Jeter is No. 1 among the No. 2s
Four Hall of Famers have worn the second digit, but Yanks captain rates above them all
Jeter is No. 1 as a No. 2
'Tis the season to provide perspective on the career of Derek Jeter. Though six months -- seven in the event the summer favors the Yankees -- remain before the Captain shuts it down, we can effectively evaluate what he has accomplished and where he fits in the scheme of the grand old game. A 20th season, half of which will pass after his 40th birthday, isn't likely to alter how he is assessed. Then again, he led the big leagues in hits during the season of his 38th birthday. So don't click "print" just yet.
One entirely unscientific means of measuring Jeter is to use the uniform number he has worn and distinguished throughout his career and compare him to others who have been similarly attired. A superficial glance at the many No. 2s who have played in the big leagues strongly suggests none has prospered quite so much as the Yankees shortstop.
No. 2 has been retired by merely four franchises -- the White Sox for Nellie Fox, the Cardinals for Red Schoendienst, the Tigers for Charlie Gehringer and the Dodgers for Tommy Lasorda. Each has been elected to the Hall of Fame, Lasorda as a manager and the other three as second basemen.
Fox would have qualified for the Hall if tobacco chewed was a measure of Cooperstown merit, but he made it as a slick defender and pesky No. 2 hitter whose thick-handled bat and ability to use it was a good fit for a small-ball team that had Luis Aparicio leading off. Fox won the American League MVP Award in 1959.
Schoendienst was elected for his splendid and fundamentally sound work for the Cardinals in the 1940s and the Braves in the '50s. And Gehringer made his bones as the Tigers' run-producing, .320 hitter from 1924 into the '40s. He was a batting champion and an AL MVP Award winner who amassed 2,839 hits.
Fox's election to the Hall was the work of a Veterans Committee in 1997. In this regard, he cannot be compared with Jeter, who is a first-ballot no-brainer and a candidate to displace Tom Seaver as the player to receive the highest-ever voting percentile. Of course, if Jeter's percentage in 2020 ranks behind only Seaver, he appropriately would be No. 2 in that way as well.
Schoendienst was elected by a Veterans Committee, too, in 1989. Gehringer was voted in in 1949 by the baseball writers.
Jeter never has won an AL MVP Award, but he has placed in the top 10 in balloting eight times. And he has played in 38 World Series games and helped win five rings. The aforementioned No. 2s played in 45 Series games collectively and won three rings, two by Schoendienst.
The significance of rings is debatable in that a Hall of Fame candidate ought not be penalized for being ringless. But a player who has enough jewelry to fill all the fingers on one hand and who played prominent roles in his teams' successes does warrant special recognition. Moreover, Jeter played at a time when reaching the World Series was a greater challenge than it was before 1969, when divisions and playoffs were introduced. And, though he's never been a slugger or a middle-of-the-order hitter, he was a most formidable and feared opponent, more so than Fox and Schoendienst.
Strange -- isn't it? -- that No. 2 is linked with so few special players. Certainly the roll call of No. 3s has a higher profile with the likes of the Babe, Killer (Harmon Killebrew), Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Dale Murphy, Harold Baines, Pete Runnels, Brett Butler and Bobby Grich (when he was with the Orioles). And No. 4 is strongly linked to the Iron Horse (Lou Gehrig), The Duke of Flatbush (Duke Snider), the recently departed Ralph Kiner, Luke Appling, Joe Cronin and Paul Molitor, Hall of Famers all.
Most clubs have retired several single-digit uniforms, but No. 2 usually has been assigned to players who seldom developed high profiles, Troy Tulowitzki being another current exception. Other than Roy Sievers, the 1957 AL home run champion, Freddie Patek, Granny Hamner, Zoilo Versalles, Hanley Ramirez (with the Marlins), Jeter's new teammate Jacoby Ellsbury (with the Red Sox) and a few pre-Jeter Yankees, the 2s have been mostly forgettable figures.
The crosstown Mets seldom have been wild about their deuces. Consider their first No. 2 was the face of the franchise in 1962, when the franchise was routinely red-faced -- Marv Throneberry. The marvelous one was a Yanks castoff -- he had worn No. 20 in the Bronx. Other No. 2 Mets included Roy Staiger, a good-glove, weak-bat third baseman in the 1970s; Jimmy Piersall, whose claim to fame as a Met was running the bases backward after hitting his 100th career home run, against Dallas Green, in the Polo Grounds; Phil Linz, another former Yankee who was past his prime as a harmonica player (see Yogi Berra, 1964) and utility infielder; Phil Mankowski, who eventually ran Rusty Staub's ribs restaurant in Manhattan; Mackey Sasser, the tipping catcher; Bobby Valentine as a coach and manager, though not as a player; and Kevin Elster, but only during the final days of their glorious '86 season.
The New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers and the Yankees had their No. 2s worn by Leo Durocher, a cool NYC hat trick for the Lip. Otherwise, No. 2 for the two former New York teams had a weak identity. The Giants, before their move to California, had merely 15 players wear the number from 1933-57. And only shortstop Dick Bartell wore it for more than three years.
Jeter, incidentally, has worn No. 2 for 19 seasons, longer than any other player. Schoendienst is next with 14 seasons.
Even the Yankees who have decommissioned all single-digit numbers other than 2 and 6 (the latter being held for Joe Torre), had only five 2s of lasting consequence between 1929, when they began wearing numbers, and 1995, when Jeter slipped into his No. 2 and into the club's star-studded history:
• Frank Crosetti was No. 2 from 1945-68, the last of his 23 years as the team's third-base coach and home run hand-shaker and back-slapper.
• Bobby Murcer, who wore four numbers during his two tours of duty with the Yanks, wore No. 2 during his last stay, from 1979-83. He'd worn No. 1 as a five-time All-Star center fielder, but Billy Martin had it when Murcer returned.
• Mark Koenig was the Yankees' first No. 2. He wore the number as the shortstop on the fabled 1927 team.
• Red Rolfe was the third baseman in the early years of the vastly successful DiMaggio era.
• And two-year wonder Snuffy Stirnweiss was a weapon during the war years.
Otherwise, No. 2 in the Bronx was assigned to mostly unremarkable players -- Jerry Kenney, Dale Berra, Sandy Alomar Sr., Wayne Tolleson and one-year wonder Lyn Lary. Tolleson does have one claim to fame for the Yanks' No. 2. He was wearing it in early in Spring Training in 1989 when gold-plated plebe Deion Sanders all but demanded to wear the lowest number on "his" team. Tolleson overheard Sanders and said out loud, "This is the New York Yankees, son, not the SEC."
Milke Gallego was assigned No. 2 after Tolleson and wore it for three years. It's quite easy to say Jeter is the No. 1 No. 2 in Yankees history. And, while noting Gehringer's accomplishments and Hall of Fame status, it's difficult to argue that Jeter's is not the No. 1 No. 2 anywhere.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.