After Paul O’Neil, Should The New York Yankees Stop Retiring Numbers?

Published 02/24/2022, 10:15 AM EST

Sport is special. It carries on from generation to generation. Every fan has a defining moment that they remember, a player that they tip their hat to. A jersey that becomes iconic. And yet, with one of the most successful franchises of all time, that seems to be a thing of the past. The New York Yankees recently announced the induction of Paul O’Neill’s #21 into monument Park. And while honoring the legend, this also means the retirement of the #21 jersey from Yankees circulation. But what does this mean for the Yankees of the future?

Monument Park features Yankees icons that have graced the diamond and have had enough impact to have their jersey numbers forever commemorated. And yet, with the Yankees growing history, it seems as though the future is at risk. With the retirement of #21 worn by Paul O’Neill, the Yankees will have officially retired 21 numbers from circulation for their 40 man roster. The next highest team with numbers retired? The St. Louis Cardinals with 12. Could this become an issue for the Yankees moving forward?

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Too many Retired Numbers for New York Yankees?

The Yankees are a defining franchise in baseball. Often described as the ‘winning-est’ team in the history of the game, it is but obvious that the Yankees will have several legends among their ranks. Nobody doubts the status of the players with retired jerseys, but could this pose a problem to future Yankees?

Having retired 21 numbers for 22 players (#8 was retired for both Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey), this takes the Yankees’ portion of unusable jersey numbers to almost one-fifth of the total tally. The 40 man roster has an option to pick any numbers between 0 and 99, but with the Yankees, the available numbers pool is significantly reduced.

And while the situation may not present any problem at this moment. It is likely that going ahead; however, this may lead to some issues for the Bronx Bombers. A jersey number is more than just the player’s identification on the field. It is a legacy marker, a sign of ability passed from generation to generation.
And although the Yankees’ intention in retiring numbers seems to be honoring the wishes of one generation, it may also be simultaneously denying another future generation the thrill of seeing the torch passed down.


Read More: ‘High Solidarity”- The Yankees Star Gerrit Cole on the Players’ Association’s Unity and Stand Against the Owners

Legacy jersey numbers in other sports

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In perhaps the most global example, consider soccer. The #10 jersey, first sported by Pele, whom many regard to be the greatest player of his generation became iconic. Worn by other teams across the globe, it became synonymous with performance of the highest standard. Greats like Maradona, Messi, Ronaldinho all took to sporting the number on their back to showcase the sheer talent of the #10. So much so that the jersey then started being worn across the world by the best players on the team.

Consider a hypothetical. While the Yankees may be attempting to secure Derek Jeter’s legacy by retiring his iconic #2; it it also not limiting emergent talents? Imagine Anthony Volpe, a lifelong Jeter fan being given the opportunity to sport the #2. The pride and joy he will feel at carrying the number. And the responsibility that it will bring too. There may always be arguments about if that sort of pressure is good; but few will be able to deny that it will surely have an effect.

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Perhaps a question to ponder for longer than just now, are players burdened with legacy or motivated by it?

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Aditya Deshingkar

567 articles

Aditya Deshingkar is a US Sports writer at EssentiallySports. An aspiring lawyer, Aditya is a final year student of the law program at GLC. Notably, as an avid sports lover, he shares a keen interest in NBA, MLB, and Formula 1.

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