Pride, Passion and Pinstripes: The greatest Yankees to ever touch the field
No team in baseball history has a story quite like the Yankees. 27 times they’ve found baseball Nirvana which is 16 more than the next closest team (Cardinals). 40 times have the Yankees won the American League, and that is also a major league record. The franchise won four straight championships from 1936-1939 and five straight from 1949-1953, a task no other team has ever accomplished. With all this sustained success, the team has seen some of the greatest players in league history proudly call the Bronx home. Together the Yankees could field multiple All-Star teams with their collective legends, but in this article, I’m going to try and put together a team of legends that I think would be absolutely unbeatable.
Catcher: The Yankees have been blessed with great catchers throughout their history from Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Captain Thurman Munson and more recently Jorge Posada and the club’s current stud Gary Sanchez. This is one of the more loaded positions, and all of the guys mentioned above were huge parts of the team’s success throughout history. Yogi has all the accolades being a 10-time World Series champion as a player, he made 18 All-Star games and gave us some of the best sayings (Yogisms) in baseball. His mentor Bill Dickey was one of baseball greatest hitters and a vital cog in the team’s lineup along with superstar players like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. However, my choice is Elston Howard. Ellie as he was affectionately referred to by his teammates was the first African American to don Yankee Pinstripes. He was the AL MVP in 1963 and won four championships as a player and two more as a Yankee coach in ’77 and ’78. Have Elston behind home plate was like having another coach out on the field. Though the other guys may have been pure statistics, what Ellie brought to the team can’t be seen on paper. Not to mention his back to back gold glove awards in ’63 and ’64 truly make Ellie a Yankee great and my choice for the teams all time catcher.
First Base: No disrespect to any great first basemen the team has had throughout history, but this one was clear cut, Lou Gehrig the MVP of the famed 1927 Murderers Row Yankees and a man nicknamed the “Iron Horse” for his incredible streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. Not only was Gehrig a tremendous ballplayer, but he was an even better person and the type of player that kids from every generation should try to emulate. Gehrig, a native of New York City, has a stat line that would blow anyone back. He had a career batting average of .340 while socking 493 homeruns, driving in 1,995 runs, and a remarkable 2,721 hits. Lou was a seven-time All-Star and won two MVP’s in 1927 and then again in 1936. Three times he led the American League in home runs and five times led the league in RBI’s. Gehrig also had the honor of being named the first official Yankee Captain, a role in which he was beyond deserving of. Gehrig played his final game on April 30, 1939, and on May 2nd of that same year, he officially removed himself from the lineup after his disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) had become to severe. Famously on July 4, 1939 the Yankees held a goodbye ceremony for their captain and leader and that is where Gehrig gave his famous goodbye address. Humble as ever he utters his famous quote “Today I consider myself the luckiest man of the face of the earth.” Gehrig’s number 4 was the first number retired by the team and his monument would join Miller Huggins in center. Lou Gehrig died in 1941 at only 37 years of age, but in his short life, he was the greatest player that ever played for baseball’s greatest team.
Second Base: Robinson Cano, Joe Gordon and Billy Martin along with Willie Randolph were excellent Yankee players and all deserving of the titles of greatest second baseman. They were very important part of their collective teams, in fact Joe Gordon even won an MVP award back in 1942. However, neither of them are going to take home this award, because for the greatest team second baseman, I’m going with a man who I personally believe to be the most underrated player in Yankee history. Tony Lazzeri was the Yankee second baseman from 1926-1937. He was part of the famous murderers row lineup that included Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig and fellow Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Earle Combs. Lazzeri is often overlooked because of the guys he played along side, but many of his former teammates will tell you the Lazzeri was the engine that made the great Yankee teams go. He was the son of Italian immigrants who as a San Francisco native got his start playing in the Pacific Coast League before coming to bright lights of New York where he would excel. Lazzeri had one of the strongest throwing arms in baseball history which helped him immensely on the defensive side of the ball. He played his entire stellar career under the constant nag of epilepsy. For his career he hit .292 with 178 home runs and 1,191 runs driven in. He won five championships for the Bronx Bombers (1927, 1928, 1932, 1936 and 1937). Like his longtime teammate Gehrig, Lazzeri passed away far too young at the age of 42. “Poosh em up” is arguably the greatest Yankee that a casual fan has never heard of.
Shortstop: This one should seem fairly obvious and would be the first modern player on this list, but I actually debated on this one for awhile. The current CEO of the Miami Marlins is choice and a deserving one but I considered the great “Scooter” Phil Rizzuto very much for this spot. Rizzuto won seven championships for the Yanks while providing excellent defense and taking home the MVP award in 1950. Ted Williams of the Red Sox and one of the greatest players in baseball history often said “If Rizzuto was our shortstop I would have won 2-3 titles”. A tremendous compliment considering his shortstop was his longtime close friend Johnny Pesky. Enough about Scooter, the winner and Yankees all-time hit leader with 3,465 career hits is Derek Jeter. Jeter was the teams last captain and was the first player to eclipse that 3,000-hit threshold by collecting his via a home run on July 9, 2011. Jeter’s career average in an impressive .310, he was a 14-time All-Star, won the World Series five times while appearing in seven, Rookie of the Year in 1996, and World Series MVP in 2000. Jeets was the most recent addition to monument park having his number 2 retired in May of 2017. Fans seem to love Jeter even more after the Yankees and Jeter’s current club the Miami Marlins struck a deal in December of 2017 that sent 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the Bronx.
Third Base: I have a feeling this one is going to cause a little bit of conflict because I’m going with Alex Rodriguez. Fans have had mixed reactions to A-Rod ever since he came to the Yankees prior to the 2004 season. Obviously, his yearlong suspension and link to PED’s lost him a number of supporters. However, he came back in 2015 and seemed to win a lot of fans back with his great 2015 campaign. Rodriguez comes off as smug and that rubbed many the wrong way but toward the end of his brilliant career really seemed to have humility and even could poke fun at himself on occasion. The numbers don’t lie, A-Rod hit 696 “A-Bombs” while driving in 2,086 and collecting 3,115 hits (Like Jeter, his 3,000th hit was a home run). He won two MVPS with the Yankees in ’05 and ’07 and won a third in 2003 as a member of the Texas Rangers. Rodriguez was one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, he was a five-tool guy for most of his career and while his legacy might be tarnished due to steroid use there is no denying that he is the greatest that ever manned the hot corner for New York.
Outfield: Like catcher this was very tough as the Yankees have had incredible outfielders throughout their history and trying to find just three was beyond difficult. No matter who was chosen there is going to be a few amazing players left out. In the ends the three I chose were Reggie Jackson, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth. Leaving out Mickey Mantle and Bernie Williams was not easy as they were both hugely important to the Yankees success and both their jersey numbers 7 and 51 rest out in monument park.
1. Ruth: The Great Bambino was the easiest of the three to choose from. Many consider Ruth to be the greatest player of all-time. He slugged 714 home runs and is one of only three players in MLB history to surpass the 700-home run mark, 659 of those came with the Yankees. Babe played for the Bombers from 1921 to 1934 winning four world series titles to add with the three he won from playing with the Red Sox. Before his time as the games premier power threat Ruth was a star pitcher winning 94 games with an ERA of 2.28. The Babe was worth the price of admission for many, he was a superhero to many young fans and his lively outgoing personality endeared him to all. Babe famously hit 60 home runs in 1927 which would stand as a major league record until 196,1 when another Yankee, Roger Maris, hit 61 to become the team’s single season home run leader. Babe was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1936 and was one of the first five members in Cooperstown.
2. DiMaggio: With elegance and almost effortless grace Joe D patrolled the Yankee outfield like no one ever before him. The Yankee Clipper played 13 seasons making the All-Star team in each of them. He was a nine-time World Series champion and won three AL MVP awards. In 1941, he had his magical 56 game hitting streak, a record that still stands to this day. DiMaggio hit .325 with 361 home runs and 1,537 runs batted in for his career. He had a long friendship with author Ernest Hemmingway and is mentioned in a number of his books. Hemmingway almost makes DiMaggio seem like a mythical character, in the book The Old Man in the Sea the main character tells the young boy “Have faith in the Yankees my son, think of the Great DiMaggio.” Joe D came from a family of great athletes as his brothers Vince and Dom were both also professional ball players, though they didn’t have the prodigious skill that Joe possessed. Some consider DiMaggio to be the greatest pure hitter of all-time, he had a long-standing rivalry with Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams who was constantly competing with him for MVP awards. When asked his opinion on the Splendid Splinter, Joe D said “best left handed hitter I’ve ever seen”, when Williams was asked the same of DiMaggio he said “best right handed hitter I’ve ever seen”. Neither would concede who was the better overall player.
3. Jackson: Mr. October was the last of the three that I added and I greatly struggled with him or the legendary Mickey Mantle. Mantle may seem like the more obvious choice as he played his entire career for the Yankees and took over as the next great homegrown star following Joe DiMaggio’s retirement. Jackson on the other hand only played for the Yankees for five seasons from 1977-1981. The difference is Mickey came into teams that were already established and great with a championship pedigree. The Yankees of the late 60’s and early 70’s were quite poor. In 1976, the year before Jackson was acquired the team did make it to the World Series but were easily disposed of by the Cincinnati Reds and their “Big Red Machine.” It was because of that team owner George Steinbrenner went out and brought Jackson in. The team would win back to back championships in ’77 and ’78 with Jackson being a huge part of that success. For his career, Reggie hit 563 home runs and had 2,584 hits. He was an All-Star all five seasons he was with the Yankees and fourteen times overall. He was also the World Series MVP in 1977 which was the Yankees first title since 1962 and the first of seven under Mr. Steinbrenner. Jackson had his number 9 retired by Oakland and his number 44 retired by the Yankees. Reggie was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993 on his first ballot.
1. Whitey Ford: The star lefty won six championships with the Yankees and is their all time career leader in victories with 236. Ford also holds a major league record with 33 consecutive scoreless innings pitched in World Series play. He was a ten time All-Star and the 1961 CY Young award winner. Ford’s number 16 is out in monument park and as of this moment he is considered the greatest living Yankee.
2. Red Ruffing: It seems only right the guy behind Ford is the man with the second most wins in team history (231). Ruffing, a Yankee from 1931-1946 dominated baseball with his arsenal of pitches keeping hitters off balance and very uncomfortable in the batter’s box. Ruffing had a career 3.47 ERA with the Yankees and threw 261 complete games.
3. Lefty Gomez: To me Gomez’s most impressive stat is that he started seven straight All-Star games from 1933-1939. He won 20 games a ridiculous four times. He won 189 games total with the Yankees and led the league in strikeouts three times.
4. Jack Chesbro: “Happy Jack” is the first non-Yankee to make the list. What I mean is that his playing career was during the Highlanders days prior to the team becoming the Yankees. The North Adams, Massachusetts native best season was in 1904 where he set the major league record for wins in a singles season with 41. He posted an ERA of 1.82 and went 41-12 and had an astounding 48 (not a typo) complete games. He had a career 2.58 ERA and in 1907 allowed zero home runs.
5. Mike Mussina: I’m going to be honest here, there is a handful of guys who probably deserve to be in this spot over Moose. Growing up though Mike Mussina was my hero, I spent hours trying to throw that knuckle curve (spoiler alert, I can’t). For his career Mussina went 270-153 and compiled a 3.68 ERA. He was one of the best fielding pitchers in league history winning seven gold gloves. He won 20 games his final year in 2008. Hopefully in 2019 the Hall of Fame voters get it right and elect Moose to the Hall of Fame.
Honorable Mentions: Ron Guidry, David Cone, Roger Clemens, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Andy Pettitte (2,020 career K’s is team record)
Closers: Perhaps the easiest choice on the list is for the great Mariano Rivera. Mo’s 652 saves are a major-league record and one that will probably not be broken for a very long time. Rivera’s cut-fastball was the greatest pitch in league history, everyone knew it was coming and still couldn’t hit. Mo carried himself with poise and dignity on and off the field making him one of the most beloved Yankees in history. He was a 13-time All-Star, World Series MVP, won five championships along with the other members of the core four and was the last player to ever wear the number 42 which the Yankees would retire for him.
Leading this all-time team on the coaching staff is Joe McCarthy. McCarthy managed the Bombers for sixteen years, winning eight pennants and seven World Series championships. He had a .627 winning percentage and was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. While McCarthy's teams were loaded with talent, many of his players were quoted saying Joe's presence and managing were indispensable to their success.
The New York Yankees are the class of baseball and professional sports. From ownership, down to the players on the field, it is a history and tradition like no other. They are what every team strives to be. The hope is that some of these guys on the 2018 team can join the ranks of the players mentioned above and add a 28th championship and 41st pennant to the record books.
Agree or disagree with the list above? Let’s hear your thoughts. There are no wrong answers! (except Kei Igawa).
Article by: Fave RuggieroFollow @BronxBomberBall