8/23/2014 4:14 P.M. ET
Move from No. 9 to No. 6 paid off for Torre
Former NL MVP flipped his old uniform number when he became Yanks' skipper
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Chances are Derek Jeter is No. 2 on your all-time personal roster and in your heart. Right? But, ya know, he could have been No. 6. He could have followed Dr. Bobby Brown, Andy Carey, Clete Boyer, Roy White, Ken Griffey Sr., Mike Pagliarulo, Jack Clark, other less notable players and some 1951 rookie named Mantle as a No. 6 for the Yankees.
But Joe Torre chose No. 6 for the back of his Yankees uniform when he was hired as manager after the 1995 season. It was the only available single-digit uniform number other than the number Jeter had been assigned when he arrived in the big leagues in May 1995.
"I don't remember if I was given a choice. … I think I was," Torre said Wednesday. "And I definitely wanted a single-digit [number]."
The new manager could have asked the kid shortstop to give up the number that has become the mark of The Captain. But Torre had a mindset that made No. 6 his No. 1 preference. Six is, of course, No. 9 inverted. And Torre had worn the inverted 6 as a player with the Cardinals and Mets, and as a manager with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals.
Moreover, he had worn No. 15 as a catcher with the Braves, and his No. 9 plus the No. 6 he requested as his Yankees number equal 15. But beyond that, his wife's grandmother urged him to implement the strategy she used when she played -- and lost -- at cards. "Get up and turn the chair around."
"I turned the number upside down," Torre said. And he went on a 12-year hot streak.
So now, No. 6 is Torre's Yankees identity. It is his primary baseball identity, though he won a National League Most Valuable Player Award and otherwise distinguished himself as No. 9. And now, following the No. 6 retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, the Yankees will have no other players wearing the digit.
Nineteen players -- including Hall of Fame second basemen Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon -- had worn the Yankees' No. 6 before Torre opted for it. The most recent player to wear it before Torre was Tony Fernandez, in 1995. White wore No. 6 from 1969-79. Until Torre's final season in the Bronx, not one had worn it longer than White.
The reason No. 6 remained available after Lazzeri was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991 may have been lost forever with the passing of George Steinbrenner. Who knows? But now that 2009 inductee Gordon is in the Hall as well, the club might want to consider making 6 a shared and retired number. Yogi and Bill Dickey wore No. 8, and it is retired in honor of each.
Torre's No. 9 has been shoved into the shadows now.
"I liked [No.] 9, liked the single-digit," Torre said. "I was 15 when I came up. It was the catcher's number."
Indeed, before Torre took No. 15 as a rookie in 1960 with the Braves, it belonged to Stan Lopata, a catcher. Mickey Vernon, an outfielder-first baseman had worn it in '59, but catchers Hawk Taylor and Carl Sawatski wore it in '58.
Torre would have been pleased to wear 15 when he joined the Cardinals, but Tim McCarver, who would become one of Torre's closest friends, was the established No. 15 catcher. So Torre was given No. 9. Strangely McCarver had worn three other numbers before he took No. 15 -- 51 (15 reversed) as a rookie in 1959, 9 in '60, and 20 in '61
Torre was unaware of such numerical machinations, though he said he always had been fascinated by players' numbers.
"As kids, we knew all the numbers," Torre said Wednesday. "There were fewer teams and guys didn't change teams too much, so they became familiar. It stayed with me.
"Zim [Torre's bench coach with the Yankees, Don Zimmer] used to sit on the bench, and we'd quiz each other, especially about the old Dodgers -- No. 8, Shotgun Shuba. And I was a Giants fan."
Torre might have developed a numbers dilemma when he signed to manage the Braves after the 1981 season. He wanted No. 9 after wearing it for 13 seasons with the Cardinals and Mets.
"But," he said, "Ted [Braves then-owner Ted Turner] was trying to sign Reggie [Jackson] after he didn't re-sign with the Yankees. Reggie had worn No. 9 in Oakland [and for one year, 1975, with the Orioles]. So he might have wanted to go back. I figured he wasn't going to get 44 even if he wanted it because of [retired Braves legend Hank] Aaron.
"But you can't say for sure. Reggie might have gone to Hank and said 'Ya know, I could make that number really famous.'"
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.