Saturday, February 6, 2010

More On Yankee Numbers

A special Saturday good morning Fackers. After today we'll have just ten days left in our Countdown to Spring Training, meaning we'll be sixty percent of the way through the countdown that started back when there were twenty five days to go.

We'll have today's posts a little later on. But as we start off this morning I wanted to give a big tip of the hat to the awesome The site is a comprehensive source on the history of Yankee numbers, for players, coaches, and managers alike. It's a cool place to go to kill some time when you're bored and it's been a great resource for Jay and me as we go through the countdown.

One of the interesting things to note in looking through the site is that when uniform numbers were first introduced that weren't really utilized in the ways we're accustomed to now. These days, a player's number is part of his identity. For the bigger names in the game, their numbers can become synonymous with their names. But when the Yankees first introduced permanent numbers in 1929, they served a different purposes.

In the days when the game was brought to the public almost exclusively through print, in the infancy of radio, and long before the existence of TV, cable, internet, Extra Innings, and, the fans in the park knew far less about who was whom on the field, particularly for the visiting team. Adding numbers to the uniforms helped in identifying the players. As well all know, the Yankees issued their numbers based on the batting order: Earle Combs was number one, Mark Koenig two, Babe Ruth three, Lou Gehrig four and so on. While this worked well for the regulars, it was a bit more nebulous for pitchers and reserves.

As such, the concept of a number "belonging" to a player hadn't yet been established. If the batting order changed from year to year, or if players worked their way from the bench to the starting line up, the players' numbers changed. Later on, when players went off to World War II, in their absence their numbers were issued to new players. With the exception of the unique and tragic circumstances surrounding Lou Gehrig, the Yankees didn't retire anyone's number until Babe Ruth in 1948.

Thus, uniform numbers were very fungible until the 1950s. Top players like Tony Lazzeri and Herb Pennock switched numbers multiple times in the early thirties. Established veterans like Charlie Keller, Tommy Henrich, and several others wore multiple numbers over the course of their careers, compounded by their numbers being reissued during their service in the second World War. As a result, when we look at candidates for posts for a given day in the countdown, we often several deserving candidates, but find it difficult in some cases to determine which number best represents a given player.

Even the legends aren't immune to this. The great DiMaggio saw his number five reissued during his military service. Players like DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Billy Martin, and Mickey Mantle all broke in wearing one number, only to be immortalized in Monument Park wearing another. Eight different players wore Babe Ruth's number three between his release after the 1934 season and his number retirement in 1948.

One interesting thing I came across in researching the Gil McDougald post is that while he held number 12 for the entirety of his career, from 1951 through 1960, a player by the name of Woodie Held is also listed as wearing number 12 in 1957. At no point was McDougald out for more than a few games in '57, and he wasn't sent down at any point. So how could two players have had the same number? Checking Held's gamelog, he appeared in just one game before getting traded to Kansas City. The game was on May 8th, and while Held pinch hit in the ninth, McDougald played the whole game. Could two Yankees have worn the same number in the same game? I don't know, but these are the mysteries one can find when poking around


  1. Thanks for the mention...and for the compliments on the site. However, I come to you head hung in shame regarding Gil McDougald and Woodie Held in 1957. Turns out, they didn't share a number in 1957 and Woodie Held only wore #27. I used several sources when putting together the database and as it turns out, the original source I used on this one ( was incorrect.

    After reading your post, I confirmed the #27 with two other sources and coupled with the logic you provided, made the correction. Bobby Del Greco also wore #27 in 1957, but a look at their game logs shows their playing time did not overlap.

    Not to make excuses, but I do make a sort of disclaimer on the website that it's not 100% complete. Mostly because some of the older information seems vary from source to source. I've found many times, some sources list the spring training number rather than the regular season number, which is what I think happened with the Woodie Held number. It seems in the past that there might have been several guys running around spring training with the same numbers! You think it's confusing now trying to figure out who #85 is...try figuring out which #22 (for example) you might have been watching.

    This is an area where fans have been a great help in pointing out inaccuracies. Not all of them are so old however. A constant question I keep getting is from people swearing Jack Clark wore #21 in 1988. This seems to be another case of a spring training number lodged in people's memories. That same site that listed Woodie Held as #12 in 1957 also claims Clark wore #6, #21 and #33 in 1988. However, all sources agree Jose Cruz and Ken Phelps only wore #21 in 1988. Cruz started the season with the Yankees, but was released after Ken Phelps was acquired on July 21st. Phelps not only took Cruz' roster spot, but his #21. Since that covers the start of the season until the end, there really was no time for Clark to have worn #21.

    Thank you for pointing out the McDougald/Held anomaly as I strive to keep the website as accurate as possible. It's a good thing the Yankee fans are so loyal and surprisingly, there are plenty who are REALLY into the uniform numbers. They've been a great help.

    Keep up the good work with one of the best Yankee blogs out there and one of the very few I check regularly.

  2. Mr. Sparkle,

    Thanks for coming by to comment. No worries about the error - and please know that in no way was I attempting to call you out on it.

    I can't imagine how difficult it would be to track the numbers of thousands of players over eighty years of Yankee history with any degree of accuracy. Plus, as I mentioned, I think our modern concept of a player sort of "owning" a number doesn't really reflect how things were for the first twenty or thirty years. And that can only make it all the more difficult.

    I think you have the Jack Clark thing exactly right. He wore #21 in Spring Training, started the year with #33, and switched to #6 after Clete Boyer left the coaching staff when Billy Martin was fired. Cruz I think wore a number in the 80s during ST as he was a non roster invitee.

    Thanks for coming by to clear that up, for the compliments, and for the excellent work at your site. It really is a great resource.