By Paul Semendinger, Ed.D.
The Yankees do a great job of honoring their great history. One can't watch a Yankees telecast or go to Yankee Stadium without seeing images and hearing of the many great players from yesteryear including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, and countless others. The Hall-of-Famers are always remembered...
The Yankees also do a great job in honoring their most recent legends: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, and Jorge Posada among others. Many of these recent players will not reach the Hall of Fame, but they were important figures in the Yankees' most recent championship seasons.
This summer, Paul O'Neill will have his uniform number 21 retired. Some will say this is well-deserved. Who am I to argue? Paul O'Neill was the right-fielder and a leader on four Yankees World Series championship teams. He led the American League in batting in 1994. He was known as "The Warrior" and was a fan favorite.
But as the Yankees honor O'Neill and other heroes of the recent past, they keep missing the opportunity to recognize so many of the other greats who were equal to, or even better than, the players who are getting honored now.
One of those players was Hank Bauer.
People today do not know what an excellent baseball player Hank Bauer was but Hank was every bit the ballplayer Paul O'Neill was... and more
Both Paul O'Neill and Hank Bauer were championship Yankees. If O'Neill deserves credit for being a leader on four championship teams, Bauer also deserves that same credit, and then some. Bauer was a leader on seven World Championship Yankees teams.
Paul O'Neill was known to be a solid defender with a strong outfield arm. People who saw Hank Bauer would say that his arm was probably even stronger than O'Neill's and he was also a top-notch defender.
Hank Bauer spent 11 years with the Yankees. In those years, the Yankees won nine pennants. Few players, anywhere, have been leaders on teams that successful.
In his Yankees career, Bauer hit .277 with 158 home runs and 654 runs batted in. The Yankees utilized Bauer in various spots in the lineup. At times, he was the lead-off batter. Other times, he batted in the heart of the order. He was a dangerous hitter who was also versatile. Bauer was a player who would do whatever it takes to win. Teams don't win championships without players like Hank Bauer.
In the post-season, Bauer was especially tough. At one point, he hit in a record 17 consecutive World Series games.
Paul O'Neill is remembered for a great game-saving catch in the 1996 World Series. Bauer also had a game-saving catch in the 1951 World Series.
As great as Paul O'Neill was, Hank Bauer was the better ballplayer. That's not taking anything away from O'Neill, it's just recognizing an obvious point. Paul O'Neill's career WAR as a Yankee was 26.7, good for 36th all-time on the Yankees' list. Bauer's WAR as a Yankee was 29.3. He is 27th on the all-time list.
Hank Bauer was also a war hero in World War II. He fought as a marine in the Pacific and won two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. Bauer wasn't just a great Yankee, he was a great American.
After his playing days, Hank Bauer managed the Baltimore Orioles to a World Championship. He then scouted for the Yankees in the Kansas City area for many years.
Unfortunately, as the Yankees honor the players of recent vintage, and as they recognize the greatest superstars of the past, they most often forget the other important players who were also essential members of their team's rich legacy. Hank Bauer is one of those players. He deserves a plaque in Monument Park. If Paul O'Neill's number is retired, so, too, should Bauer's be.
I know that the push-back to this will be that as the Yankees retire #21, they cannot possibly retire the numbers of every great player, but here's the beautiful thing — retiring Hank Bauer's number wouldn't change anything uniform wise. His number 9 is already retired for Roger Maris. By retiring the number in Bauer's name as well, the Yankees would simply be recognizing another great Yankee. The fact that this is so easy and obvious makes me wonder why this hasn't been part of the plan already.
It would take nothing away from Paul O'Neill's big day to announce that another great right-fielder is also being recognized that same day. It's time for Hank Bauer to get the recognition from the Yankees that he has been denied all these years.
As the Yankees honor right-fielder Paul O'Neill, they should also honor Hank Bauer. It's time to right that wrong. (It's also time for the Yankees to recognize so many other worthy players like Roy White, Graig Nettles, Earle Combs, Charlie Keller, Tommy Henrich...and so many others, but starting with Hank Bauer would be an excellent way to start.)
Dr. Paul Semendinger of Ridgewood, NJ has been an educator and school leader for 32 years. He is currently the principal of the greatest elementary school in the whole world. Paul runs the great Yankees site Start Spreading the News and the Start Spreading the News Podcast on the North East Streaming Sports Network. Paul's book on the Yankees, The Least Among Them, has earned a great deal of industry-wide praise. Paul also still pitches for two teams in over-35 baseball leagues. He's won a few games already this year and is wondering what is taking the Yankees so long to give him a call-up to the big club.