Uniform number two through Yankee history

Derek Jeter No one knows how much longer Derek Jeter will be wearing the pinstripes' number two for the New York Yankees. But one thing we know for sure is that no one will ever wear that uniform for the Yankees again. A comment from Hawaiian Dave mentioned Jerry Kenney, another Yankee who wore number two for the Yankees back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That got me thinking about all those Yankees who wore number two before the Captain entered the scene. So what follows is a list of them all from 1929 until the Captain himself.

Most people are not aware that there were no uniform numbers for the Yankees before 1929. And once the Yankees did assign numbers, the starting lineup received the lower numbers. But those lineup positions were not set in stone. Only the first, third and fourth positions in the lineup stayed the same all season.

But that first game of the 1929 season did feature numbers one through eight in the lineup wearing those corresponding numbers. As such, Leo Durocher, of all people, was the first to wear number seven. And yes, a catcher was number eight (Johnny Grabowski). But who was number two?

He was a shortstop (but he played third on opening day) and his name was Mark Koenig. 1929 was Koenig’s fifth full season with the Yankees, beginning as a twenty year old in 1925. Koenig would be traded the following season with Waite Hoyt to the Tigers.

Koenig--who began playing professionally at the age of sixteen--played twelve seasons in the majors and had a rather nondescript career. He compiled only 5.6 rWAR with an 80 OPS+. From 1926 through 1928, Koenig averaged 49 errors per season and his career fielding percentage as a shortstop was below league average.

Mark Koenig’s one claim to fame was a terrific 1927 World Series in a Yankees' win over the Pirates. Koenig batted .500 in that series with nine hits and he scored five runs.

Koenig died in 1993, Jeter’s second season in the Yankees’ minor league system.

One of the players the Yankees received in the Hoyt/Koenig trade from the Tigers was shortstop/third baseman, George “Yats” Wuestling. When he joined the Yankees on May 30, he was given Koenig’s number two uniform number. Wuestling played 24 games for the Yankees the remainder of the season and struggled mightily. He hit only .190 and had a poor fielding percentage as well.

The records are a bit confused for 1930. Koenig started the season with number two, was traded away and then Wuestling was number two. The bulk of the shortstop duty in 1930 went to “Broadway” Lyn Larry, who started the season with the number 24. But the records show that he wore number 2 as well that season. Wuestling missed a large stretch of games (29) in the middle of the summer and perhaps Larry wore number 2 during that stretch? Obviously, the numbers convention was just being formed at that time.

Wuestling disappeared from the majors after that 1930 season and Larry became the regular shortstop through the 1933 season. Larry’s best season was 1931when he set a record for Yankee shortstops with 107 runs batted in and compiled a 4.6 rWAR.

Larry was traded to the Red Sox in May of 1934 because the Yankees had other shortstops waiting in the wings. Larry wore number 22 in his one game he played for the Yankees in 1934. He went on to have several good seasons for the St. Louis Browns and the Cleveland Indians.

Number two went to another shortstop in 1934 as Robert “Red” Rolfe took over the position and played with the Yankees for ten seasons. Well, that is a bit Red_Rolfemisleading because by then, the Yankees had turned to Frank Crosetti as their starting shortstop. Crosetti  wore number five for five years and then number one for another eight.

Red Rolfe was an interesting guy. He was one of the less than one-hundred players ever born in New Hampshire. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy and then went to Dartmouth. So he was an Ivy Leaguer. His career after playing included a stint managing the Tigers and he also coached at Yale and became Dartmouth’s athletic director.

Rolfe became the third baseman for the Yankees for most of his seasons in pinstripes and wound up with five rings in six seasons as the late 1930s was an impressive run for the Yankees. Rolfe’s best season was 1939 when he compiled 213 hits with a .899 OPS. In today’s statistical world, he compiled a 5.6 rWAR season.

Rolfe retired at the age of 33 after the 1942 season.

The next player to wear number two for the Yankees was George “Snuffy” Stirnweiss. Stirnweiss was born in New York City but went to the University of 200px-Snuffy_Stirnweiss_1948North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, he was an All American halfback but preferred baseball and signed with the Yankees.

After his second full season in the minor leagues when he stole 73 bases for the Newark Bears in 1942, he was promoted to the Yankees for good in 1943. His first season was not very good as he only batted .219 in 83 games, but he exploded in 1944 and 1945 and for two seasons was the best position player in the game.

Stirnweiss batted .319 in 1944 and finished with an .849 OPS. Then, in 1945, he won a batting title and finished with an .862 OPS. He was also a terrific fielding second baseman and Baseball-reference.com gave him 8.1 and 8.2 WAR in those two respective seasons. He also  led the league in hits, runs scored and stolen bases in those two seasons.

Whether it was a return of quality players in 1946 or for some other reason, Stirnweis never reached those heights again. His fielding remained terrific and he set a fielding percentage record for second basemen in 1948 when he made only five errors in 715 chances.

But his batting never recovered and his best season after 1945 was .261 with a .717 OPS in 1949. A year later, he was traded away to the St. Louis Browns.

Stirnweiss’ life ended suddenly at the age of 39 on September 15, 1959 when a train he was a passenger on plunged off the Newark Bay Bridge.

Frank Crosetti scooped up the uniform number in 1945 and Stirnweiss switched to number one.  Crosetti wore number two as a player and then a coach until 1968! In 1969, he moved to the Seattle Pilots and became famous for all the wrong reasons in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four which was based on that 1969 season.

Crosetti must hold the record for the most World Series rings. The Yankees won it all in six seasons during his playing career and nine more times during his coaching career!

Crosetti made the All Star team twice and had his best season in 1936 when he had a .387 on-base percentage and scored 137 runs. He was also an excellent shortstop but his batting dropped off after 1936 and he eventually lost his starting job to Phil Rizzuto.

Crosetti wore number two for 25 years. He died at the age of 91 in 2002.

After Crosetti had monopolized the number for all those years, Jerry Kenney was given the number in 1969 and wore it through the 1972 season.  Kenney was a good fielding third baseman, but not much of a hitter. His best season was 1971 when he compiled an OPS of .679, exactly league average.

Kenney was part of the deal that brought Graig Nettles to the Yankees after the 1972 season.

Matty Alou wore number two in his only season with the Yankees in 1973. Sandy Alomar, Sr. wore it for two seasons in 1975 and 1976. Paul Blair wore it from 1977 to 1979. Bobby Murcer wore it in his swan song years for the Yankees from 1979 to 1983. Tim Foli wore it for the 1984 season. Dale Berra wore the number for parts of the 1985 season and in 1986 until the Yankees acquired Wayne Tolleson.

Tolleson wore the uniform from late in 1986 to 1990. Mike Gallego wore it in 1992, 1993 and 1994 and that brings us to 1995 when Derek Jeter wore It for the first time in his cup of coffee that season. Jeter became the full time shortstop in 1996 and the rest is history.

The number two uniform had a long strange trip with the Yankees from 1929 until 1995. Since 1996 the uniform has been on a magic carpet ride that will end when Jeter hangs it up for the Yankees. The number will surely never be worn by any Yankee player again after Jeter.  That leaves number six as the only single digit uniform available to players going forward. And since that uniform hasn’t been issued since 1995, it will have to be a pretty special player to ever see a single digit Yankee uniform again.