Anthony Volpe Yankees
Nathan Ray Seebeck | USA TODAY Sports

And on Opening Day Eve, Anthony Volpe said, “Farewell, No. 77. Greetings, No. 11!”

Alright, so that’s probably not how it went down at all, but even so. To say the Yankees’ star rookie didn’t turn a few heads when he switched his uniform number would be the understatement of the offseason. Instead, a small handful of Yankees fans have some opinions about it.

Granted, the Yankees haven’t officially retired No. 11 but this is still significant. Brett Gardner, though not a Hall of Fame player, is one of the more beloved Yankees in recent history. Not necessarily for his stats, but for his work ethic and leadership. In some bygone era, this would probably be enough for him to get his number retired.

Except in the case of the Yankees, their ridiculous amount of retired numbers is actually a problem. Nos. 1-10 are all spoken for. Domingo German has the unique No. 0. No. 13 needs some distance from Joey Gallo before anyone wears it again.

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Thus, No. 11 was probably never getting retired for Brett Gardner. Nos. 9 and 49 were already retired for Roger Maris and Ron Guidry having basically one or two great seasons each. The closest Gardner had to that was when he hit 28 home runs thanks to juiced baseballs in 2019, and he wasn’t even an All-Star.

But No. 11? This makes more sense for Volpe than we realize. Forget that his wearing No. 77 in spring training was a tribute to the great Mickey Mantle, his grandfather’s favorite Yankee. He can’t wear his No. 7 from the minors either for obvious reasons.

No. 11, rather, is a winner. One and one adding up to two. No. 2 was worn by longtime Yankee captain and Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. Perhaps this is a good omen?

But more importantly, Volpe deserves No. 11 because in his own way, he can epitomize everything that made Gardner a great Yankee. We already know Volpe has the speed. He stole 50 bases in the minors last year, one more than Gardner’s MLB career-high of 49.

Volpe also has the strong work ethic that earned Gardner regular playing time. Why else would his winning the shortstop battle in spring training be described as him “kicking the door down?”

The only question left is if Volpe will become a key leadership voice in the clubhouse as he matures. Aaron Judge is the new captain and a Yankee for life. Anthony Rizzo is his loyal second-in-command, but only has a two-year deal with an option. Could Volpe be the one to step up as a voice in the locker room?

This is all fun to talk about but at the end of the day, the Yankees gave Volpe No. 11 for one reason. They see him as a surefire franchise legend who’ll get his own plaque in Monument Park along with getting his number retired. It’s hard to sell that on No. 77. Judge’s No. 99 is a big number for an even bigger player, so it uniquely works.

Gardner, on the other hand, was an average player. Fans loved him for his always giving his best effort, not the back of his baseball card. He could probably come to Old Timers Day every year for the rest of his life and be the most popular attendee. That doesn’t make a franchise legend who deserves a plaque and his number retired.

It’s okay to have some big baseball feelings about this. Fans loved Gardner. Nobody can ever take that away. The shot of him in uniform during a postgame press conference after the Yankees lost the 2021 AL Wild Card is near-legendary. Now, it’s time for that number to transfer from a cult-legend to a future certain legend.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.