The 50 Greatest Yankees

Recently ESPN New York did a poll of experts (and I’ll bet they stiffed every one of us) to determine the 50 Greatest New York Yankees. The list is available at their site or if you go through Google, it’s the first item. I won’t give you the entire list, but here’s the top 10 in order followed by some commentary: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter, Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing, Bill Dickey. And for those curious but not willing to go look up the list, Don Mattingly finished 11th.

Now some comments:

1. Ruth finished first on every ballot. He was the only person to finish in the same spot on every ballot. That works for me.

2. That means that Gehrig did not universally come in second. A commentary on the  site indicates that a handful of people chose Rivera second, over Gehrig. I love Mariano Rivera. I can’t stand the Yankees, but I like him. He’s the greatest reliever ever and it’s not often you get to actually see the “greatest ever” actually do his job. That’s really tough for someone who thought Dennis Eckersley, who never played for the Yanks, was the greatest. But Rivera greater than Gehrig? Come now, folks. I’m not sure what my all-time top 10 greatest players would look like, but I’m reasonably sure Gehrig would be in it and Rivera wouldn’t.

3. Staying with Rivera, I think ranking him above Ford is wrong. Gimme a starter every time over a reliever, especially if that starter pitched prior to the 1980s (1950s and early 1960s for Ford), when a hurler was expected to go deep into the game. For his career Ford averaged seven innings in each start with 13036 batters faced. Rivera, in contrast, has faced only 4586 (as of 3 April). Additionally, of pitchers with 150 wins or more, Ford has the highest winning percentage. Basically it’s a question of who do you prefer, a starter or a reliever? I suppose some of you would opt for the reliever, but I’ll stick with the starter.

4. Red Ruffing is a great choice for the top 10. He was an absolute bust at Boston, moved to New York, and became a Hall of Famer. It’s not just that he had a better team behind him, his numbers in general get better. He wins more, gives up fewer runs, walks less, strikes out more, his hits to innings pitched ratio gets a lot better. That can’t all be Yankee Stadium and Phil Rizzuto (and in case you’re curious, Ruffing was 25 when the Yanks picked him up). He also has one of my favorite stats. In World Series play, he is 7-2 (losing in 1936 and 1942). That’s the same record as Bob Gibson, although Gibson has the distinction of losing his first and last games and winning the seven in between.

5. If you’re interested in putting together a full team, Tony Lazzeri was the highest rated second baseman and Graig Nettles the highest third baseman, making your all-time team Gehrig, Lazzeri, Jeter, Nettles the infield; Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle the outfield; Berra the catcher; Ford the left-handed starter; Ruffing the right-handed starter; and Rivera the reliever.

So there you go. If you disagree with the list, complain to ESPN New York. All in all I thought it was a pretty fair listing.

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One Response to “The 50 Greatest Yankees”

  1. William Miller Says:

    I have to agree with you regarding Rivera over Gehrig. That’s just nuts. No disrespect to Rivera, but Gehrig is easily a top ten all-time player. And a top ten position player has to trump a great closer.
    I’m on the fence about Rivera over Ford. In general, I agree with you that a starter is more important than a reliever. But, in my mind, Ford is around a top 25-30 all-time starter; Rivera is easily the number 1 closer. And if you’re number 1 ever at any position, well, that has to count for something.
    The voters got it wrong at second base. Joe Gordon was better than Lazzeri. Gordon was a much better defensive second baseman. Also, he and Lazzeri had exactly the same career OPS+ (120), but Gordon had 75 more career home runs than Lazzeri (in fewer plate appearances.) Granted, some of Gordon’s counting numbers were accumulated after he was traded to Cleveland, but he had seven very fine seasons in New York.
    In fact, I might also consider Willie Randolph (60.5 career WAR) over Lazzeri (48.3 career WAR).
    Finally, I know New York fans never seemed to warm up to Dave Winfield, but he, not Mattingly, was the best player on the Yanks for the entire decade of the ’80’s. Winfield drove in over 100 runs six times, and 97 in another season. He made the All-Star team every full season he played in New York. He won five Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers while playing there as well. Mattingly had three great seasons, and a few decent ones, but Winfield was more consistently excellent for a longer period of time. Let’s not forget that when Mattingly won the ’84 batting title at .343, Winfield was right behind him at .340.
    Overall, though, this is a pretty good list.

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