By Sweeny Murti
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This summer the Yankees will honor Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez with plaques in Monument Park. Both were excellent players and popular figures on the late 1990s Yankees dynasty teams. They deserve the admiration and respect they have been given throughout the years.
But, for me, Monument Park is reserved for the elite Yankees, ones with Hall of Fame resumes or, in the cases of Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly, almost mythic status. O’Neill and Martinez will enjoy wonderful days this summer when they are honored. But if they are being recognized for their vital contributions to a Yankees dynasty, then I think we have to start opening the door to countless more players who could be considered Yankees greats.
We could add dozens more names if we wanted to, and maybe we will. But I’d like to start with two — Willie Randolph and Graig Nettles.
Randolph and Nettles were part of the rebirth of the Yankees dynasty, much like O’Neill and Martinez were. Neither was a homegrown Yankee (drafted and developed through the minors by the organization), but then again O’Neill and Martinez weren’t either. But like O’Neill and Martinez, they played the bulk of their careers in pinstripes and became identified as Yankees first and foremost.
Randolph was a five-time All-Star at second base, starting four times. He helped lead the Yankees to four American League pennants (1976-78, ’81) and two World Series championships in 1977 and ’78. Randolph is in the top 15 in franchise history in games, hits, runs and stolen bases (third place in steals behind only Derek Jeter and Rickey Henderson).
Nettles was a five-time All-Star at third base, starting twice. Nettles won two Gold Glove Awards and helped the Yankees to those same four AL Pennants (MVP of the 1981 ALCS) and two World Series championships (with highlight-reel defensive plays in the ’78 series). Nettles led the AL in home runs in 1976 and finished in the top six in MVP voting in 1977 and ’78. He finished his career sixth on the Yankees’ all-time home run list, and still sits in 10th place.
Beyond that, how many remember that both men actually held the coveted title of Yankees captain? Nettles was team captain from 1982-83, and Randolph was co-captain along with Ron Guidry from 1986-88. We know that Jeter is headed to Monument Park, and when he does it will mean that every Yankees captain since Lou Gehrig will be represented there, with two exceptions — Randolph and Nettles.
I’m not suggesting retiring numbers. The Yankees already have too many of those to begin with. And perhaps with O’Neill’s plaque secure, No. 21 will finally be handed out and fans won’t torture the man wearing it like they did LaTroy Hawkins in 2008 (who wanted No. 21 to honor Roberto Clemente, by the way).
But the plaques to honor O’Neill and Martinez are clearly designed to appeal to a fan base nostalgic for the ‘90s. There is just as big a fan base nostalgic for the ‘70s, and that should be represented too. Goose Gossage, a Hall of Famer since 2008, will finally be honored this year with a plaque.
The last Yankees dynasty will be well-represented in Monument Park, with Joe Torre’s No. 6 retired in ceremonies this year, separate from O’Neill and Martinez. Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte will surely join Mariano Rivera and Jeter there in time.
But by the standards that are now set for inclusion among the Yankees greats, there are plenty of names from the past that should stand alongside the rest — Tommy Henrich, Hank Bauer, Bobby Richardson, Roy White and David Cone, to name but a few.
Let’s start by campaigning for these two — former Yankee captains Randolph and Nettles.
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