Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Unwritten Rules of Monument Park


Today, Jason Keidel of WCBS-Channel 2 in New York blogged that putting Jorge Posada in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park is "absurd."

Keidel, as is anyone else, Yankee Fan or otherwise, is entitled to his opinion. As am I.

A case can be very easily made that, with the rare exception such as Joe Torre, Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera -- the truly historic -- continuing to retire uniform numbers is a mistake. Indeed, no less a luminary as Whitey Ford -- Number 16 retired, and a Monument Park honoree -- has said, "There's only 4 numbers that deserve to be retired, and mine's not one of them." He meant, of course, the 3 of Babe Ruth, the 4 of Lou Gehrig, the 5 of Joe DiMaggio, and the 7 of Mickey Mantle.

If the Yankees ever had to unretire some numbers, then, in addition to those 4 guys -- the Yankees' "Mount Rushmore," if you will -- I would keep only Ford's 16, Casey Stengel's 37, Yogi Berra's 8, Thurman Munson's 15, Derek Jeter's 2, Mariano Rivera's 42 and Joe Torre's 6 retired. Because those were special guys. And, let's face it, if Munson's career had come to a natural end, while he might have gotten a Plaque in Monument Park, his number would not have been retired.

(You'll notice I did not give the revised honor to my favorite athlete of all time, my first true sports hero, Number 44, Reggie Jackson. Plaque, yes; retired number, no. And considering the respect that Reggie has for the game and its history, including Yankee history, I think he would agree. Nor did I give it to Number 10, Phil Rizzuto, despite his 56 years of service as a player and a broadcaster.)

But Monument Park is the Yankees' team hall of fame. Posada was a 5-time All-Star and a 5-time... okay, 4-time World Champion. If Posada doesn't deserve a Plaque, then neither does Don Mattingly, who, as they say in English soccer, "won fuck-all."

*

Really, what is the criteria? Or, rather, what does the criteria appear to be?

First, let's leave out the managers, even if they also won Pennants as Yankee players: Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Billy Martin and Joe Torre. Also, let's leave out the non-uniformed personnel: Jacob Ruppert, Ed Barrow, Mel Allen and Bob Sheppard. But I will include those already announced as getting Plaques during this coming season, plus Jeter and Rivera who don't yet have their Plaques, but surely will.

Pending any future announcements for possibly deserving guys, that leaves 26 players. 2 who played the bulk of their Yankee careers in the 1st Dynasty (1921-32), 4 from the 2nd Dynasty (1936-43), 7 from the 3rd Dynasty (1947-64), 5 from the 4th Dynasty (1976-81), 1 from the interregnum (1982-95 -- of course, Don Mattingly), and 7 from the 5th Dynasty (1996-2003):

Babe Ruth: 15 seasons, Hall of Fame, 2-time All-Star, 7 Pennants, 4 World Series.

Lou Gehrig: 14 full seasons, Hall of Fame, 6-time All-Star, 7 Pennants, 5 World Series.

Bill Dickey: 16 full seasons, Hall of Fame, 10-time All-Star, 8 Pennants, 7 World Series.

Lefty Gomez: 12 seasons, Hall of Fame, 7-time All-Star, 7 Pennants, 5 World Series.

Red Ruffing: 13 seasons, Hall of Fame, 6-time All-Star, 7 Pennants, 5 World Series.

Joe DiMaggio: 13 seasons, Hall of Fame, 13-time All-Star, 10 Pennants, 9 World Series.

Phil Rizzuto: 13 seasons, Hall of Fame, 5-time All-Star, 9 Pennants, 7 World Series.

Yogi Berra: 17 seasons, Hall of Fame, 15-time All-Star, 14 Pennants, 10 World Series.

Allie Reynolds: 8 seasons, 5-time All-Star, 5 Pennants, 5 World Series.

Whitey Ford: 15 seasons, Hall of Fame, 8-time All-Star, 11 Pennants, 6 World Series.

Mickey Mantle: 18 seasons, Hall of Fame, 16-time All-Star, 12 Pennants, 7 World Series.

Elston Howard: 13 seasons, 9-time All-Star, 9 Pennants, 4 World Series.

Roger Maris: 7 seasons, 3-time All-Star, 5 Pennants, 2 World Series.

Thurman Munson: 11 seasons, 5-time All-Star, 3 Pennants, 2 World Series, died while still active

Ron Guidry: 12 full seasons, 3-time All-Star, 4 Pennants, 2 World Series.

Willie Randolph: 13 seasons, 5-time All-Star, 4 Pennants, 2 World Series.

Reggie Jackson: 5 seasons, Hall of Fame, 5-time All-Star, 3 Pennants, 2 World Series.

Goose Gossage: 6 full seasons, Hall of Fame, 3-time All-Star, 2 Pennants, 1 World Series.

Don Mattingly: 12 full seasons, 6-time All-Star, no Pennants

Bernie Williams: 16 seasons, 5-time All-Star, 6 Pennants, 4 World Series.

Paul O'Neill, 9 seasons, 4-time All-Star, 5 Pennants, 4 World Series.

Derek Jeter: 20 seasons, almost certainly Hall of Fame, 14-time All-Star, 7 Pennants, 5 World Series.

Mariano Rivera: 19 seasons, almost certainly Hall of Fame, 12-time All-Star, 7 Pennants, 5 World Series.

Andy Pettitte, 15 seasons, should be Hall of Fame, 3-time All-Star, 7 Pennants, 5 World Series.

Jorge Posada, 15 full seasons, 5-time All-Star, 6 Pennants, 4 World Series.

Tino Martinez: 7 seasons, 1-time All-Star, 5 Pennants, 4 World Series.

So: What commonalities can we see here?

* 12 of the 26 are in the Hall of Fame. 2 more almost certainly will be, and another should be. Posada is not one of them, and, unless he becomes a title-winning manager, he never will be -- and, even then, he'd be elected as a manager, not a player, so he wouldn't qualify on this one.
* 20 of the 26 played at least 10 full seasons with the Yankees. 10 of them played at least 15 full seasons. Posada is one of them.
* All but 1 (Mattingly) won at least 3 Pennants. 20 of the 26 won at least 5 Pennants. Posada is one of them.
* All but 1 (Mattingly) won at least 1 World Series. 19 of the 26 won at least 4 World Series. Posada is one of them.
* Aside from Tino, and the Babe (the All-Star Game didn't start until he was 38), they all made at least 3 All-Star Teams. 19 of the 26 made at least 5. Posada is one of them.

8 of the 26 were pitchers. Of the other 18...

* 12 of the 18 batted at least .280 over the course of their Yankee tenures. 7 were over .300. Posada is not one of either group.
* 14 of the 18 had an on-base percentage of at least .350. Posada is one of them. 7 were over .375. Posada is not one of them.
* 13 of the 18 had a slugging percentage of at least .450. Posada is one of them. 6 were over .500. Posada is not one of them.
* 13 of the 18 had at least 1,500 hits as a Yankee. Posada is one of them.
* 11 of the 18 had at least 200 home runs. 8 had at least 250. 7 had at least 275. Posada is one of each of them.
* 10 of the 18 had at least 1,000 RBIs. Posada is one of them.

That's 11 categories. Posada fits 9 of them. How fit for Monument Park does he look now?

Let me put it another way. The one guy in Monument Park who was never part of a Pennant winner was Don Mattingly. How many of the 11 categories does he fit? 8. Or, 1 fewer than Posada.

*

"But wait, Uncle Mike," you might say, "Mattingly at least carried the club through a drought period, holding high the torch when all the other lights went out."

Okay, then, by that standard, why not have Plaques for Willie Keeler (who is, at least, in the Baseball Hall of Fame) and Bobby Murcer (who did, as an aging reserve, play on a Pennant winner, and also gave us 25 years of broadcasting)?

Or, to put it another way: Which other hitters, in Yankee history, meet 9 of those 11 categories, thus at least matching Posada? (Remember, I'm not counting pitchers, because Posada wasn't one.)

* Hall of Fame: Willie Keeler, Frank "Home Run" Baker, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, Joe Gordon, Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Wade Boggs. Of those, Keeler, Baker, Mize, Slaughter, Henderson and Boggs had their best years elsewhere, but Mize and Slaughter would not be in the Hall without their Yankee contributions. (Presuming, that is, that Winfield, whose best years were with the Yankees, would have been at least as good if he'd played those seasons with another team.) Also pitchers Clark Griffith, Jack Chesbro, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock and Catfish Hunter.

* At least 10 full seasons as a Yankee: Lazzeri, Combs, Gordon, Wally Pipp, Bob Meusel, Red Rolfe, Frank Crosetti, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller, Hank Bauer, Gil McDougald, Bobby Richardson, Clete Boyer, Horace Clarke, Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Graig Nettles, Lou Piniella, and, if he plays so much as 1 game in 2015, Alex Rodriguez. (As far as I know, I haven't missed anybody. Winfield missed a season due to injury, or else he'd be in this category as well.)

* At least 3 Pennants: Pipp, Meusel, Lazzeri, Combs, Rolfe, Crosetti, Henrich, Gordon, Keller, Bauer, Mize, McDougald, Richardson, Slaughter, Boyer, White, Nettles, Piniella, Randolph, Aaron Ward, Everett Scott, Joe Dugan, Wally Schang, Mark Koenig, Benny Bengough, Mike Gazella, Pat Collins, Jack Saltzgaver, Ben Chapman, Ben Paschal, George Selkirk, Jake Powell, Myril Hoag, Arndt Jorgens, Babe Dahlgren, Buddy Rosar, Johnny Lindell, Billy Johnson, George "Snuffy" Stirnweiss, Bobby Brown, Jerry Coleman, Charlie Silvera, Cliff Mapes, Gene Woodling, Billy Martin (as a player), Ralph Houk, Joe Collins, Johnny Hopp, Jackie Jensen, Hank Johnson, Myles Thomas, Artie Wilson, Joe Glenn, Andy Carey, Irv Noren, Bill "Moose" Skowron, Bob Cerv, Tony Kubek, Johnny Blanchard, Hector Lopez, Tom Tresh, Jack Reed, Duke Maas, Joe Pepitone, Chris Chambliss, Mickey Rivers, Fran Healy, Fred Stanley, Mickey Klutts, Bucky Dent, Darryl Strawberry, Luis Sojo, Jim Leyritz, Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius, Shane Spencer, Ricky Ledee, Clay Bellinger and Alfonso Soriano.

* At least 1 World Series: Um, let's just make it simple and say all of those guys. Plus Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner and, um, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, and Robinson Cano.

* At least 3 All-Star Teams: Rolfe, Chapman, Gordon, Henrich, Keller, Bauer, McDougald, Skowron, Richardson, Kubek, Tresh, Pepitone, Murcer, Nettles, Winfield, Henderson, Boggs, A-Rod, Cano and Jason Giambi.

* Batted at least .280: Keeler, Baker, Pipp, Schang, Meusel, Dugan, Combs, Lazzeri, Koenig, Rolfe, Chapman, Selkirk, Henrich, Keller, Woodling, Skowron, Piniella, Chambliss, Winfield, Henderson, Boggs, Matsui, A-Rod, Cano, Damon, Hal Chase, Birdie Cree, Sammy Byrd, Ken Griffey Sr.

* OBP at least .350: Schang, Cree, Meusel, Combs, Lazzeri, Byrd, Rolfe, Chapman, Selkirk, Henrich, Gordon, Keller, Stirnweiss, Woodling, Joe Collins, McDougald, White, Winfield, Henderson, Leyritz, Boggs, Knoblauch, Giambi, Matsui, A-Rod, Cano, Damon, Topsy Hartzell, Nick Etten, Bobby Brown, Oscar Gamble, Nick Swisher.

* SLG at least .450: Meusel, Combs, Lazzeri, Chapman, Selkirk, Henrich, Gordon, Keller, Skowron, Murcer, Gamble, Winfield, Henderson, Soriano, Giambi, Matsui, A-Rod, Cano, Damon, Teixeira, Swisher, Curtis Granderson.

* At least 1,500 hits: Pipp, Meusel, Combs, Lazzeri, Crosetti, White, Cano.

* At least 200 home runs: Nettles, Winfield, Giambi, A-Rod, Cano.

* At least 1,000 RBIs: Just Meusel and Lazzeri among those not yet in Monument Park.

So how many other Yankee hitters fit at least 9 of the 11 categories, as Posada does? 1: Lazzeri.

How many others fit 8 of the 11, as Mattingly does? 2: Meusel and Combs.

No, not Murcer, not Winfield, not A-Rod.

*

"But wait, Uncle Mike," you might say, "Posada was a horrible defensive catcher!"

I think you have him confused with the bum across town, in aptly-named Flushing. Posada was a good defensive catcher. No, he wasn't Thurman Munson, and I'm not going to, as Sparky Anderson would say, "embarrass" him by comparing him to Johnny Bench. But he was better behind the plate than Mike "Bacne" Piazza. He was a better pitch-caller and a better thrower.

He was also capable of hitting to the opposite field from both sides of the plate. Show me another catcher in the history of the game who could do that. And he was far better at hitting in the clutch than Piazza, the alleged "best-hitting catcher in the history of baseball."

If Piazza is at the plate on the glorious night of October 16, 2003, against even a tiring Pedro Martinez, you think those tying runs get home? Go home, you're drunk. If Pedro had done to Piazza what he did to Posada -- threaten to hit him in the head with a pitch just 5 days earlier -- Piazza, remembering his encounters with Roger Clemens, would have folded like a lawn chair. With Posada, those runs came home. Posada had courage. Guts. Bottle.

Jorge Posada did everything we ask a Yankee to do: Hit well, field well, and win.

He belongs in Monument Park.

He also raises a lot of money for charity.

He also got Laura to marry him. There's no Hall of Fame for that sort of thing, but any rock star as homely who married a woman so spectacular (there are a few, but not many) would tip his hat to him.

Yes, retiring his number might be a bit excessive, simply because the Yankees have retired so many. But Jorge Posada definitely belongs in Monument Park.

Anybody who says otherwise is free to offer an argument, but had better bring evidence at least as strong as I've provided in his favor.

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