Thursday, February 21, 2008

Can You Retire Infinity?

posted by Mr. November

1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 23, 32, 37, (42), 44, and 49

Nope, this list doesn't represent a question from the analytical portion of the SAT. It's a list of the numbers currently retired by the Yankees. The 8 is there twice for, of course, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey. The 42 is in parentheses because it's Jackie Robinson's number, retired by every team in the majors. Of course, it's also Mariano's number, so whenever he retires, expect the 8 to no longer be the only duplicate - the Yanks don't like to make legends share.

The subject of retired numbers came up recently when my esteemed co-blogger brought to my attention the fact that her father thinks the Yankees have retired too many numbers and that, quite frankly, some of the numbers that have been retired don't deserve that honor.

Of the 16 players the above numbers represent (not counting the 42 just yet), I can personally say I've seen only 4 in my lifetime. One of those 4, Billy Martin (#1), I only saw as a manager, but that counts, seeing as the basis for retirement of a number is being a Yankee "legend," not necessarily being a "legendary" player. But, that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion about all 16 as a whole.

Without going into statistical specifics or individual arguments, I will sum it all up by saying - each and every one of those numbers deserves to be retired. On top of that, numbers 2, 6, 21, the second 42, and 51 should (and probably will) also be retired some day. Add to that number 13 (assuming the wearer of that number isn't disgruntled 3 years from now and gets traded) and we will be us to 21. And that's only a reasonable estimate; I'm not making the quantum leap and including all the youngsters and potential stars 20 years from now.

Why should all those numbers be retired? Why not? I don't believe that retiring one number lessens the honor for all the other numbers. Each player to wear those respective uniform numbers did something and (and/or off) the field to warrant forever being enshrined in the Yankee Stadium hall of fame. Just because some players did substantially more than others, and some had a great historical impact than others, doesn't mean they don't deserve the honor.

There was a time when I'm sure no one in the organization would have thought that 1 and 44 would be retired. Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson were never big fans of The Boss, and vice versa. But their impacts were honored (Martin's untimely death may have hastened the retiring of #1, but it would have happened anyway). The same can be said for 15 - one can assume that it would have been retired anyway if Thurman Munson's Yankee career had continued along the path it was following, but losing him unexpectedly should pushed the process along.

As for the "questionable" guys (from what I hear, #49 is tops on the aforementioned dad's radar screen), in short, they all deserve it. (Shameful stat alert: all #49 did was win 20 games three times, played his entire career as a Yankee, won a Cy Young award, and pretty much single-handedly brought a World Series title to the Bronx in 1978.) And they all deserve it because they played the hearts out for a team that took the time to honor them for it.

Retiring a number doesn't water down the honor, it keeps the honor in tact.

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