Numbers and sports go together. People love stats, and it’s often easier to identify a player at a game by his or her number than by the name on the jersey — especially because the Yankees wear only numbers on the back of their uniforms.
The latest book from Sports Illustrated, “Any Given Number,” hits shelves today, and it sets out with a mission to name the greatest athletes to wear each number from 00 to 99. Because New York sports teams have had so many athletes — and so many uniform numbers — amNewYork thought it would be fun to weigh in on some of the best to wear certain numbers for local teams.
Candidates: Derek Jeter (Yankees), Brian Leetch (Rangers)
Even the great defenseman who helped end the Blueshirts’ lengthy Stanley Cup drought can’t compare with Jeter, who for a generation of baseball fans is the embodiment of his sport and his iconic team.
Candidates: Joe DiMaggio (Yankees), David Wright (Mets)
Sorry to disappoint Mets fans, but the “Yankee Clipper” and his 56-game hitting streak cast a tall shadow in this city. Wright needs a few World Series titles to eclipse DiMaggio, at the very least.
Candidates: Carmelo Anthony (Knicks), Rod Gilbert (Rangers), Mickey Mantle (Yankees), Jose Reyes (Mets)
There’s really no debate, but this is just a reminder to those who haven’t visited Monument Park. Mantle over the field easily. After him, it’s Gilbert. If Melo stays in New York, maybe he can surpass the Rangers great someday.
Candidates: Walt Frazier (Knicks), Eli Manning (football Giants), Phil Rizzuto (Yankees)
A debate which won’t side with a Yankee? Holy Cow! This is a two-horse race between Clyde and Manning, who each led their respective teams to two championships. The slim edge goes to Eli but only because Frazier probably is better known for his off-court fashion than his uniform.
Candidates: Carl Hubbell (baseball Giants), Mark Messier (Rangers), Phil Simms (football Giants)
There will be no football Giants repeat. However, Hubbell’s resume in the Big Apple stacks up well against that of Messier. Each won a championship, but Hubbell wins out thanks to a full career of accomplishments in this city. Look him up, kids.
Candidates: Carlos Beltran (Mets), Dick McGuire (Knicks), Earl Monroe (Knicks), Thurman Munson (Yankees)
This one is tough. Beltran and Monroe had some of their best years elsewhere but were still great while in this city. McGuire played before Monroe but had his number retired after Earl the Pearl. The pick here is Munson, the only of the four to win an MVP here.
Candidates: Tommie Agee (Mets), Allan Houston (Knicks), Monte Irvin (baseball Giants), Howard Johnson (Mets), Jorge Posada (Yankees)
A case could be made for any one of these players, but when forced to pick one it has to be Posada based on longevity in the Big Apple. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got five World Series rings, as well.
Candidates: Bill Bradley (Knicks), Robinson Cano (Yankees), Tino Martinez (Yankees), Willie Mays (baseball Giants), Darrelle Revis (Jets)
Mays is the greatest player in the bunch but spent the majority of his career in San Francisco, which hurts his case. Revis was amazing for a period, but his Island floated away too soon. That leaves Cano as the right choice despite bolting for Seattle last fall.
Candidates: Bernard King (Knicks), Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers), Willie Randolph (Yankees)
King likely burned brightest but didn’t call the Garden home for long enough. Randolph was a Yankee co-captain, which is saying something. But King Henrik’s reign at MSG likely ends with his number hanging from the rafters one day. Lundqvist gets the win.
Candidates: Mike Piazza (Mets), Dave Winfield (Yankees)
It’s silly that Piazza’s number has yet to be retired by the club. He was the team’s best player for more than seven seasons and helped the Mets achieve their greatest success of the last 25 years. He gets the nod over Winfield, but it’s a close one.
Candidates: Mariano Rivera (Yankees), Jackie Robinson (Dodgers)
If there’s anyone who can upstage Mo, it’s the man who had his number retired by every major league franchise before Rivera had even built his legacy. Hard to imagine the all-time greatest closer would disagree with the choice of Robinson.