Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Who Belongs in Monument Park?

With the recent, and long-overdue, election of Yankee dynasty-founder Jacob Ruppert to the Baseball Hall of Fame, there is the natural tendency to think about who else belongs.

As a Yankee Fan, I have the tendency to think of who belongs in Monument Park.

At the new Monument Park at the new Yankee Stadium, there are the following Plaques and Monuments, in chronological order of their placement. All received Plaques, rather than Monuments, unless otherwise stated:

1. Miller Huggins, Monument 1932.
2. Jacob Ruppert, 1940.
3. Lou Gehrig, Monument 1941.
4. Babe Ruth, Monument 1949.
5. Ed Barrow, 1954.
6. Mickey Mantle, Plaque 1969, replaced with Monument 1996.
7. Joe DiMaggio, Plaque 1969, replaced with Monument 1999.
8. Joe McCarthy, 1976.
9. Casey Stengel, 1976.
10. Thurman Munson, 1980.
11. Elston Howard, 1984.
12. Roger Maris, 1984.
13. Phil Rizzuto, 1985.
14. Billy Martin, 1986.
15. Lefty Gomez, 1987.
16. Whitey Ford, 1987.
17. Bill Dickey, 1988.
18. Yogi Berra, 1988.
19. Allie Reynolds, 1989.
20. Don Mattingly, 1997.
21. Mel Allen, 1998.
22. Bob Sheppard, 2000.
23. Reggie Jackson, 2002.
24. Ron Guidry, 2003.
25. Red Ruffing, 2004.
26. George Steinbrenner, Monument 2010.

This does not count the Plaques honoring the Papal Masses delivered at the old Stadium, by Paul VI in 1965, John Paul II in 1979, and Benedict XVI in 2008. Nor does it count the 9/11 Monument dedicated in 2002. Nor does it include the 2 Plaques not in the Park, those for clubhouse manager Pete Sheehy and groundskeeper Jimmy Esposito, which are hung in the dugout.

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What can we determine about these choices?

First, lets take Allen and Sheppard out of the mix, since they're neither uniformed personnel nor management. So that's 24 men.

16 are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. 7 are not: Munson, Howard, Martin, Reynolds, Mattingly, Guidry and Steinbrenner.

14 received their Plaques while they were still alive: DiMaggio, Mantle, McCarthy, Maris, Rizzuto, Martin, Gomez, Ford, Dickey, Berra, Reynolds, Mattingly, Jackson and Guidry.

17 were honored as players, although some may have contributed in other ways. 4 were honored as managers: Huggins, McCarthy, Stengel and Martin (who, while capable of big moments on the field, was not an especially good player). 2 were owners: Ruppert and Steinbrenner. 1 was an executive: Barrow. Although some (especially Rizzuto) were broadcasters, only Allen has been elected mainly as one, so, in spite of what we may think about him, I think we can rule out John Sterling as a candidate for the time being.

Of the 17 players, 3 were infielders: Gehrig, Rizzuto and Mattingly; 5 were outfielders: Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris and Jackson; 4 were catchers: Dickey, Berra, Howard and Munson; and 5 were pitchers: Gomez, Ruffing, Reynolds, Ford and Guidry.

None were from the Pre-Ruth Era, 1903 to roughly 1919.

7 were from the Ruth-Gehrig Era, roughly 1920 to 1935: Huggins, Ruppert, Barrow, Ruth, Gehrig, Gomez, Ruffing. (Gehrig, Ruppert and Barrow continued into the next era. Dickey and McCarthy debuted in this one, but had their peak years in the next one.)

5 were from the DiMaggio Era, 1936 to 1951: McCarthy, DiMaggio, Dickey, Rizzuto and Reynolds (who straddled the era more than Rizzuto and Berra did).

6 had their main contributions in the Mantle Era, 1952 to 1964: Stengel, Mantle, Berra, Ford, Howard and Maris.

None were from the CBS Interregnum, 1965 to 1975.

6 are remembered from the George/Billy/Reggie Era, 1976 to 1990: Steinbrenner, Martin, Jackson, Munson, Guidry, Mattingly. (I'm counting the 1980s with the late 1970s since it was still an era of George and Billy.)

So far, none have been from the Torre/Girardi Era, 1991 onward.

The average gap between a player's last game and their granting of a Plaque is 21 years -- meaning that, given a Plaque in 2012, the mean year of a player's last game would have been 1989.

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Looking at the back wall of Monument Park, where most of the Plaques are, there are 10 available spaces. Presuming that we want to fill all 10 spaces -- and that no potential candidates pull a "Pete Rose," or an "O.J. Simpson," and none others are perceived as having pulled a "Roger Clemens" -- who could it be?

We know that, for the moment, not all of the Monument Parkers are Hall-of-Famers. And not all Yankee Hall-of-Famers are, as yet, Monument Parkers: Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon and Goose Gossage, all generally thought of as Yankee Hall-of-Famers, are not Parkers. Enos Slaughter, Catfish Hunter, Dave Winfield and Wade Boggs, Famers who made significant contributions to Yankee history, while usually more identified with other teams, are also not Parkers.

All Parkers have received YES Network Yankeeography episodes, except for Huggins, Ruppert, Barrow, McCarthy, Dickey, Reynolds, Allen, Sheppard and Ruffing. Taking out Allen and Sheppard, that leaves 7 men, the last of whom appeared in a Yankee uniform in 1954, Reynolds; and of those, only he appeared beyond 1946. This could be due to a comparative lack of film footage of these figures.

But Yankeeographies have been done of the following individuals who are not in Monument Park:

From the Mantle Era: Don Larsen.

Playing in the George/Billy/Reggie Era: Bobby Murcer, Sparky Lyle, Graig Nettles, George Steinbrenner, Lou Piniella, Catfish Hunter, Willie Randolph, Goose Gossage and Dave Winfield.

From the Jeter/Rivera Era: Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Joe Torre, Tino Martinez, Joe Girardi, David Wells, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez.

There is no 2nd baseman in the Park, no 3rd baseman, only 1 righthanded pitcher, and no relief pitcher.

Robinson Cano has now played 8 full seasons. Is it safe to say that he has become the greatest 2nd baseman in Yankee history? Gordon only had 7 seasons in a Yankee uniform. Lazzeri had 12.

Distance of time could be a factor, but Red Ruffing got a Plaque in 2004, 58 years after he threw his last pitch in Pinstripes. Still, there were some living fans who saw him pitch. (There still are.) It is unlikely that there are any fans old enough to remember Wee Willie Keeler as an active player, let alone as a Yankee (actually, in his case, a Highlander). And, in his case, he's better known for playing elsewhere: The original Baltimore Orioles of the National League, and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And for all the spectacularity of Larsen's single-game achievement, it is just that, a single-game achievement. At least Roger Maris had 2 Most Valuable Player awards, not just the one amazing season of 61 in '61.

Let us presume that there will be no replacements of Plaques with Monuments for legends who will die in the intervening years. Yogi Berra is 87 and was hospitalized earlier this year. Hopefully, he'll still be around for a while. But look who's gotten the Monuments: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle -- the Mount Rushmore of the Yankees. Huggins, the only Yankee manager ever to die in office. And Steinbrenner, who built 2 dynasties and the new Stadium. If McCarthy and Stengel only got Plaques, not Monuments, certainly Yogi won't get a Monument. Jeter? He's 38, so that's a question that, hopefully, won't have to be answered for a long, long time.

Let us also suppose that we can add 10 new Plaques, 1 every year. Based on length of service, quality of individual service, contributions to championships, and fan memory (i.e. how much he's loved by the fans), I think we can award Plaques to the following individuals, at the following times:

1. Bobby Murcer. Since the Yankees knew he was battling cancer, they should have given him his Plaque while he was still alive -- as they did with Roger Maris.

True, Murcer never played on a World Champion, but he did at least play on a Pennant winner, which is more than can be said for Don Mattingly. If Mattingly was honored for "carrying the Yankees through a dark era," why not honor the man who carried them through an even darker one?

Bobby was a member of the Yankee family for over 40 years, as a player and as a broadcaster, and he was admired by fans of all teams. That the old Stadium closed without him receiving his Plaque was a crime. Give his family his Plaque on Old-Timers' Day 2013. With the most right thing to do now impossible, this is the next-most-right thing to do.

2. Joe Torre. Most likely, the Yankee brass is waiting until he's elected to the Hall of Fame. He'll be eligible in 2014, and it's unlikely that any of the players from his era will get a Plaque before he does.

UPDATE: I was half-right. Torre got elected in 2014, and got his Plaque shortly thereafter. But Tino and Paulie got Plaques shortly before he did.

3. Andy Pettitte. I'd like to see him in the Hall of Fame, but I think the PED cloud will keep him out. So he might as well get his Plaque sooner (say, in 2015) rather than later, instead of waiting for him to get into Cooperstown.

4. Dave Winfield. He did win a Pennant, unlike Mattingly. And he was one of the best all-around players of his generation. I don't know what anybody is waiting for. He's in the Hall of Fame. Whatever grudge The Boss still had against Dave died with him, and it's silly for Hank and Hal Steinbrenner to maintain it.

5. Paul O'Neill. The heart and soul of the Torre years, his Number 21 is already out of circulation, if not officially retired. He won't make the Hall of Fame, but he might as well get his Plaque anytime the Steinbrenner brothers are ready.

UPDATE: He got it in 2014.

6. Bernie Williams.  He won't make the Hall, either, but he was a wonderful player and a great guy who deserves his Plaque. At the rate I'm describing, he'd get it in 2018.

UPDATE: In 2014, it was announced he would get it in 2015.

7. Mariano Rivera. No way he plays beyond 2013 now. Given 5 full seasons, he'd be elected to the Hall of Fame in January 2019.

UPDATE: While he did get his Number 42 retired, his Plaque has not yet been awarded. My guess is, they're waiting for him to be elected to the Hall.

8. Hideki Matsui. He's been released by the Tampa Bay Rays after batting .147 in 34 games. I think he's done. If so, having played 10 seasons in the North American major leagues, he'll be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2018.

Will he be elected, for his combined contributions (statistically and culturally) in Japan and North America? I hope so, but it won't be in his first year of eligibility. Ichiro Suzuki, who will play next season (though we don't yet know if it'll be as a Yankee), might beat him to it -- although he'll go in as a Seattle Mariner, and won't get a Monument Park Plaque.

9. Alex Rodriguez. At this point, I think sticking around to get to 763 home runs is pointless. I'm still going to include it on my "Days until" countdown, but that's just for show now. If A-Rod lasts beyond 2015, I'll be surprised. Will he be elected to the Hall of Fame? If so, a 2015 finale means he'd be eligible in 2021.

But it all depends on how forgiving the voters are. That he's not the prick that Clemens and Barry Bonds are, and that he was more honest about it than Mark McGwire and David Ortiz, should help, but will it? Regardless of whether he gets into the Hall, I seriously doubt that Hank and Hal will deny him his Plaque.

UPDATE: Given a 2nd suspension for PED use, his chances of getting into either the Hall of Fame or Monument Park are now slim and none.

10. Derek Jeter. Jeter's current contract runs through the 2014 season. He'd be 40.  Knowing him, he'd want one more deal, so I'm thinking he'll retire after 2016. Given 5 full seasons, he'd be elected to the Hall of Fame in January 2022.

UPDATE: Jeter retired in 2014. While he got a Day, his Number 2 wasn't retired. I'm guessing they're waiting to retire the number and give him the Plaque in 2020, when they can put the words "ELECTED TO THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME" on it, as with Rivera.

The most obvious names not on this list, so far, are Jorge and Tino. Considering his longevity, Jorge is much more likely to get one first. I'd like to see Tino get one, but I'm not sure that he will.

UPDATE: Surprise! Tino was the 1st player from the Torre/Jeter/Rivera era to get a Plaque, in 2014. I did not see that coming.

Why not Catfish Hunter or David Cone? There may still be a lot of people who think of them, first and foremost, as having been with other teams.

Why not Mike Musisna? He spent half his career elsewhere, and did not win a World Series.

Why not Goose Gossage? He only won the 1 title (and 1 other Pennant), and was a Yankee just 6 seasons. True, Reggie Jackson won 2 in just 5, but he was a marquee player in a way that no pitcher could ever be. I love the Goose, but unless we get a lot more room for Plaques in the Park, his is not soon in coming.

UPDATE: I was wrong again. The Goose got his Plaque in 2014.

And Cano may still be playing in 2022.

UPDATE: But it won't be for the Yankees, who didn't re-sign him after 2013.

There is, however, one more Plaque that I think should be given.

To Yankee Fans. There are teams that have "retired a uniform number" for their fans.  Why not have a Plaque with a picture of several fans, showing a good ethnic mix, including kids?

After all, the honors that are already out there are for the fans as much as for the men to whom they are actually dedicated. How about a special Plaque -- or even an additional Monument -- to dedicate on April 18, 2023, the 100th Anniversary of the opening of the old Stadium? I can't think of a better time to do it.

Unless it's on the home opener next year, on April 1, 2013.

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