NEW YORK, NY – Up in Da Bronx another number has been put out to pasture. Paul O’Neill’s number 21 was the latest digits to be painted onto the wall by the right-centerfield bleachers, and the time is now to ask why.
The right fielder, who late owner George Steinbrenner labeled “The Warrior,” was a Yankee for nine seasons. O’Neill was a great player, but for one to get their number retired their status must be on the level of iconic.
The Yankees have been flooded with great players throughout their storied history, but are they supposed to retire all of their numbers? They already have retired numbers that don’t fit the criteria. It seems like all the major players during the Torre era have had their digits put out of circulation, including Joe Torre’s number 6. I guess the geniuses that make these decisions never heard of Hall of Fame second baseman Tony Lazzeri.
Graig Nettles’ number 9 is another one that seems to be forgotten. The power hitting third baseman doesn’t even have a mention in Monument Park. Goose Gossage’s number 54 went into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee, but no ceremony for him.
Let’s get back to number 21. The Yankees had a pitcher named Spud Chandler who wore that digit. He played his entire career in a Yankees uniform and had stats comparable to Ron Guidry. Google Chandler’s stats and tell me why his number 21 was even available. Another Hall of Famer who donned 21 was “Neon Deion” Sanders. Oh wait, that’s the football HOF, never mind! Pitcher Fred Sanford, not Lamont’s father, wore 21 during his brief stint in the Bronx. Yonkers own Dan Pasqua, an outfielder who played with grits and guts wore 21.
When I look up at the number 21 on that wall I’ll always think of Brooklyn’s Frank Tepedino. He wore the number at the age of nineteen when he was a teammate of Mickey Mantle. He was also a teammate to Hank Aaron when he was dealt to the Braves. That happened to be the first trade made in the Steinbrenner Era, in which they received reliable pitcher Pat Dobson. Tepedino later became a NYC firefighter and to this day holds charity events through his Winning for Winning foundation.
The retirement of Paul O’Neill’s 21 is a subject of debate. All one has to do is ask themselves is: Of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Paul O’Neill, which one doesn’t fit?