Thursday, August 07, 2008

Yankees for Life?

In a July issue of USA Today Sports Weekly, there was an article that discussed who is the greatest living Yankee, a distinction that Joe DiMaggio used to insist be attached to his name. Since DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle are no longer alive, the torch seems to have been passed to Yogi Berra, with Whitey Ford a close second.

I tried to make such a list myself, and I did actually post one on Amazon's Unspun. Interestingly enough, now that others have contributed to the list that I created, Ron Guidry has moved ahead of Whitey Ford in the rankings. Now, I love Ron Guidry. In fact, he's my favorite Yankee from my childhood, evidenced by the fact that I once made a t-shirt by writing "Louisiana Lightning" on the front and "49" on the back of a white undershirt in black permanent marker. But, even I understand that Ron Guidry's career pales in comparison to Whitey Ford's.

Regardless, the list was difficult to make because it's hard to compare Reggie Jackson's 5 years to Don Mattingly's 14, for instance. So, I decided to go with a slightly different spin on that list here. I've ranked the top ten greatest career Yankees who are still living, the list being exclusive to players who spent their entire careers with the Bronx Bombers. I did, however, make one exception. Yogi Berra finished his career with 9 at-bats as a player-coach for the Mets in 1965, after he was fired as manager of the Yankees following 1964's World Series loss to the Cardinals. I decided to overlook this ill-fated return to the playing field, and allow Yogi to take his rightful place at the top of this list.

Yogi Berra1. Yogi Berra (1946-1963)
2. Whitey Ford (1950-1967)

Yogi and Whitey are the obvious choices, being the Yankees' only two Hall of Famers who qualify for this list. I put Yogi ahead of Whitey, as do most people, but the Chairman of the Board's place in the discussion of the greatest left-handed pitchers in baseball history can't be overlooked.

3. Derek Jeter (1995- )
4. Mariano Rivera (1995- )

Inarguably the two most important players in the Yankees' 1996-2000 run of 4 World Series championships in 5 years. I give Jeter the edge, as the Captain, and an everyday player who certainly has had his share of clutch moments. Howeever, I do acknowledge that being considered the all-time greatest at your position could be considered a strong argument for moving Rivera up on the list.

Bernie Williams5. Bernie Williams (1991-2006)
6. Don Mattingly (1982-1995)

Interestingly enough, Bernie Williams was barely mentioned in the article referenced above, while Mattingly was on the list of players who could make a case for the Greatest Living Yankee moniker. Bernie played a little longer than Donnie Baseball, but his cumulative numbers (runs, RBI, home runs) would be better even if he hadn't. Mattingly has the batting average edge (.307 to .297), but Williams more than makes up for that in the OBP department (.381 to .358). Mattingly may have won nine Gold Gloves to Williams' four, but Bernie played a more important defensive position, and, of course, played on four World Champions.

7. Ron Guidry (1975-1988)
8. Jorge Posada (1995- )

Guidry is kind of the Mattingly of Yankee pitchers, except in addition to flaming out a little early, he was also a late bloomer. He actually had his second best year in 1985, at age 34, finishing second in the Cy Young voting to Bret Saberhagen. If he had won that award, and not tailed off after that, he may have been a more serious Hall of Fame candidate. Still, he was pretty terrific in his prime, and I don't think I've ever seen a better season by a starting pitcher than his 1978.

What can I say about Jorge Posada, other than to call him another core member of the most recent Yankees' dynasty? It's also quite interesting that he, Jeter and Mo all made their major league debuts in the same year.

Roy White9. Mel Stottlemyre (1964-1974)
10. Roy White (1965-1979)

A couple guys who could easily be forgotten here. All Mel Stottlemyre did was compile a 164-139 career record, with a 2.97 ERA in 2661 innings, for some of the worst Yankees teams in recent memory.

Roy White was a little luckier, having stuck around long enough for some late 70's glory. He put together a pretty good 15-year career, in which he accumulated 1804 hits, 964 runs, 160 home runs, 758 RBI and 233 stolen bases.


  1. Nice job.
    How about honorable mentions for Tony Kubek and Bobby Richardson?

  2. Actually, now that you mention it, Tommy Henrich is still alive at 95. I could be questioned for ranking Roy White ahead of him, but I'll stick with my picks, and add honorable mentions for Old Reliable, as well as Kubek and Richardson.

  3. Even better:

    SP Whitey Ford
    RP Mariano Rivera
    C Yogi Berra
    1B Don Mattingly
    2B Bobby Richardson
    3B Bobby Cox?
    SS Derek Jeter
    LF Roy White
    CF Bernie Williams
    RF ???

    Clearly, 3B and RF are tough. Matsui is an interesting idea; Piniella, O'Neill and Murcer regrettably ineligible...

  4. Yeah, let's put Henrich in right.

  5. ...and Gil McDougald (over Bobby Brown) at 3B.