Sarah LangsWhen Derek Jeter retires, so too will his iconic, pinstriped number. With the career he’s had, there is no question that the Yankees will place Jeter’s No. 2 among the other heroes of the past, plastered beyond the outfield forever. No Yankee will ever wear that number again.
Not including Jackie Robinson’s 42, retired across all of baseball, the Yankees have 18 retired numbers. That total will reach 19 once Jeter’s is officially put away.
The Yankees have by far the most retired numbers of any franchise in baseball. The next-most retired numbers belong to the St. Louis Cardinals, who have 12. Behind them, it’s the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers , each with 10. These are four of the most storied and longstanding franchises in all of baseball, so it makes sense they’d be atop this leaderboard.
It’s important to keep in mind, too, that Major League Baseball has no mandates on retired numbers, other than Robinson’s 42. In other words, it’s up to the individual club whether or not they want to officially retire the number of one of their players, unofficially retire it — simply not assign it to anybody for a while, or keep using it altogether. Some clubs wait until a player goes into the Hall of Fame, others enshrine the number immediately.
The Yankees seem to pride themselves on tradition, thus it follows logic that they’d retire the numbers of anybody worthy. It adds to the franchise’s expressed mystique.
But when Jeter’s number is retired at the end of this year, that mystique will reach a brand new level. As of today, the Yankees have retired seven of the nine single digits, not including zero. The only single digit numbers available for use at this present moment are Jeter’s No. 2 and the No. 6.
That quantity alone is higher than any other team. The Red Sox have the next-most retired single digits, with five out of nine unavailable to current players.
Remember that No. 6 that’s still unretired? Well,about that… On August 23, the Yankees will be retiring that digit as well, in honor of newly-inducted Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre.
The new level the Yankees will reach after this season? No single-digit uniforms on the field at Yankee Stadium, or on the road in greys, ever again. Once Jeter is no longer at shortstop, the single digits will be completely gone.
To recap, there is Billy Martin’s 1, Babe Ruth’s 3, Lou Gehrig’s 4, Joe DiMaggio’s 5, Mickey Mantle’s 7, both Bill Dickey’s and Yogi Berra’s 8, and then Roger Maris’ 9.
While a lot of this has to do with the Yankee atmosphere of tradition noted above, and the sheer amount of success the team has experienced — 27 World Championships means 27 iterations of teams with more than a few legendary players — there’s one Major League historical note, too.
Baseball players didn’t always wear numbers on their jerseys. Major League teams didn’t start regularly wearing numbers somewhere on their uniforms until midway through the 1930s. And even then, the numbers were to identify the players — but not by their favorite number, or any number they chose, for that matter. Early uniform numbers were based solely on where a player batted in the lineup. If you were a leadoff man, you wore No. 1, and so on. There were a few exceptions, but this idea persisted until the early 1940s, for the most part.
Thus, part of the reason the Yankees have so many retired single-digit numbers is that they were good, and had good players, in an era where position players wore predominantly single-digits.
That being said, this explanation in no way applies to all nine of the digits the Yankees will have put to rest by year’s end, making it a statistical and franchise oddity, too.
Luckily for all those future Yankees out there, in the minors, in college, and on Little League baseball fields, there are a lot of numbers left other than those single digits. Plus, No. 0 is always out there, if the Yankees should choose to assign it. Only 15 players in Major League history have worn 0, with the most recent being Omar Quintanilla in 15 games for the Mets in 2014.
Who knows, maybe we’ll even see the first-ever pinstriped 00, taking after the Dodgers’ Brian Wilson and 19 others.