By Father Gabe Costa
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In truth, there are really only two venerable ballparks left: Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Talk about traditions!
In some corners of the Yankee Universe, there are those who still weep at the destruction of the fabled House That Ruth Built” which occurred less than a decade ago. It is true that the Bronx Bombers moved just across the street and the games are played in what is still called Yankee Stadium, yet neither the Babe, Lou, Joe nor Mickey ever trod on that turf.
To some, it’s just not the same.
Babe Ruth hit the first home run at the old Yankee Stadium on opening day in 1923. And it was there, three years later, that Grover Cleveland Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri in the seventh game of the World Series. A year after that, The Sultan of Swat hit home run No. 60 in his house.
It was there that Lou Gehrig grew up and a young Joe DiMaggio graced center field.
The old ballpark in the South Bronx was the scene of Don Larsen’s perfect game, Mickey Mantle’s towering assault on the facade in right field, Roger Maris’ 61st home run and Reggie Jackson’s World Series heroics (new building, same field).
And it was there, on those hallowed grounds in 1939, that Gehrig made his famous “luckiest man” speech. The Iron Horse’s No. 4 was retired that year, beginning the tradition of retiring numbers to honor players.
Nine years later, a dying Ruth had his number retired. The classic picture (by Pulitzer Prize winner Nat Fein) of Ruth’s back — with that perfect No. 3 — against the backdrop of Yankee Stadium ranks with the most famous sports photos of all time.
The tradition would continue and, in time, DiMaggio (5) and Mantle (7) had their numbers retired.
A quartet of retired numbers! There are, perhaps, some Yankees traditionalists who feel that these four immortals comprised the only “Core Four” in Yankee history, and that no other numbers could be/should be retired.
On the other hand, many strongly endorse the following numbers: No. 8 for Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra; No. 16 for Whitey Ford; No. 32 for Elston Howard; No. 42 for Mariano Rivera (and Jackie Robinson). And how could Derek Jeter’s No. 2 possibly be kept off the list?
As of this writing, the other retired Yankees numbers are:
• Billy Martin (1)
• Joe Torre (6)
• Roger Maris (9)
• Phil Rizzuto (10)
• Thurman Munson (15)
• Don Mattingly (23)
• Casey Stengel (37)
• Reggie Jackson (44)
• Ron Guidry (49)
That’s an awful lot, and where does one draw the line? Either a retired number is something special or it’s not.
To add to the mix, later on this year the Yankees will retire the numbers of Jorge Posada (20), Andy Pettitte (46) and Bernie Williams (51). This will bring the number of retired numbers to nearly two dozen.
My own feeling is that Nos. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 16, 32 and 42 are enough. And, yes, No. 2 as well. Nine numbers for 27 championships sounds about right. Call them the “Divine Nine.”
No one admired Billy Martin’s love of the Yankees more than I did, but his number should not be retired. And why retire Casey Stengel and Joe Torre’s numbers if Joe McCarthy’s number is not also enshrined?
The ill-fated Thurman Munson was gritty and scrappy — a true Yankee — but I do not believe his number should be retired. The same is true of Donnie Baseball. They were great players — All-Stars, but not immortals. Neither was Roger Maris.
The Scooter, Phil Rizzuto, was the greatest shortstop in Yankees history — with the exception of Jeter — but he does not belong in the pantheon of Yankees.
Reggie Jackson was “Mr. October, ”but he donned the pinstripes for only five years. If you retire his No. 44, then why not the numbers of Tommy Henrich and Charlie Keller?
And if you retire Guidry’s No. 49, why not the numbers of Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat?
What’s in a number? Jorge, Andy and Bernie were part of the Core Five, along with Derek and Mariano. They were great, money players, but I just don’t see Posada, Pettitte or Williams with the Divine Nine.
Soon enough, all nine one-digit numerals will be retired. And while it is mathematically true that we will never run out of positive integers, to make matters a bit easier we could consider other numbers between one and nine.
“What other numbers?” you might ask. Well, it might be fun to see players with the following numerical identifications:
After all, what’s in a number?