Friday, February 20, 2015

Are the Yankees Devaluing Their Legacy?


This week, with the announcement that the Yankees are retiring the numbers of Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams, and honoring each of them plus Willie Randolph with Plaques in Monument Park, certain individuals -- I will not name and shame, but they know who they are -- have suggested that the Yankees are "devaluing their legacy."

Really.

The following is about Monument Park -- not retired numbers. In my opinion, that should be a different debate.

Here are the honorees in Monument Park -- not counting Mel Allen, Bob Sheppard, and non-Yankee honorees, like Jackie Robinson, Nelson Mandela, the 9/11 victims and rescuers, and the Popes who delivered Mass at the old Yankee Stadium -- by era. The "dates" of the dynasties are subjective, and I know I had them a little different in a recent post:

Pre-Dynasty, 1903-19, none. Notably not honored: Hall-of-Famers Clark Griffith, Willie Keeler and Jack Chesbro.

1st Dynasty, 1920-35, 5: Jacob Ruppert, Ed Barrow, Miller Huggins, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig. Notably not honored: Hall-of-Famers Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri.

2nd Dynasty, 1936-48, 6: Joe McCarthy, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Phil Rizzuto. (You'll notice I'm not carrying over: One dynasty per player.) Notably not honored: Hall-of-Famer Joe Gordon, Tommy Henrich.

3rd Dynasty, 1949-64, 7: Casey Stengel, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Allie Reynolds, Elston Howard, Roger Maris. The most notable omissions would be Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter, both of whom finished their careers by helping the Yankees win titles, and would not have been elected to the Hall of Fame without them, but who had their best years elsewhere, so they really shouldn't get Plaques. However, if Reynolds got a Plaque, then cases could also be made for Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat.

Interregnum, 1965-75, none. The most notable omissions would be Bobby Murcer and Mel Stottlemyre, although Murcer did return and help the Yankees win the 1981 Pennant, so perhaps he belongs with the 4th Dynasty.

4th Dynasty, 1976-81, 7: George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Willie Randolph. Notably not honored: Hall-of-Famers Catfish Hunter and Dave Winfield, plus pivotal Seventies Yankees Sparky Lyle, Graig Nettles and Lou Piniella. The astute among you will notice that those are the as-yet-unhonored Yankees who've gotten YES Network Yankeeographies.

Interregnum, 1982-95, 1: Don Mattingly.

5th Dynasty, 1996-2003, 8: Joe Torre, Derek Jeter (not yet honored, but who's kidding who), Mariano Rivera (ditto), Andy Pettitte, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada. Notably not honored: David Cone, Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina and, uh, Roger Clemens.

So that's 34 honorees, with Allen and Sheppard making 36. Counting only players, it's 28. The Yankees have played in 112 seasons (1903 to 2014). So that's honoring a player once every 4 years.

But legacy isn't just length of service, it's achievement, so let's look at it this way:

1st Dynasty: 7 postseason appearances, 3 players: 2.333 per appearance. A number probably kept low due to the fact that most potential honorees died before the baseball nostalgia wave picked up in the 1970s, and didn't live long enough to give interviews for Major League Baseball Productions.

2nd Dynasty: 8 appearances, 5 players: 1.6 per appearance.

3rd Dynasty: 12 appearances, 6 players: 2.0 per appearance.

4th Dynasty: 5 appearances, 5 players: 1.0 per appearance.

5th Dynasty: 8 appearances, 7 players: 1.25 per appearance.

So, if you think about it, the recent honorees haven't really thrown the ratios out of whack.

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How do other teams handle it? Remember, I'm counting only players, not managers or nonuniformed personnel, and (for some teams, I'll have to, or their history will look like a bigger joke than it might already be) I'm counting all postseason appearances, not just Pennants or World Championships.

I will, however, only include those postseason appearances for whom there is, already, at least 1 nominee; but I'll also include players who are in a team's honoree section that didn't reach the postseason. In other words: If a team honors a player from their founding days, when they were far from a title, that counts in the total; if they honor a player from a team that just missed the postseason, that counts; but if they won a Pennant in, say, 2008 (just 7 years ago), but have not yet honored anyone from that team, it doesn't count. Also, if a team's only honor is retired numbers, then I won't count postseason appearances in the Pre-Uniform Number Era, 1876 to 1930. (Some teams, including the Phillies, have made allowances for this; then again, the Phillies have an honor other than retired numbers.)

You'll notice I haven't included anyone from the Yankees' 2004-12 period: Despite 8 postseason appearances in those 9 seasons, no one who played exclusively in that period has yet been honored.

Rank, Team Name, Postseason Appearances, Honorees, Honorees per Appearance.

1. Arizona Diamondbacks, Retired Numbers: 1, 3, 3.00
2. Colorado Rockies, Retired Numbers:1, 3, 3.00
3. Oakland Athletics, Retired Numbers: 5, 10, 2.00
4. Atlanta Braves Museum and Hall of Fame: 10, 19, 1.90
5. Los Angeles Dodgers, Retired Numbers: 5, 8, 1.60
6. Chicago Cubs, Retired Numbers: 6, 9, 1.50
7. New York Yankees, Monument Park: 28, 40, 1.43
8. St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum: 20, 26, 1.30
9. Pittsburgh Pirates, Retired Numbers: 7, 8, 1.14
10. Houston Astros, Retired Numbers: 9, 9, 1.00
11. Detroit Tigers, Retired Numbers and Honored Names: 11, 10, 0.92
12. Toronto Blue Jays, Level of Excellence: 6, 5, 0.83
13. San Diego Padres Hall of Fame and/or Retired Numbers: 6, 5, 0.83
14. Chicago White Sox, Retired Numbers: 10, 7, 0.70
15. Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame: 6, 4, 0.67
16. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Angels Hall of Fame: 4, 7, 0.57
17. Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame: 18, 10, 0.56
18. Milwaukee Brewers, Retired Numbers: 4, 2, 0.50
19. Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame: 17, 7, 0.41
20. New York Mets Hall of Fame: 17, 6, 0.35
21. Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame: 22, 66, 0.33
22. Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame: 34, 9, 0.26
23. Cleveland Indians, Heritage Park: 40, 10, 0.25
24. Texas Rangers Hall of Fame: 12, 3, 0.25
25. Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame: 10, 47, 0.21
26. Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame: 68, 14, 0.21
27. San Francisco Giants Wall of Fame: 48, 8, 0.17
28. Tampa Bay Rays, Retired Number: 1, 0, 0.00 (no honorees yet from their 2008-13 era)
29. Washington Nationals: No honorees as yet, despite reaching 2 postseasons
30. Miami Marlins: No honorees as yet, despite winning 2 World Series

By this measure, the Yankees have done considerably less devaluing than some teams, including rather accomplished ones like Boston and San Francisco. Indeed, now that the Mets have decided that, having passed the half-century mark, they're no longer an expansion team, and should honor their history, they could be accused of going overboard with it.

The Cubs used to have a Walk of Fame outside Wrigley Field, but it's gone now, and I don't have a list of the honorees, including pre-number players, so I can't add those to the totals.

The Mets haven't yet honored anyone from their 7th postseason team, the 2006 NL East Champions. The Dodgers haven't yet honored a single player who was with them after 1980, although Fernando Valenzuela's Number 34 hasn't been reissued since he left.

Note that some teams, even by Yankee standards, have gone bonkers with their honors: Cincinnati, 68; San Francisco, 48; Baltimore, 47;Cleveland 40; Philadelphia, 34; and our arch-rivals from the chowdahed North, 66. And that's only counting players, not managers, executives, owners, scouts, broadcasters, groundskeepers, clubhouse guys, trainers. (The Yankees introduce Gene Monahan on Old-Timers' Day, but he doesn't have a Plaque.)

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Now, let's compare the Yankees with the other teams in the New York Tri-State Area. Again, this only counts postseason berths with a participating player already honored:

1. New York Rangers, Retired Numbers: 8, 48, 6.00
2. New Jersey Devils, Retired Numbers: 3, 16, 5.33
3. New York Knicks, Retired Numbers: 8, 37, 4.63
4. Brooklyn Nets, Retired Numbers: 7, 23, 3.29
5. New York Islanders Hall of Fame: 11, 17, 1.55
6. New York Yankees, Monument Park: 28, 40, 1.43
7. New York Giants Ring of Honor: 28, 30, 1.07
8. New York Jets Ring of Honor: 13, 11, 0.85
9. New York Mets Hall of Fame: 17, 6, 0.35

Of course, it's worth nothing that it's a lot easier to make the Playoffs in those other sports. Historically, MLB had just 2 out of 16 make it, then 2 out of 20, before it became 4 out of 24, then 4 out of 26, then 8 out of 28, 8 out of 30, and now 10 out of 30. The NFL allows 12 out of 32. The NBA once allowed 8 out of 9, then 16 out of 22, and now 16 out of 30. The NHL once allowed 4 out of 6, and 16 out of 21, and now 16 out of 30.

But looking at that list, it's clear to see that both basketball teams, and 2 of the hockey teams, have underserved their history a bit. While both football teams have gone a little too far, and the Mets a lot too far.

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Okay, so what about retired numbers? Some teams have done it for legends who come to a team to finish their career, like the Milwaukee Brewers did for Hank Aaron. The Yankees haven't done that. Some teams do it for players who died before they could become stars, like the Houston Astros did for Jim Umbricht. The Yankees haven't done that, but, then again, they haven't had to: The only men who died while active Yankee players have been Thurman Munson, whose Number 15 was retired but was already a star; and Cory Lidle, who, while a decent pitcher at times, was never a star.

And when you consider that some numbers have had several players who could be considered, it does get a bit ridiculous:

1 Billy Martin, but also Hall-of-Famer Earle Combs, and a genuine Yankee Legend, Bobby Murcer, in his first go-round with the team. (He wore 2 in his 2nd, because Billy was managing.)

6 Joe Torre, but also Hall-of-Famers Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon.

9 Roger Maris, but also All-Stars Charlie Keller, George McQuinn, Hank Bauer and Graig Nettles.

15 Thurman Munson, but also Hall-of-Famer Red Ruffing, and All-Stars Tommy Henrich, Joe Collins and Tom Tresh.

20 Jorge Posada, but also Bucky Dent, who, due to a few days in October 1978, is arguably a bigger legend.

Retiring Babe Ruth's 3, Lou Gehrig's 4, Joe DiMaggio's 5 and Mickey Mantle's 7 was easy. So was Mariano Rivera's 42, and so, once they get around to actually doing it, will be Derek Jeter's 2. Casey Stengel's 37 and Joe Torre's 6 can be justified, for the way they managed. (Neither Miller Huggins nor Joe McCarthy ever wore a number, though McCarthy was managing in the major leagues as late as 1950.) Whitey Ford was the greatest pitcher -- or, if you consider Mariano, perhaps "only" the greatest starting pitcher -- in Yankee history, so a case can be made for his 16. And, as great as Bill Dickey was, he never really stuck in the public consciousness as much as Yogi Berra (because Dickey played in the radio era, not the TV era), so 8 could be retired for Yogi only.

That's 10 numbers -- still more than any other team. But Martin's 1, Maris' 9, Phil Rizzuto's 10, Thurman Munson's 15, Jorge Posada's 20, Don Mattingly's 23, Elston Howard's 32, Reggie Jackson's 44, Andy Pettitte's 46, Ron Guidry's 49 and Bernie Williams' 51. probably shouldn't be (or shouldn't have been) retired. A case can be made that, when Yogi (who's 89 years old) and Whitey (86) die, Reggie will be the earliest living Yankee Legend; but with Jeter and Rivera having achieved what they've achieved, Reggie will never be the greatest living Yankee, no matter how much of a hero he was, and remains, to me, a 1970s boy.

Why not Rizzuto's 10? No one ever served the Yankee family longer -- unless there's an usher or a vendor whose name isn't known to the general public and has been at it since before The War. The Scooter was beloved, in theory, by every generation of Yankee Fans, except for the ones now coming up as kids, who didn't get to see him after his last Old-Timers' Day appearance in 2004. A person who became a New York Highlanders fan in the founding era (1903-12), and was old enough to be a grandfather and take his grandson to a game, making him at least 45 in that 1st season, could, conceivably, have been in his late 80s in 1941, when DiMaggio had his hitting streak and Rizzuto was a rookie. So we're talking about Rizzuto having appeared at the original Yankee Stadium for people born before the Civil War, before the dawn of openly professional baseball, and for people born at the close of the 20th Century, for whom the Cold War (if not the 9/11 attacks) was a fact of history rather than a memory. That's, to borrow a word from the Mets, amazing.

But Rizzuto's greatest legacy is as a broadcaster. My generation never saw him play. My parents were born when he was a young player, and even someone born in 1947, the year baseball was integrated, didn't get to see him play at his best. So even when his number was retired and his Plaque was dedicated in 1985 (I was there), a majority of the people in The Stadium and watching on WPIX-Channel 11 didn't know him as the little guy who laid down great bunts and turned nifty double plays, but as the old guy who said, "Holy cow!" and talked about restaurants he liked and announced birthdays and anniversaries and get-well wishes. We knew him as a guy in a powder-blue suit, not a Pinstriped baseball uniform. So a case can be made that his Number 10 shouldn't have been retired.

Yes, the Phillies retired Richie Ashburn's 1, and the Cubs retired Ron Santo's 23. But Met fans love Keith Hernandez, Boston fans love Jerry Remy, Cleveland fans loved Herb Score, Cincinnati fans loved Joe Nuxhall, Pittsburgh fans love Steve Blass, St. Louis fans love Mike Shannon, and San Francisco fans love Mike Krukow. Those were star players and beloved broadcasters, and their numbers haven't been retired.

So, yes, a case can be made that some retired numbers should be restored to availability. But every single honoree in Monument Park can be justified.

After all, the YES Network has done Moments of Glory profiles for Chris Chambliss, Bucky Dent, Jim Abbott and Aaron Boone, and Yankeeography installments for perfect game pitchers Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone; but we haven't retired numbers for them or put them in Monument Park.

The Yankees, "devaluing their legacy"? As the Scooter would say, anybody who thinks that is a huckleberry!

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