Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rethinking Monument Park

In the wake of Derek Jeter Night, the argument has been made again: The Yankees have "devalued" the retirements of uniform numbers and Monument Park.

There is a point to be made. After all, there are only 99 uniform numbers -- 101, if you count 0 and 00, neither of which the Yankees have ever given out.

And, as no less an authority as Whitey Ford has said, "There really should be only 4 retired numbers, and mine's not one of them." He meant Babe Ruth's 3, Lou Gehrig's 4, Joe DiMaggio's 5 and Mickey Mantle's 7.

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In my opinion, we should reduce the retired numbers -- but increase the Plaques:

* Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra were selected for not just the Baseball Hall of Fame, but for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999. It wasn't just Yankee Fans voting on that, it was fans of all teams. So, keep their numbers packed away: 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8.

* Like Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle, Derek Jeter was the symbol of an entire era of greatness. So, leave his 2 retired.

* The greatest of all Yankee pitchers should have his number retired. But was that Whitey Ford, 16? Or Mariano Rivera, 42? Tough call. One is the winningest pitcher in both Yankee and World Series history. The other is the greatest relief pitcher who ever lived. Leave both retired. And 42 is retired anyway, because of the universal retirement of it for Jackie Robinson.

* Do managers also deserve the honor? For Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy, this is not an issue. Hug died just as the Yankees were debuting numbers in 1929, and didn't wear one. Marse Joe managed in the major leagues until 1950, and never wore a number. He can be seen in the film footage of Lou Gehrig Day in 1939, turning his back to the camera, and he was not wearing a number.

* Casey Stengel won 10 Pennants; Joe Torre, 6. Each was the greatest manager of his era. Keep Casey's 37 and Joe's 6 out.

* But Billy Martin was an average player who was occasionally great when it counted; and a very good manager, but not on the Stengel or Torre level. He did not deserve to get his 1 retired. Ralph Houk did more, and his 35 remains available.

* Is there a case to be made for the retirement of any other number? I say, No. Thurman Munson died while still the Yankee Captain, so his was a special case. So I can see keeping his 15 packed away.

* Likewise, Elston Howard was the 1st black Yankee, and a major part of the 1955-64 dynasty. His 32 remains unavailable.

* One more example: For his 57 years of active service as a player and a broadcaster, leave out the 10 of Phil Rizzuto.

* But Martin's 1, Roger Maris' 9, Jorge Posada's 20, Don Mattingly's 23, Reggie Jackson's 44, Andy Pettitte's 46, Ron Guidry's 49, Bernie Williams' 51, and the unofficial retirement of Paul O'Neill's 21, should not be. And, as great as Bill Dickey was, he does not mean to Yankee history what Yogi was, so 8 should not be retired for both of them. If all of those numbers were to be "unofficially retired," they could still be given out.

You'll notice I've blasphemed the Cult of St. Donald Arthur of Evansville. True. But I've also excluded my favorite player of all time, Mr. October. He's in the Hall of Fame? Yes, but so are several other Yankees who don't even have Plaques. He's got 500 home runs? Yes, but so does Alex Rodriguez, who doesn't yet have a Plaque. A-Rod also has 3,000 hits, as do Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Wade Boggs, and they don't have Plaques, either.

Reggie deserves a Plaque. But the retirement of his number? Well, he deserves it more than Mattingly, who never even won a postseason series.

So were are down to 13 uniform numbers that should be retired by the Yankees:

2 Derek Jeter
3 Babe Ruth
4 Lou Gehrig
5 Joe DiMaggio
6 Joe Torre
7 Mickey Mantle
8 Yogi Berra
10 Phil Rizzuto
15 Thurman Munson
16 Whitey Ford
32 Elston Howard
37 Casey Stengel
42 Mariano Rivera

With single digits 1, 8 and 9 again available.

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Of all the figures who are actually in Monument Park, are there any who do not deserve it? Let's leave aside, for the moment, the special honors, like for the Masses delivered by 3 Popes, and the tributes to the 9/11 victims and responders, and to Nelson Mandela for his civil rights rally at The Stadium in 1990. Those Plaques are more to do with Yankee Stadium itself than with the Yankees. Frankly, I'm surprised there's not a tribute to Joe Louis' 1938 knockout of Max Schmeling, shattering the Nazi doctrine of Aryan supremacy.

Let's look at it by era:

* Pre-Dynasty, 1903 to 1919: None. Clark Griffith, Willie Keeler,Jack Chesbro are in the Hall of Fame. But none contributed to a Yankee Pennant. Frank "Home Run" Baker is in the Hall, and contributed to the Yankees' 1st 2 Pennants, but retired before he could be a part of the 1st World Series win in 1923. All great players (Griffith was the team's 1st manager, and was still a decent pitcher the 1st couple of seasons), but none has a Plaque, and we should keep it that way.

* 1st Dynasty, 1920 to 1935: Ruth, Gehrig, Huggins, owner Jacob Ruppert, and general manager Ed Barrow. No question about any of those.

Anyone overlooked? Tony Lazzeri is in the Hall of Fame. He belongs. Joe Sewell closed a Hall of Fame career with the Yankees, but it was only his last 3 seasons. No, not him.

No pitchers from this period are honored, although there were 2 who began late in this era, but are more identified with the next one. Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock are in the Hall of Fame. Hoyt was also a New York native.

Pennock, however, has a rather nasty coda to his baseball career: When he died, he was the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, and backed his players up when they hurled racist taunts at Jackie Robinson the year before, and said the Phillies would never sign a black player. They did turn out to be the last National League team to sign one. No, he doesn't get a Plaque. But Lazzeri and Hoyt should.

Total honorees now: 5. Should be: 7.

* 2nd Dynasty, 1936 to 1948: DiMaggio, Dickey, Rizzuto, manager McCarthy, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing (the 2 pitchers I referred to in the previous entry), and broadcaster Mel Allen. All justified.

Anyone overlooked? Joe Gordon is now rightly in the Hall of Fame. Tommy Henrich doesn't quite meet the Hall of Fame standard, but he was every bit as meaningful as a Yankee right fielder in his time as Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson and Paul O'Neill were in theirs. He deserves a Plaque. Spud Chandler was a good pitcher, occasionally fantastic, but he doesn't quite meet the threshold.

Total honorees now: 7. Should be: 9.

* 3rd Dynasty, 1949 to 1968 (not counting holdovers Rizzuto and Allen): Stengel, Mantle, Berra, Ford, Martin, Howard, Maris, Allie Reynolds, Mel Stottlemyre, and public-address announcer Bob Sheppard. Martin is honored mainly as a manager in the 4th Dynasty, so he really shouldn't be counted here; but the other 9 are all justified.

Anyone overlooked? If you honor Reynolds, then you should honor the other members of the Big Three: Eddie Lopat and Vic Raschi. It should be one Plaque honoring all 3: Separately, none of them is Hall-of-Fame-worthy; together, they provided devastating effect, and were, collectively, the biggest reason the Yankees won 5 straight World Series from 1949 to 1953. So, let's replace the single Reynolds Plaque with one for all of them.

What about Don Larsen? The Yankees honor Maris for "61 in '61," right? Why not also honor Larsen for his singular achievement? Because Maris won 5 Pennants and 2 World Series in 7 seasons, and was a big contributor to all of them. Larsen won 4 Pennants and 2 World Series in 5 seasons, but 1956 was his only really good season as a Yankee. Bucky Dent doesn't have a Plaque, and he didn't just have 1 great moment in October 1978, he was great for the entire postseason. No, not Larsen.

George Weiss? He and Barrow are arguably the 2 greatest GMs in baseball history. As Barrow's protege, and eventual successor, Weiss built the great Yankee farm system. But he was also nasty (like Barrow), cheap as hell (like Barrow), and, if not outright racist, then certainly elitist (with Barrow, the question never came up). Like Barrow, he's in the Hall of Fame; unlike Barrow, he doesn't yet have a Plaque. Tough call. I'm going to say, Yes.

Cy Young Award winners Bob Turley and Ralph Terry? Bullpen aces Joe Page and Luis Arroyo? First black Yankee pitcher Al Downing? Great pitchers at times, but not enough to get into Monument Park. Jim Bouton? He provided a great service to baseball, and was a better man than his critics, and, for a little while, mid-1962 through the 1964 World Series, was a very good pitcher. But... Monument Park? Take a hike, son.

Total honorees now: 9. Should be: 12.

* 4th Dynasty, 1969 to 1992 (not counting holdovers Sheppard and Rizzuto): Martin, Munson, Guidry, Jackson, Gossage, Mattingly, Willie Randolph, and owner George Steinbrenner. Hard to argue against any of those.

Anyone overlooked? Winfield, unlike Mattingly, at least won a Pennant in The Bronx. Henderson did not. So, Winfield yes, Henderson no. Bobby Murcer gave the Yankees 40 years of service as a player and a broadcaster. Let him in. If you discount A-Rod's achievements because of his PED use, then the greatest 3rd baseman in Yankee history is probably still Graig Nettles. And the contributions of pitchers Catfish Hunter at the start of games and Sparky Lyle and the end of them should be noted.

Total honorees now: 8. Should be: 13.

* 5th Dynasty, 1993 to 2016: Torre, Jeter, Rivera, Williams, O'Neill, Posada, Pettitte, and Tino Martinez. No, not all of them should have had their numbers retired -- and O'Neill's 21 is still theoretically available, and Gary Sanchez is wearing Tino's 24, just as Robinson Cano did. But they all deserve their Plaques.

Anyone overlooked? Gene Michael wasn't a very good player, and he wasn't a very good manager. But as the front-office man who brought the Yankees back from on-field mediocrity and cultural irrelevance after the mess Steinbrenner left in 1990, he is arguably a more important figure in Yankee history than Torre, Jeter and Rivera combined.

David Cone should be in. If he had been a Yankee for his entire career, this wouldn't even be debatable. Put his Met years and his Yankee years together, and he's one of the Top 10 pitchers in New York baseball history.

But were Boggs' 5 years in Pinstripes as important as, say, Reggie's 5 years? Not really. Despite Tim Raines finally having been elected to the Hall, I can't put him in, either. Jim Leyritz gave us some great moments, but, no.

Hideki Matsui? Yes, because his international impact adds to the 2 Pennants and the World Series MVP. Mark Teixeira? Maybe, but he did only win 1 Pennant. Johnny Damon? No: Very good career, almost Hall-worthy, but no Plaque for him. Cano? Big question mark. I can't yet say, Yes. Brett Gardner? He's not done yet, so he could get in here.

Alex Rodriguez? He calls himself "the pink elephant in the room." As a Yankee, he put up monster stats, won 2 MVP awards, hit his 500th and 600th career home runs, almost got to a 700th, and got his 3,000th career hit. And he reached 9 postseasons, and he was the biggest reason the Yankees won the 2009 World Series. But has any player, in any sport, in any country, ever embarrassed his team as much, and for as long, as A-Rod embarrassed the Yankees? It would be like CBS having a Monument Park, and inducting Charlie Sheen. If the Hall of Fame voters decide he's been punished enough, and let him in, then, Yes. Until then, No.

Joe Girardi? Right now, when you combine his playing and his managing, he's about where Billy Martin is -- albeit with the opposite problems, being too calm, and taking pitchers out too soon. I can't put him in yet -- of course, being still active, he shouldn't be considered yet, anyway.

As for pitchers: Jimmy Key, David Wells, Orlando Hernandez and, as far as the Yankees are concerned, Roger Clemens are all borderline cases (and that's even if you presume Clemens' achievements aren't tainted). If Mike Mussina had spent his entire career as a Yankee, he'd be in; but he spent only the 2nd half with the Yanks, so he's another borderline case. And while I love CC Sabathia, I can't really put him in.

Total honorees now: 8. Should be: 11.

Total honorees from all eras, now: 37. Should be: 52.

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Does that sound like a lot? Here's the MLB teams with the players in their current team Halls of Fame or Monument Park-like setup; or, if they don't have one, their retired numbers. In the case of the A's, 24 of their 30 are from their Philadelphia years, and were honored by Phillies, not the A's.

1. Boston Red Sox 86
2. Cincinnati Reds 86
3. Baltimore Orioles 76
4. Milwaukee Brewers 59
5. San Francisco Giants 54
6. Cleveland Indians 50
7. Philadelphia Phillies 39
8. St. Louis Cardinals 37
9. New York Yankees 37
10. Minnesota Twins 30
11. Oakland Athletics 30
12. Atlanta Braves 30
13. New York Mets 27
14. Kansas City Royals 26
15. Chicago Cubs 25
16. Texas Rangers 20
17. Pittsburgh Pirates 20
18. Los Angeles Angels 14
19. Detroit Tigers 14
20. San Diego Padres 13
21. Chicago White Sox 13
22. Houston Astros 11
23. Toronto Blue Jays 10
24. Los Angeles Dodgers 10
25. Seattle Mariners 9
26. Colorado Rockies 5
27. Washington Nationals 4
28. Arizona Diamondbacks 4
29. Tampa Bay Rays 2
30. Miami Marlins 2

Now, show it proportionally, and we'll see which teams are really overcrediting themselves, and which ones are short-changing their greats. Keep in mind: The Giants, Braves and Dodgers

count players from previous cities; but the Browns/Orioles, Senators/Twins, Senators/Rangers don't; while the A's and Expos/Nationals don't, but I have here, or else they'd be seriously shortchanged.

1 Milwaukee 0.80
2 Baltimore 0.83
3 Boston 1.35
4 Cincinnati 1.57
5 Kansas City 1.85
6 Minnesota  1.87
7 N.Y. Mets 2.04
8 Texas 2.25
9 Cleveland 2.32
10 San Francisco 2.48
11 N.Y. Yankees 3.08
12 Philadelphia  3.44
13 St. Louis 3.65
14 San Diego 3.69
15 Oakland 3.87
16 L.A. Angels 4.00
17 Toronto 4.00
18 Seattle 4.44
19 Arizona 4.75
20 Colorado 4.80
21 Atlanta 4.87
22 Houston 5.00
23 Chicago Cubs 5.65
24 Pittsburgh 6.75
25 Detroit 8.29
26 Chicago Sox 8.92
27 Tampa Bay  9.50
28 Washington 12.00
29 Miami  12.00
30 L.A. Dodgers 13.40

The Yankees don't sound like they're overcrediting now, do they?

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