Baseball players have long been a superstitious bunch: don't step on the foul lines, don't talk to the pitcher during a no-hitter, keep your routine, eat your chicken before every game, virtually every action Turk Wendell ever took, etc.
So given triskaidekaphobia, fear of the the number 13, it's no surprise that the Yankees had been wearing uniform numbers for more than eight full seasons when rookie Spud Chandler became the first to wear it in 1937 . Even at that, it was one of three different numbers Chandler wore that year. The next year, journeyman Lee Stine wore it, and despite appearing in only four games, he too managed to wear two different uniform numbers during that time.
It would be ten years before the number was worn again, this time by rookie outfielder Cliff Mapes. He had begun the year wearing number 3, the eighth and final Yankee to wear the number after Babe Ruth. But with the Babe being terminally ill, the Yankees retired his former number on June 18th. Only then did Mapes switch to number 13, and by 1949 he had switched to number 7, perhaps making him the only man to share uniform numbers with not one but two different Yankee legends.
The number didn't emerge again until 1970. It was worn by Curt Blefary for a season and a half, then after a two year break, by Walt "No Neck" Williams for two more. It went back into the mothballs for five years, until bit players Bobby Brown and Keith Smith wore it for two seasons each, amassing just 174 games between them. Through 57 seasons of numbered Yankee uniforms, 13 had been worn sparingly by just eight men who either couldn't get rid of the number fast enough or whom the club couldn't rid themselves of fast enough.
In mid-1984 the Yankees recalled Mike Pagliarulo from Columbus. Issued the same number Don Mattingly wore in his first two seasons, 46, Pags quickly established himself as the starting third baseman. For 1985 he switched to number 6 and slugged 19 home runs in his first full season.
The following year, Roy White rejoined the coaching staff. He had worn number 6 for the final eleven years of his playing career, as well as during his previous stint as a Yankee coach. Pags relinquished his number to White, and donned the seemingly unwanted number 13. He went on to hit 28 home runs that year, then led the team with 32 in homer happy 1987. Elbow injuries soon began to sap him of his power at the plate and his arm strength in the field, and he was traded to San Diego in mid-1989.
Pags was a fan favorite during his five years manning the hot corner for the Yankees. He was the first Yankee to wear the supposedly cursed number for any extended period, but has since been surpassed by another third baseman as the most successful Bronx Bomber to don the number. Pagliarulo was kind enough to agree to an interview with us last summer. You can revisit it here and here.