January 18 – Happy Birthday to a Number 5
The Yankees began wearing numbers on their uniforms during the 1929 season. At the time, the numbers were assigned based on the player’s batting position in the lineup. This explains how Babe Ruth got the number three and how Yankee cleanup hitter, Lou Gehrig secured number 4. The first Yankee to wear number 5 during that 1929 season was the talented but very moody outfielder, Bob Meusel. In 1930, it was assigned to the great second baseman, Tony “Poosh em Up” Lazzeri. Frank Crosetti was then given the number in 1932 and Lazzeri was switched to number 6. Crosetti wore number 5 for the next four seasons except for a short time, during the 1935 season, when the Crow got hurt and couldn’t play. The Yankees called up Nolen Richardson to take Crosetti’s spot. Richardson was a middle infielder who had played a bit of big league ball for the Tigers before he joined the Yankee organization. Since he was replacing Crosetti, the Yankees gave him uniform number 5. The 32-year-old native of Chattanooga, TN did not see much action in that uniform, appearing in just 12 games that season before getting sent down to New York’s Newark Bears farm club. He became a popular member of the Bears and was the Captain of the 1937 team that is still considered to be one of the greatest teams in minor league history, winning the International League’s pennant that season by 25 1/2 games.
Joe DiMaggio did not get number 5 until 1937, his second season in pinstripes. Crosetti kept the number until 1936. Joltin Joe wore number 9 as a rookie in 1936. Incredibly, the Yankees didn’t even keep number 5 in mothballs during the WWII when Joe D served in the military. Instead, New York’s wartime first baseman, Nick Etten got the number in 1943 and kept it until the Yankee Clipper returned for the 1946 season.