Hideki Matsui New York Yankees
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Paul O’Neill’s number has been unofficially retired for almost 20 years now, save that unfortunate time for poor LaTroy Hawkins. And now it will be official.

The Yankees will honor O’Neill, a core member of the last dynasty, and place his No. 21 in Monument Park on Sunday. The ceremony will be held before the current team goes out and likely gets swept by the Blue Jays to continue its freefall.

Which begs the question: What former Yankees could follow O’Neill and be honored down the road, whether it be with a retired number or a wall plaque?

Some housekeeping notes: We are not going to project the candidacies (or lack thereof) of active players. Our list will be restricted to inactive players from the last 20 years or so. If the Yankees were going to give plaques to players like Earle Combs, Tommy Henrich, Bobby Murcer and Roy White, they would have done it already. The same goes for honoring the late Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford with actual monuments.

Here are seven potential future candidates (the post has been updated):


Scott Brosius. Tino Martinez’s recent plaque induction opens the door for Brosius. He was not as good a player as Martinez, but he is the only everyday mainstay from the 1996-2001 dynasty that is not honored in Monument Park. And Brosius was critical to three of the four championships (plus his heroics in the 2001 World Series). We doubt Brosius ever gets in. But he is in the conversation.

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Brett Gardner. If the Yankees had won the World Series in 2017 or 2019, we believe Gardner would have earned a plaque. He was one of the most beloved players in recent years. He spent his entire career with the team – assuming he officially retires without signing elsewhere – and he was the bridge between the end of one era in franchise history and the start of another. But without the second ring, Gardner has a hard time measuring up to players like White (as well as other contemporaries). We must agree with Mike Francesa’s recent take. Gardner falls a bit short of being a legacy-type Yankee.

Joe Girardi. Girardi’s exit was a bit messy. But he was part of three World Series titles as a player and won one as manager. And time heals all wounds. A plaque is unlikely but would not be unwarranted.

Hideki Matsui. We would bet Matsui gets a plaque at some point. He was an extremely underrated player, he played a major role in the 2009 championship run and he had a knack for clutch moments. We also think there is a good chance he will eventually be inducted into Cooperstown, which would make Monument Park a no-brainer. Matsui is the clear No. 3 Japanese player in big league history behind Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani (and you could debate whether Ohtani should be ahead of him yet). Matsui’s career in Japan should be considered and we believe it will eventually be taken into account as voters’ approaches evolve.

Mike Mussina. He didn’t win a World Series, but he delivered two of the most heroic postseason outings in franchise history — Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS against Oakland and his relief stint in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox — and he is now a Hall of Famer. A plaque seems likely.

Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod’s controversial, vexing status has been revisited in recent days following his prominent role in ESPN’s “The Captain” documentary series. In terms of numbers, postseason success and talent, it’s a no-brainer that Rodriguez deserves a plaque. And you could make a strong argument to retire his No. 13. But then there is everything else — The Derek Jeter stuff, steroids, the suspension, contract standoffs and plenty of other dust-ups and feuds. That’s what makes this a debate. And the question now is whether Rodriguez’s apparent reconciliation with Jeter and his image renaissance is enough to thaw the freeze. Our guess is a number retirement is a non-starter, but a plaque could eventually happen.

CC Sabathia. It’s likely a question of when, not if, he receives his plaque. He became a Yankees stalwart and the 2009 title helps his cause.

And well down the road … Jeter and Mariano Rivera will receive monuments (which have traditionally been awarded posthumously. Berra deserves one; it is a shame the Yankees have not given him one. And Joe Torre is probably 50-50 with odds against him.

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James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.