You can hear Bob Sheppard’s famous voice in your mind: “Now batting, No. 2, Derek Jeter, No. 2.”
Now, get it out of your mind. Why? It has to do with Babe Ruth and modern analytics.
If modern analytics had existed during Babe Ruth’s time, he would not have been the Yankees’ No. 3 hitter. He would have been the No. 2 hitter — because most teams today are putting their most impactful hitter in the two-slot.
When the Yankees introduced uniform numbers in 1929, they just followed their regular batting order. Ruth, as the No. 3 hitter, got uniform No. 3, which was retired by the club in 1948.
If Ruth had been the No. 2 hitter, his uniform number would have been 2, and that number would have been retired. Jeter would have been assigned another number when he joined the Yankees in 1995 (in fact, he was briefly assigned No. 19 in spring training of 1996, but asked for No. 2 back and the Yankees obliged).
Sheppard voice: “Now batting, No. 19, Derek Jeter, No. 19.” Doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Anyway, the point here isn’t really about uniform numbers. It’s about batting orders.
In 2018, many managers have decided on new rules for the modern lineup. It’s no longer speedy guy at the top, little guy who can “handle the bat” second, best hitter third and slugger fourth. It’s no longer even the pitcher ninth some days in the National League.
Now, it’s guy with a great on-base percentage regardless of speed first, best hitter second, the guy who used to be the cleanup hitter third, and a guy you wouldn’t think of as a cleanup hitter fourth (think Asdrubal Cabrera on Opening Day for the Mets). Oh, and the pitcher eighth and a speedy guy ninth.
In general, the idea is to get your best hitters more at-bats by bunching them at the top of the order. For the Mets, that will mean a top three on most days of Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce.
For the Yankees, they still have a “traditional” leadoff man in Brett Gardner. But No. 2 hitter Aaron Judge is nobody’s idea of a little guy who can handle the bat.
Remember, new manager Aaron Boone used Judge in the leadoff spot in spring training and didn’t rule it out during the regular season.
All of this got us thinking: What would the lineups of some of New York’s most famous teams have looked like using today’s tendencies?
Let’s start with the 1986 Mets, who often had a top five of Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry. In the eight-hole, ahead of the pitcher, was Rafael Santana (and his meager .539 OPS).
We asked Mets broadcaster Ron Darling, a pitcher on the ‘86 Mets, what he thought the batting order might be for that team in today’s era.
“I guess Strawberry would have hit second,” Darling said. “It’s not only that the best player hits second. It’s a game-changer. Cespedes. Mike Trout. Kris Bryant. Those guys. The game-changers.”
In that scenario, Backman or Mookie Wilson could have hit ninth and the pitcher eighth.
Or how about the 1969 Mets? Manager Gil Hodges hit Bud Harrelson — the quintessential little-guy-who-can-handle-the-bat — second in four of five World Series games. Today, No. 3 hitter Cleon Jones and No. 4 hitter Donn Clendenon would have each moved up a spot to stack the top of the lineup along with leadoff man Tommie Agee.
The 1961 Yankees had the “M&M Boys” — No. 3 hitter Roger Maris (.993 OPS) and cleanup man Mickey Mantle (1.135 OPS). Keep Maris third, but Mantle’s got to bat second, just as the Yankees are doing with Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
Over the long season, Mantle would have gotten more plate appearances and may have been able to do better than Maris’ record 61 homers (Mantle hit 54).
The 1998 Yankees had a top four of Chuck Knoblauch, Jeter, Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams. Knoblauch had the worst OPS of the four (.766). Today, it would have been Jeter (.865), Williams (.997) and O’Neill (.882) with Knoblauch probably sixth or seventh, or ninth in interleague games.
Finally, how about the 1927 Yankees, the “Murderers’ Row” team some consider the greatest of all time? In the World Series, manager Miller Huggins used shortstop Mark Koenig and his .702 OPS as the No. 2 hitter even though he had a batting order that included Ruth (1.258), Lou Gehrig (1.240), leadoff hitter Earle Combs (.925), Bob Meusel (.902) and Tony Lazzeri (.866).
Man, the radio talk shows and Twitter must have been roasting Huggins before the Yankees met the Pirates in the World Series.
Actually, the lack of 21st century analytics didn’t hurt Huggins too much. Koenig went 9-for-18 and the Yankees swept the Pirates in four games.
Two years later, Koenig got his first uniform number from the Yankees. It was No. 2, Mark Koenig, No. 2.
In 1929, the Yankees began wearing uniform numbers, with normal starters getting numbers matching their spots in the batting order. Had manager Miller Huggins been privvy to today’s analytics, his possible batting order might affected some of the hallowed numbers later retired by the Yankees. An analytically altered 1929 Yankees batting order with original uniform number (and batting spot) in parentheses:
1. Earle Combs, CF (1)
2. Babe Ruth, RF (3)
3. Lou Gehrig, IB (4)
4. Bob Meusel, LF (5)
5. Tony Lazzeri, 2B (6)
6. Leo Durocher, SS (7)
7. *Catcher (8, 9, 10)
9. Mark Koenig, 3B (2)
*Bill Dickey (10) became the regular catcher after taking the job from Johnny Grabowski (8) and Benny Bengough (9).