Bock’s Score: What’s In A Yankees Number?

Because of their compulsion to retire uniform numbers, the New York Yankees have run out of single digits and are moving up the ladder of normal numerals. This is why Aaron Judge is running around with No. 99 on his back and Clint Frazier is wearing No. 77.

Frazier had a more conventional No. 30 when he first arrived but returned it to David Robertson when the Yankees traded for the reliever who wore that number in his first tenure in the Bronx. Now, with No. 99 in right field and No. 77 in left, all the Yankees need is a center fielder wearing No. 88.

Other strange digits on their pinstripe jerseys are No. 85 for Luis Cessa, No. 74 for Ronald Torreyes, No. 68 for Dellin Bettances and No. 64 for Garrett Cooper.

This is a function of the team having 23 numbers retired with one of them –No. 8 – out of circulation to honor two players – Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. Two others are retired for managers, No. 6 for Joe Torre and No. 37 for Casey Stengel. Also retired throughout baseball is Jackie Robinson’s No, 42, which happened to be revered reliever Mariano Rivera’s number. That means Rivera’s number was already retired when he retired. No special ceremony was necessary, although Rivera was suitably honored anyway.

Among those numbers also removed from Yankees circulation are Andy Pettitte’s No, 46 and Jorge Posada’s No. 20. They were not exactly immortals but what the heck, there was space in Monument Park so they were honored alongside Hall of Famers like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. And just to be sure, No. 20 was retired for Posada, not previous owner Horace Clarke, the poster boy for a pennant-less era when he played second base in an often odd way.

When the Yankees retired Derek Jeter’s No. 2 this season, it completed the 1-through-10 sequence. Those low numbers were always considered special and when Deion Sanders, a showman during his two-sport days at Florida State, showed up at spring training as a rookie in 1998, he thought one of those single digit jobs would be appropriate for him. Asked if he had a preference for a uniform number, Neon Deion said he’d like something low, maybe 3, maybe 4.

Uhh, the young man was advised that those were unavailable, already retired to honor two fellows named Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Sanders settled for No. 24 and then No. 21, the same one he wore at Florida State.

That brings us to Todd Frazier.

Growing up in Toms River, N.J, Frazier was a big fan of Paul O’Neill, who was wearing 21 in Yankee Stadium. The youngster wore that number when his team won the Little League World Series, wore it when he was drafted and became an All-Star with the Cincinnati Reds and wore it when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox.

So when he came to the Yankees last month, Frazier asked about No. 21. He was told to try some other one. That’s because, even though it is not officially retired, the pinstriped No. 21 has not been worn fulltime by any Yankee since O’Neill retired 17 years ago.

Journeyman relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins tried it out briefly to honor the memory of Roberto Clemente in 2008 but Yankee fans with long memories booed him out of it rather quickly. The same thing happened with an obscure infielder, Morgan Ensberg. If Paul O’Neill wasn’t wearing No. 21, nobody else in Yankeeland would either. And that includes Todd Frazier.

So Frazier settled for No. 29, which once belonged to Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter. Not a bad choice.

Anybody for ordinals?

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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