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July 14 - Yankee Old Timer Numerology

One of my favorite days of the year is Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium.
I’ve been to maybe eight or nine of them, and have seen about a dozen
others on television. My first in person was in the early 1980's, at which
time I hadn’t seen any of the stars in their playing days but, as a young
student of the game, knew the records of most of them. Now, most of the
guys who actually participate in the game are players who I followed in
their primes (or, for the late 80’s Yankees, past their primes…).

I was there last week for the 59th Annual Old Timers’ Day in the Bronx. I
don’t think any other teams even bother doing Old Timers’ Days anymore, but I wonder why. Even when
Bucky Dent and Stump Merrill were leading the Yankees to 90-plus-loss seasons more than a decade
ago, the link to the past was always a special day. You would think the Tigers and Pirates would think
so, too.

A fun game my friends and I like to play during Old Timers’ Day batting practice is trying to identify the
players taking their hacks and the ones loosening up, usually by their uniform numbers (Where else
can you hear, “Hey! That’s #20, Horace Clarke!”). The Yankee uniforms sport bold navy blue numbers on
the back, but no name, of course. There might be four guys wearing the same number, but no true fan
would ever confuse the #45’s, Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni and “The Bahnsen Burner,” Stan Bahnsen.

Usually, we can come up with the guys rather quickly. Kevin Maas (#24) looked the same, showing he
still couldn’t hit off-speed stuff with a succession of lazy flies to left. Jim Leyritz (#13) looked like he still
might be able to take Mark Wohlers over the wall (and, sadly, Paul Quantrill, too). A navy windbreaker hid
the big 44 on his back, but Reggie Jackson’s presence in the cage was readily apparent.

The most challenging ID was a lefty wearing #21 ripping some shots into the short porch in right.
Obviously it wasn’t Paul O’Neill: his stroke – as well as his angular frame – is instantly recognizable to
Yankee fans. No, this guy was shorter but powerful. A few guys seemed to fit the bill. Steve Kemp wore
21, but would they invite him back? Ditto Hal Morris. Ken Phelps also wore 21, but there is no way he’d
be invited… maybe he could take a picture with Jay Buhner? Or maybe we can get Dale Murray and Fred
McGriff in the same shot?

It wasn’t until player introductions that the “mystery” was solved. The intros are fun too because John
Sterling and Michael Kay read the accomplishments first, allowing a few seconds of guessing before
revealing the name. Guys like Frank Tepedino, Scott Bradley and Phil Linz (“he plays a mean
harmonica!”) get their 15 seconds back in the limelight.

As our guy #21 stood poised at the top of the dugout, Kay read about his prowess as a slugger and his
16 home runs and .293 average in half a season’s worth of at-bats in 1986. “…he played his college
ball at William Paterson University… in his first Old Timers Day, please welcome back… Dan Pasqua!”
Of course.

Maybe because they don’t wear names on the uniforms, I’ve always made an immediate association
with a Yankee player and his number. And not just the famous Yankees. While my memory fails me in
more important matters, I can still rattle off the numbers of many obscure Yankees, and I’ve found that
other long-time, dedicated fans can do the same. Cecilio Guante was #51. Bob Shirley was #29. Matt
Nokes was #38.

The Yankees also have honored their most famous stars with the honor
of having their number retired. Fifteen numbers have been hung up for 16
players and managers (Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey share #8). Sometimes,
the Yankees “unofficially” retire numbers, like #49 which went unused
from Ron Guidry’s last game in 1988 until they officially retired it in 2003.
Similarly, #21 was last worn by Paul O’Neill. Strangely, the immortal
Donovan Osbourne was issued #46 at the beginning of last year, the
number that had been worn by Andy Pettitte (another lefty starter!) for the
previous nine.

Looking at today’s Yankees, I’d imagine that #2, #6, #42 and #51 are heading for Monument Park, too.
Could triple-digits be far behind?

And all those “JOHNSON 41” jerseys around Yankee stadium can’t possibly be for Cliff Johnson (who
did wear #41), could they?

Some other interesting/fun Yankee number trivia:

* The Yankees were the first team to regularly wear numbers on their uniforms, in 1929; famously, the
numbers corresponded to their regular spots in the batting order (hence, Babe Ruth #3, Lou Gehrig #4).

* #4 is the only number (lower than 67) that has only been worn by one Yankee, Gehrig; his number was
retired upon his own retirement.

* To date, including coaches, #47 has been worn by the most Yankees (35), one more than #17, #27,
and #29.

* Don Zimmer wore eight different numbers as Yankee coach; Clyde King wore six. Zimmer was the last
Yankee to wear #23 before Mattingly and the only one to wear #49 after Ron Guidry.

* Some Yankees began their career with different numbers than were later retired for them, notably Joe
DiMaggio (#9), Mickey Mantle (#6), Bill Dickey (#10) and Don Mattingly (#46).

* Inexplicably, #3 was worn by three Yankees after Babe Ruth (George Selkirk, Cliff Mapes and Allie
Clark).