“Holy cow!,” there’s only ten days left until opening day is here and the regular season gets underway. The last out of the 2016 World Series feels like forever ago, but this year the World Baseball Classic has done a great job of filling our cold, depressing, winter months with competitive baseball. The United States secured their first WBC title last night, and now that the tournament is over, it’s time to start counting the days until Opening Day.
As a Yankee fan, it’s fun to take a look back at all the greats that made this franchise great. With just 10 days before the New York Yankees take the field for the first time, let’s take a look at some of the greatest Yankees to wear the number 10.[Milkins]
The baseball season is one that is filled with intensity, determination, and grit, but it wouldn’t be complete without the handful of colorful personalities and dugout antics that show what baseball really is, a game. No one got more enjoyment out of the game of baseball than Hall of Famer and Yankee legend, Phil Rizzuto. A lifelong Yankee with a career spanning from 1941 to 1956 and a legendary broadcasting career to follow, Rizzuto entrenched his name into Yankee history, and all of baseball’s for that matter. His number ten was retired by the Yankees in 1985, and he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
Rizzuto’s small size and quick legs earned him the nickname ‘The Scooter’ which stuck with him for the rest of his life. Following an opportunity to make the big league club, Rizzuto quickly made his name known in his rookie season, when he would plant himself at short for what was hoped to be years to come. His rookie season resulted in a World Series ring in 1941, as the Yankees would beat the Dodgers in the fall classic.
Rizzuto would continue the hot start to his promising career in 1942, where he would earn his first All-Star selection. He and the Yankees made it to the World Series once again in 1942, where Rizzuto would lead both teams with eight hits and a .381 batting average, however, the Yankees would fail to repeat and fall to the Cardinals. Like many star players of that era, Rizzuto stepped away from baseball to serve a stint with the United States Navy during World War II. In his time with the Navy, he would play for the Navy baseball team alongside fellow star shortstop Pee Wee Reese, a team that was managed by Bill Dickey.
‘The Scooter’ returned to the game in 1946, where he would pick up right where his career had left off. Always known for his solid defense, Rizzuto would further that legacy by recording .969 and .973 fielding percentages in 1947 and 1948 respectively, both team records at shortstop. He went 58 games at shortstop without making an error between 1949 and 1950, a record that stood for nearly 22 years. His 123 double plays turned in 1950 remain a franchise record to this day. However, it wasn’t until 1949 when Rizzuto began to emerge as one of the best hitting shortstops in all of baseball.
After being moved to the leadoff spot, Rizzuto would collect 169 hits while batting .275, and finished second behind Ted Williams in the MVP voting. He would take the spotlight the very next season, where he would post a .324 batting average, collect 200 hits and score 125 runs, winning the Most Valuable Player award. Rizzuto’s offensive awakening came at the right time for the Yankees who, with the help of Rizzuto, would win five straight World Series titles from 1949 to 1953.
He finished his playing career with five All-Star selections, seven World Series rings and an MVP award. Known for his use of “small ball”, his remarkable defense, and his timely World Series hitting, Rizzuto went down in history as one of the greatest Yankees players of all-time, and his plaque can be seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium to this day.
The Yankees’ next long-time shortstop came in the form of Tony Kubek, who wore pinstripes and the number ten from 1957 to 1965. He won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1957, and would go on to make four All-Star appearances while also being a member of three World Series winning teams. Aside from wearing the number ten in pinstripes, as well as playing shortstop for the Yankees, Kubek and Rizzuto shared a lot in common.
Like Rizzuto, Kubek would go on to have a successful broadcasting career after his time on the field. He would call games on NBC Sports and later for the Yankees’ local TV station. He was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award in 2009, given by the Baseball Hall of Fame to honor broadcasters and what they do for the game.
From 1974 to 1979. the number ten was worn by Gold Glove winning first baseman, Chris Chambliss. Chambliss won six World Series with the Yankees, two as a player and four as a coach. Though his time in pinstripes was short, Chambliss made notable achievements in the Bronx. His only career All-Star selection came in 1976, where he would also hit one of the most iconic home runs in Yankees history.
Chambliss stole the show in the 1976 American League Championship series, where he would hit .524 with two home runs and eight RBI. His defining Yankee moment came in the deciding Game 5 of the series, when he hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth that would send the Yankees to the World Series.
As the story goes, Chambliss was met with thousands of fans storming the field as he attempted to round the bases, choosing to make his way to the dugout instead of home plate. He would later go back out to touch home plate, however, the plate had been dug up and taken by a fan, so Chambliss would step on the spot where home plate would have been. This created the “Chris Chambliss Rule” which stated that an umpire can award any batter a base that is untouchable due to unforeseen circumstances.
Again relating to the great Phil Rizzuto, Chris Chambliss played the game for fun. He was once quoted as saying, “if you’re not having fun [in baseball] you miss the point to everything.” Chambliss was one of the last players to wear the number ten in pinstripes before it was retired in honor of Rizzuto. The Scooter’s number now resides in Memorial Park and is seen by visiting fans nearly every day of the season. If there’s one thing that fans of the game should take away from guys like Rizzuto and Chambliss is that baseball is a game, and should be played as such. The greatest game in the world is now just ten days away from being in our lives again, and I for one can not wait much longer.