Why Do Yankees Have 21 on Their Sleeves?

The New York Yankees have a long and storied history that dates back to the early 1900s. One thing that has remained constant is the iconic number 21 on the sleeve of the team’s uniform. Every member of the team wears the number 21 on their sleeve, but why? The answer to this question goes back to a man that changed the Yankees’ fortunes forever, and that man is the late great Lou Gehrig.

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Who Was Lou Gehrig?

Lou Gehrig was an American professional baseball player who played for the New York Yankees from 1923 to 1939. He was a two-time MVP and one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Gehrig was known for his record-breaking streak of playing in 2,130 consecutive games, a feat that earned him the nickname “The Iron Horse”. He also led the Yankees to seven World Series titles and was one of the greatest hitters in the game. Gehrig was known for his humility and generosity, traits that endeared him to his fans and teammates.

The Tragic Death of Lou Gehrig

In 1938, Gehrig was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive and terminal disease. He announced his retirement in 1939 and gave an emotional speech at his farewell ceremony at Yankee Stadium. He famously said “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Despite his diagnosis, Gehrig’s legacy lived on. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, only one year after he retired. In 1941, the New York Yankees retired his number 4, making him the first player to have his number retired.

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The Number 21

In 1942, the Yankees decided to honor Gehrig further by retiring his number 21. The number was placed on the sleeves of the Yankees’ uniforms and has remained there ever since. According to Yankees’ tradition, the number 21 is worn by every player in recognition of Gehrig’s legacy.


The number 21 has become a symbol of respect and admiration for Lou Gehrig. The Yankees’ decision to retire his number was an acknowledgment of his greatness, both on and off the field. Even today, the number 21 is a reminder of Gehrig’s legacy and all that he did for the Yankees and the game of baseball.