The end is imminent for the Great New York Yankees Jersey Number Controversy: Reliever LaTroy Hawkins intends to surrender No. 21 in time for the club's opener of a two-game series with Boston on Wednesday night in Yankee Stadium.
Hawkins, in the midst of a fan-induced uproar because nobody had worn the still-revered Paul O'Neill's old No. 21 since O'Neill's retirement in 2001, said Tuesday he will switch to No. 22.
"I figure if it's important enough for Jeter and Mariano and some other veterans to ask me about it, it's not worth it to keep wearing the number," Hawkins said.
The right-hander had worn No. 32 for most of his career but was forced to pick a new number after signing with New York as a free agent last winter because the Yankees have retired that number in memory of Elston Howard.
Hawkins chose No. 21 to honor Roberto Clemente. Hawkins was born on Dec. 21, 1972, and the former Pirates great was killed in a plane crash 10 days later.
However, though the Yankees have not retired No. 21, O'Neill was the last to wear it, and New York fans still consider the former outfielder -- and, obviously, his number -- sacred. It reached the point on the club's last homestand that, while Hawkins pitched, the fans chanted O'Neill's name.
Though players change clubs now more frequently than ever, choosing a number for those coming to the Yankees is no easy proposition: The club has retired 15 different numbers, more than anybody in the majors.
The list of retired Yankees numbers: 1 (Billy Martin), 3 (Babe Ruth), 4 (Lou Gehrig), 5 (Joe DiMaggio), 7 (Mickey Mantle), 8 (Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey), 9 (Roger Maris), 10 (Phil Rizzuto), 15 (Thurman Munson), 16 (Whitey Ford), 23 (Don Mattingly), 32 (Howard), 37 (Casey Stengel), 44 (Reggie Jackson) and 49 (Ron Guidry).
No. 42 now also is retired throughout the majors in honor of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier 61 years ago Tuesday.