Some teams seem to stockpile players at one position. Take a look at the Giants and their history of great pitchers as an example. For the Yankees there are three positions like that: Center Field, Catcher, and Second Base. I recognize they’ve had some pretty good players at other positions, but when you have Ruth and Gehrig it’s such a fall off to whoever you pick as the second best guy at the position that you tend to overlook the other players in right field and at first. A while back I did a look at the Yankees center field history, so in keeping with a look at second base, here’s a brief look at the quality of Yankees second basemen since 1921.
When the Yankees won their first pennant in 1921 the second baseman was Aaron Ward. He was a decent player, hitting .300 that year with five home runs. He’s most famous for making the final out in the Series by trying to reach third on a ground out to second (the first time a World Series ended on a double play). He stayed in New York through the 1922 pennant and the first championship of 1923, got hurt in 1924, didn’t bounce back well in 1925 and yielded his place to Tony Lazzeri in 1926.
Lazzeri is the first of the Yankees Hall of Fame second sackers. He’s most famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) for striking out with the bases loaded in game seven of the 1926 World Series (he led the American League in striking out in 1926 with 96). He went on to be a key player in the Murderer’s Row Yankees of 1926-32 and in the first couple of years of the 1936-42 Bronx Bombers. He hit well, was OK in the field, and had a decent World Series record (4 home runs, 19 RBIs in 30 games). In 1938 he was sent to Chicago where he helped the Cubs to a World Series (against the Yankees). He went o-2 in two pinch hit tries.
The Yankees replaced him with their second Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Gordon. As good as Lazzeri had been, Gordon was better. He hit better, had more power, and was a considerably better second baseman. He won a controversial MVP in 1942, slumped in ’43, then went off to war in 1944 and 1945. He was back in New York in 1946, did poorly, and went to Cleveland the next season. As with Lazzeri, he helped his new team to a pennant, although in took a year (1948) to get to the top. And unlike Lazzeri’s Cubs, the Indians won.
Snuffy Stirnweiss took over for the war years, remaining through most of the 1940s. He was terrific against wartime pitching, not so great postwar. Jerry Coleman replaced him. Coleman was a good glove, no stick player who held the job until Billy Martin arrived.
Martin is much more controversial today than he was when he played for the Yankees. He had a great 1952 World Series, beating the Dodgers pretty much single-handedly (if only he coulda pitched). He stayed at second through the bulk of the 1950s, giving way to Bobby Richardson in the late 1950s. Richardson was another Coleman. He was a good second baseman and hit well enough to eventually lead off for the Yankees through the first half of the 1960s. He hit well, but as a leadoff hitter he was problematic. He never walked and on a team that relied on power over speed, had no power.
As with the rest of the Yankees in the last half of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the second basemen were not players particularly worth remembering (unless you’re a relative). That changed with Willie Randolph. Randolph played the position well, hit well, ran the bases well (again without stealing a lot of bases), and was a critical member of a Yankees revival that lasted into the mid-1980’s. His later stint with the Mets as a manager has damaged his reputation to some degree, but as a player he was very good. He’s not in the Hall of Fame, maybe shouldn’t be, but was a truly fine player.
The Yanks went into another funk that lasted into the middle 1990s. They picked up a number of good players, drafted some others, and went on to become the formidable force they are today. One of the pickups was Chuck Knoblauch. He hit well, gave them a leadoff hitter with some power, decent speed, and until he forgot how to throw the ball, a pretty fair second baseman. He was replaced by Alfonso Soriano, who ended up in Chicago and in the outfield for a reason. Robinson Cano is the new guy and he’s a throwback to the Lazzeri/Gordon years of a second baseman who can hit and hit for power. I hate to jinx the guy, but he may end up being the best Yankees second sacker ever.
There’s a brief rundown of Yankees second basemen in their glory years. It’s a fairly formidable list. I can think of very few teams that boast two great second basemen. The Yanks have that many, plus a number of above average ones and one current player who may surpass them all. No wonder New York wins a lot.