No professional North American sports franchise has retired more uniform numbers than the Yankees, who proudly display 21 numerals in Yankee Stadium to honor 22 of their most illustrious players and managers. It speaks to the rich tapestry of their history that there are arguments to be made about taking more out of circulation.
When the Yankees retired Derek Jeter’s No. 2 in May 2017, all of the Bombers’ single digits had been officially shelved, with the exception of No. 0 (currently used by pitcher Adam Ottavino). The NBA’s Boston Celtics have also retired 22 numbers, honoring 22 players, while the NFL’s Chicago Bears (14) and the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens (15 numbers, honoring 18 players) pace their respective sports.
First, let’s take a stroll through Monument Park and revisit the roster of Bombers greats:
Billy Martin (No. 1), Jeter (No. 2), Babe Ruth (No. 3), Lou Gehrig (No. 4), Joe DiMaggio (No. 5), Joe Torre (No. 6), Mickey Mantle (No. 7), Yogi Berra (No. 8), Bill Dickey (No. 8), Roger Maris (No. 9), Phil Rizzuto (No. 10), Thurman Munson (No. 15), Whitey Ford (No. 16), Jorge Posada (No. 20), Don Mattingly (No. 23), Elston Howard (No. 32), Casey Stengel (No. 37), Mariano Rivera (No. 42), Reggie Jackson (No. 44), Andy Pettitte (No. 46), Ron Guidry (No. 49) and Bernie Williams (No. 51).
The Yankees do not divulge the criteria for players to have their numbers retired, but a club spokesperson told MLB.com that “a committee of veteran Yankees executives” are tasked with reviewing potential candidates. Using the previous names as our benchmarks, here’s a rundown of some stars who may someday see their digits beyond the center-field wall in The Bronx.
No. 9 -- Graig Nettles
For 11 seasons from 1973-83, the power-hitting, slick-fielding Nettles was among the American League’s premier third basemen, helping the Yanks win back-to-back World Series titles (1977 and ’78) while winning a pair of Gold Glove Awards and earning five All-Star selections.
Maris was wearing No. 9 when he shattered Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961, but the number was passed around the Yankees’ clubhouse until 1984, by which time Nettles was with the Padres. Because no future Bombers will wear No. 9, why not co-retire it for Maris and Nettles, as the Yankees did with Berra and Dickey?
No. 11 -- Brett Gardner
It is becoming rare for a player to spend his entire career in one uniform, something that Gardner has spoken frequently about his desire to achieve. The longest-tenured Yankee, Gardner has been a mainstay in pinstripes since 2008 and hopes to continue playing for a few more seasons.
His 267 stolen bases rank third in franchise history behind Jeter (358) and Rickey Henderson (326), though Gardner’s other appearances near the top of the franchise’s leaderboards are limited to triples (68, 12th all-time) and hit-by-pitches (63, seventh).
No. 13 -- Alex Rodriguez
The top seven Yankees in career fWAR already have their numbers retired -- Ruth (149.9), Gehrig (116.3), Mantle (112.3), DiMaggio (83.1), Jeter (73.1), Berra (63.8) and Dickey (56.1). Next up on the list is A-Rod (51.7), who tallied 351 homers and 1,096 RBIs over a dozen seasons with the Yanks from 2004-16.
Rodriguez’s 696 career homers rank fourth all-time, and he is seemingly back in the good graces of the club after his 2013 performance-enhancing-drug suspension. It’s interesting that the club has not issued No. 13 since Rodriguez’s retirement, but they’ll likely wait to see how voters tackle his pending candidacy for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
No. 21 -- Paul O’Neill
In 2017, the Yankees traded for veteran third baseman Todd Frazier, who had worn No. 21 during previous stops with the Reds and White Sox. Though he said that he was a fan of O’Neill’s while growing up in Toms River, N.J., Frazier received a frosty reaction after voicing desire for the number, settling instead for No. 29. O’Neill received a Monument Park plaque in 2014, but the club did not retire his number.
Even so, Yankees fans have unofficially retired No. 21 for “The Warrior,” who starred in right field from 1993-2001 and remains a popular presence on the club’s YES Network broadcasts. In 2008, the Yankees issued the number to infielder Morgan Ensberg during Spring Training and to reliever LaTroy Hawkins early in the regular season. However, neither player wanted to keep it, citing fan backlash.
No. 30 -- Willie Randolph
There is a solid case to be made regarding Randolph, who was one of the top second basemen in franchise history and wore the pinstripes with pride from 1976-88. Though Randolph received a Monument Park plaque in 2015, his uniform number has been worn by 10 players since (Thairo Estrada and Edwin Encarnación used it last season).
A six-time All-Star, Randolph’s 51.4 fWAR ranks ninth among all-time Yanks, ahead of Williams (43.9), Rizzuto (41.3), Munson (40.9) and Mattingly (40.7), among others. Randolph also served the Yankees well as a co-captain with Guidry from 1986-88 and as a coach on the dynasty clubs that won four World Series titles from 1996-2000.
No. 35 -- Mike Mussina
A member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019, Mussina compiled a 123-72 record and 3.88 ERA over eight seasons with the Yankees from 2001-08, excelling during a period of offensive explosion.
Mussina’s number has not been retired by either the Yankees or his original team, the Orioles, though Baltimore inducted “Moose” into its Hall of Fame in 2012. Mussina himself had such difficulty deciding where his allegiances lie that his Cooperstown plaque displays a blank cap. As such, it seems unlikely that No. 35 will be shelved by the Yanks. Chance Adams and Cory Gearrin wore it in 2019.
No. 52 -- CC Sabathia
Sabathia will be remembered as one of the top hurlers of his generation, compiling a lifetime record of 251-161 with a 3.74 ERA over a 19-year Major League career that concluded last season. Signed as a free agent prior to the ’09 campaign, Sabathia helped inaugurate the new Yankee Stadium with a World Series championship, beginning an 11-year run in pinstripes during which the big lefty went 134-88 with a 3.81 ERA in 307 games (306 starts). Sabathia recorded 1,700 of his 3,093 career strikeouts in a Yankees uniform, 16th all-time and third among lefties.
Only Pettitte (2,020), Ford (1,956) and Guidry (1,778) have more strikeouts among Yanks hurlers. A fierce competitor who was viewed as a lovable teddy bear by his teammates, Sabathia is now in the club’s front office as a special advisor to general manager Brian Cashman. He figures to be a safe bet to see Monument Park before long.
No. 99 -- Aaron Judge
Too soon, you say? Sure, but because the Yankees unveiled "The Judge’s Chambers" seating area one month into Judge’s first full campaign … let’s just say that nothing seems impossible concerning one of the game’s most prominent stars. If Judge can remain healthy (no guarantee, as he has missed 110 regular-season games over the last two years), he could claim a place among the top sluggers of his generation.
Over his brief Major League career, Judge has compiled a slash line of .273/.394/.558, mashing 110 homers and driving in 246 runs. Those three-plus years have seen Judge produce an OPS+ of 151 -- and for comparison purposes, only five Yankees have achieved that over a minimum of 500 games. Four have their numbers retired: Ruth (209), Gehrig (179), Mantle (172) and DiMaggio (155). Charlie Keller (152) is the outlier.