Thursday, May 24, 2007

Top 10 Yankees

On Mike and the Mad Dog today, a caller tried to suggest that Derek Jeter, who passed Joe DiMaggio for total career hits last night, is among the four greatest Yankees ever. M&MD found that laughable, and I just kept eating my High School Special (with chili and cheese) from Garden Catering. So the duo threw out their top 10, of which they were sure about the nine. OK, I'm agreeing with them in terms of the names, but I'll rank them for you (free of charge!).

1) Babe Ruth. Sometimes I want to rank Lou Gehrig higher because I just think Gehrig was that great, but the fact is that nobody in the history of the sport (or any other sport) was...or is greater than Ruth. He's the Babe. Remember, prior to joining the Yankees he was the best lefthanded pitcher in baseball. After joining the Yankees, he outhomered entire teams.
2) Lou Gehrig. Argue DiMaggio or Mantle if you wish. Say his streak was overrated. Just have a look at the numbers he put up, in comparison to his contemporaries. That's all the conversation we'll need to have.
3) Mickey Mantle. When he was healthy there was nobody better...including Willie Mays.
4) Joe DiMaggio. As with Ted Williams, one must consider the war years, and what it took away. DiMaggio was a right-handed hitter who was not tailor-made for Yankee Stadium, yet he thrived.

They're the saints of Yankees baseball, in my opinion. Now it gets tough. Some want to put Jeter in fifth place. Not here...not yet.
5) Yogi Berra. I have a tough time with Yogi, and have vascillated on his standing in Yankees lore. Obviously he was a great player, and the winningest player of them all (10 World Series rings). Recent things that I've read and heard has convinced me of just how truly great he was. I used to put Bill Dickey (Yogi's mentor) right along side of Berra.
6) Whitey Ford. Hey sombody has to pitch and who better than the "Chairman of the Board" who still holds World Series records for wins (and losses) and consecutive scoreless innings. His 1961 season deserves to be talked about among the greatest ever (25-4, 3.21).
7) Derek Jeter. You know how I am about "instant classics." Jeter is great and, barring anything, will be the first Yankee to get to 3000 hits, and could even get 4000 hits if all went right. He's never not been to the playoffs, even riding the bench as a non-playoff-roster rookie in 1995. He's won four titles and came within two outs of a fifth. Then there's the World Series loss to the Marlins in 2003, and let's not go to 2004. It's funny when people try to call him overrated. Instead let's call him one of the greatest ever. Still I just can't see where he ever be better than the fifth greatest Yankee ever.
8) Mariano Rivera. Many of the same reasons regarding my placement of Jeter make me put Mo here. You could flip-flop their positioning and I would have no problem with it, but there's no question we're talking about the greatest reliever ever. No, I can't forget Sandy Alomar in '97, or the ninth inning of Game 7 in 2001, or Game 4 in 2004, but those missteps only magnify his greatness. It's amazing to see him fail, just as it was with Dennis Eckersley when Kirk Gibson homered off of him in 1988.
9) Bill Dickey. I've changed my stance on Dickey, simply because he was surrounded by such greatness during his career. That doesn't change how great he was. Plus as mentioned earlier, he helped turn Lawdie Berra from a pudgy backstop to a Hall Of Fame catcher.

OK, those are the easy nine. Number 10 is just brutal to pick. Here's who won't be at number 10:
- Bernie Williams. I get it - you all love him. I like him also. I just think when you consider who is in this top 10, he's not better. Certainly not more than the players that I'm thinking of. Let me say this - he might be one of the great team players of all time.
- Don Mattingly. Ooof, that hurts. He might be the 11th greatest. Like Williams, I think you probably have to be a hall of famer. Donnie Baseball won't be unless something changes.
- Paul O'Neill. A great Yankee. Not one of the 10 best.
- Bobby Murcer. Number one in my heart, and maybe he would be here if not for Gabe Paul trading him following the 1974 season.
- Reggie Jackson. Only five years as a Yankee. No dice.
- Dave Winfield. Great player. Also Mr. May. No way.
- Ron Guidry. If only he was a hall of famer. Still responsible for the greatest season I've seen from a starting pitcher (1978 - 25-3, 1.74).
- Jorge Posada. Getting closer, and is in the great Yankee catcher conversation.
- Thurman Munson. Close...very close.
- Elston Howard. Great catching tradition carried on with Howard, just as it started with Dickey, to Berra, to Howard, to Munson, to Posada (with many years in between). Dignified man, great player.
- Roger Maris. Two great years. Not enough to crack the top 10.

Obviously there are countless other names (Nettles, Piniella, Chambliss, Gomez, Hoyt, Muesel, Rolfe, Raschi, Reynolds, Lopat, Cone, Henderson, and on and on) but one player seemed to stand out a touch more...

10) Red Ruffing. After coming to the Yankees from the Red Sox in 1930, Ruffing was the ace of the 1930's and early 40's teams. From 1930 to 1946, Ruffing went 231-124 (.651) with a 3.47 ERA. He would win 20 games or more four straight years (1936-1939) and was a part of seven World Championship teams. His top year was arguably 1939, when he went 21-7 with a 2.93 ERA. He also finished in the top five in the MVP voting in 1938 and 1939. And he could hit - a career .269 average with 36 home runs! To top off all of that, he was 7-2 in 10 career World Series starts with eight complete games and a 2.63 ERA.

Those are my top 10 Yankees. Comments are always welcome.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.


E said...

You are giving Jackson too little credit. Even though he only had 5 years in NY, no one in the post-war era stirred things up more; no one affected the way his team played more; and, no one affected the way other teams played the Yankees more.

Sean G. Kilkelly said...

What are your thoughts on Tony Lazzeri?

Rob Adams said...

E - Jackson was the straw, that's for sure. Buy he only played five years in New York and was responsible for three swings in one game. I think the Yankees still get a title without Reggie - that's how good they were in '77 and '78. I'd still put Munson, Guidry, or Mattingly in the top 10 before Reggie.

Two more things about Reginald. I've said it very clearly: his number should not be retired by the Yankees, and I hesitate to say that a Yankees hat should be on his Hall of Fame plaque. He made his name as a member of the swingin' A's of '72-74.

Reggie always stirs debate!

Sean - Lazzeri was great, but like Bill Dickey, he tends to get lost in the greatness of those around him. I'd have to think about it, but he's within the top 25.

I might even put him higher than Reggie - OH (said with Andrew Dice Clay inflection)!