990’s. Thus, the tributes should be most appealing to the younger generation of fans who first started following the team in the playoff years which begun in 1995.
The elder statesman of those being saluted in the upcoming season is Willie Randolph. The talented second sacker was traded to the Yanks from the Pirates prior to the 1976 season. He solidified the infield through 1988, playing more games at second (1,688) than any Yankee including two elected to the Hall of Fame, Tony Lazzari and Joe Gordon. The .275 hitter was a five-time All-Star. He ranks third in the franchise with 251 stolen bases. Younger fans may remember his 11 years as a Yankee coach (1994-2004). Tribute will be accorded Randolph on Old Timers’ Day, June 20.
Each of the other three honorees will have his number retired. Bernie Williams, #51, wore a Yankee uniform during all 16 years he played in MLB. He was the first of the great Yankees since 1990 who was developed in the team’s minor league system. The five-time All-Star won the American League batting championship in 1998 with a .339 average. He ranks in the top ten in most offensive categories in franchise history and was the Gold Glove winner from 1997-2000. The Puerto Rican native was one of the most popular Yankees during the past quarter-century. His career will be celebrated on My 24.
Two of the Core Four, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada will be saluted on successive days in late August, Posada on August 22 and Pettitte on August 23. Each was a member of the last five Yankee World Championship clubs, 1996, 1998-2000 and 2009.
Posada (#20) follows Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Thurman Munson as outstanding Yankee receivers whose number is retired by the franchise. In five of his most productive seasons as a Yankee, the native of Puerto Rico was chosen as an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger.
Pettitte (#46) came up to the club I 1995, the same year as Posada. The left-hander compiled a record of 219-127 in Yankee pinstripes. His wins as a Yankee is bettered only by Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing. The Texas native had double figures of wins in 14 of his 15 seasons as a Yankee, a mark not equaled. His reputation was greatly enhanced by his performances in the post-season. His 18 victories included the World Series clinching wins in 1998 and 2009.
Opinions vary regarding the organization’s decision to add eight plaques to Monument Park in two seasons and retire four numbers. Some regard it as rushed before sufficient thought could be given and a tool to ensure eight large crowds while many current Yankee fans are joyful at the opportunity to have the opportunity to see their heroes honored.