The New York Yankees transcend baseball. While baseball isn’t a global craze, the Yankee logo is renowned worldwide. The Yankee brand represents class, luxury, and sustained excellence. People across the world who don’t know the first thing about baseball still recognize the sanctity of the black and white NY hat.
Therefore being a Yankee comes with an elevated level of prestige. The hype is valid: The Yankees are the most successful Major League Baseball franchise ever; having won 27 World Series championships – the most in league history. Furthermore, the Yankees play under the heightened scrutiny of New York’s monstrous media machine. Some players thrive beneath Yankee Stadium’s prevalent spotlights and media buzz. Other players shrivel.
The pantheon of Yankee legends is broad. Countless players have sparkled in pinstripes, and have duly been enshrined in baseball lore. Behind the scenes, however, many great Yankees have experienced turbulence during their tenures in the Bronx. Spats with the notorious New York media are not uncommon; and many players have had rocky relationships with the club’s stingy management. Success on the field doesn’t ensure that players are happy with their situation.
Herein is a list of ten exemplary Yankees who enjoyed a seamless marriage with the team, along with ten who had major issues playing for the illustrious ball club. The list accounts for public bickering, devotion to the team, ability (or lack thereof) to coalesce, and statistical success. Take a peek and leave your thoughts in the comment section!
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23 Loved It: Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra is cherished for his droll wit and enthusiasm; not to mention his consistent excellence on the field. He offered charm and bliss to the game. As much as baseball loved Berra, he was gratified to play a children’s game for a living and relished being a long-time Yankee fixture.
The two-time MVP led the Yankees to prolonged success. Berra proudly donned the pinstripes from 1946 to 1963. He won ten World Series titles with the Bronx Bombers and eventually secured baseball immortality in Cooperstown for his accolades.
Berra was a model Yankee: loyal, hard-working, and enduring. The often-quoted catcher was not reticent; he spoke his mind when he felt like it. Berra didn’t, however, lament his role or complain about anything, really.
''I always felt, 'Where could you go?' '' Berra explained to the New York Times. ''(Playing baseball) beats working.Why complain?''
22 Hated It: Don Baylor
The mid-1980s were not an upbeat time for the Yankees. The team wasn’t exactly in shambles – the Yankees enjoyed a respectable winning percentage throughout most of these years. They were not, however, abiding by the championship standard that begets the Yankees.
The 1984 team was an openly dismal bunch despite finishing the season at 87-75. Don Baylor, one of the team’s most productive hitters, shared his disapproval publicly after being repeatedly benched against right-handers in favor of Oscar Gamble.
Maybe Baylor’s frustration was justified: He led the team with 27 home runs in ‘84 and drove in 89 runs. Gamble hit a paltry .184 for the season; and was clearly less seemly a starter than Baylor. Gamble played 54 games that season and had 151 plate appearances. Baylor, and the team at large, suffered as a result of Gamble’s at-bats.
It is rumored that George Steinbrenner urged manager Yogi Berra to utilize Gamble at the expense of Baylor’s playing time. Such finagling is a surefire track to making players discontent.
21 Loved It: Aroldis Chapman
Despite his outlandish talent and his statistical success, it has been a volatile year for Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees, lusting for bullpen arms, traded for the Cuban fireballer in 2015 even after Chapman violated MLB’s domestic abuse policy in October. Chapman posted gaudy numbers for the Yanks after serving his suspension, including a 2.01 ERA, 12.6 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 20 saves. He did not wilt under the New York limelight.
Chapman was traded to the Cubs amid New York’s mid-season fire sale in 2016. He anchored Chicago’s bullpen and played a key role in securing the first World Series title for the Cubs since 1908. Despite tasting triumph with the Cubs, Chapman eagerly jumped on a deal to re-sign with the Yankees this offseason.
The Yankees lured Chapman with a five-year, $86M deal; ensuring Chapman will have a steady home for years to come. The elite closer is happy to call New York home, as he reported to ESPN: “Every player dreams of being a Yankee, and if they don’t its because they never got the chance.”
20 Hated It: Toby Harrah
The Yankees in the mid-80s were a dour and downright dysfunctional lot. They won more games than they lost, but a sense of instability and dread permeated the clubhouse. Players felt as if they were being misused. Toby Harrah exemplified that feeling.
At 36, Harrah was reaching the twilight of his career when he signed with the Yankees in 1984. Harrah had been a fine power-hitting third baseman for Texas and Cleveland before arriving in the Bronx. He was a proven commodity and agreed to play any role the Yankees saw fit for him. That agreement expired when Harrah decided he didn’t like what the team had in mind.
Harrah was settled in a platoon arrangement at third base. He soon discovered that he loathed sitting in the dugout for long stretches. Upon struggling to adjust to his assigned role, Harrah was among many of his ‘84 teammates to demand a trade. Everyone wanted to either jump ship or have their role enhanced – Harrah was no exception.
Being the trooper he is, Harrah played out the season in the Bronx and ended up with an ugly slash line: .217 with 1 homer in 88 games. Harrah promptly returned to the Rangers in ‘85; restoring his career with a solid season.
19 Loved It: Paul O'Neal
Paul O’Neal’s grit and enthusiasm for baseball are legendary. He played with so much zeal that it inspired his teammates to match his gusto. O’Neal loved winning and he played with pride for his team; qualities that made him the sparkplug for the late-90s Yankees dynasty.
With O’Neal propelling the offense, the Yankees won four titles between 1996 and 2000. Not only did O’Neal possess pop while hitting for a high average, but he was cagey on the basepaths and a hawk in right field. He was a .288 career hitter and ended up with 281 home runs.
In a recent interview with The Daily News, O’Neal fondly reflected upon the Yankees dynasty of the 90s:
“But now when you look back, too, believe me, there isn’t a day in my life that goes by, even today, that those days don’t bring a smile to my face.”
18 Hated It: Omar Moreno
In yet another petty vignette from the mid-80s Yankee drama, veterans Omar Moreno and Ken Griffey competed for playing time in 1984.
Each center fielder brought divergent tools to the Yankees: Moreno was a burner who could steal lots of bases and cover center field well with his speed, whereas Griffey was a savvy contact hitter with comparable defensive skills. Griffey wasn’t a cheetah on the basepaths, so Moreno was granted starting privileges against right-handed pitchers and Griffey against southpaws.
This platoon arrangement annoyed both men. Moreno, despite getting a bulk of the playing time, wanted more. The Panama native didn’t hide his aversion to the platoon – he was in fact strident in his opposition.
Apparently few Yankees were content in the mid-80‘s. It was a metamorphic period for the team. Moreno was traded to the Royals in ‘85 but never got back on track.
17 Loved It: Bernie Williams
Bernie Williams is a positive example of a homegrown talent staying loyal to his organization. The results were great for both Williams and the Yankees: Williams was one of the key pieces of the offensive juggernaut super-squad that went on to win four World Series titles in the late '90s.
Williams made five consecutive All-Star squads from 1997-2001 en route to cementing his triumphant legacy. Like many of his Dynastic teammates, Williams slashed for a high average and had above-average power – power that played well in the drawn-in corners of Yankee Stadium. He hit 287 bombs during his 16-year career and retired with a career batting average of .297.
Williams happily played out his entire career in the Bronx. The Puerto Rican star might have gone down as one of the best center fielders in team history, if not for historical anomalies like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Regardless, Williams’s legacy is a winning one.
16 Hated It: Rick Cerone
I don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of Rick Cerone. He was an undistinguished and unheralded backup catcher who made an honest living in the majors for 18 years. Props to him on a long career, but he wasn’t as hot as he thought he was.
Cerone made headlines in 1984 for openly demanding a trade. He was frank about his displeasure about being platooned with Butch Wynegar, who was a better player at the time.
''Hopefully, I'll go somewhere that I can play. I'm prepared to go anywhere," Cerrone said in an interview with the New York Times.
Maybe Cerone felt entitled to playing time because he had been with the Yankees for longer. Reality check: Playing well earns you playing time. Cerone hit .208 in ‘84 in 132 plate appearances. If he felt so entitled to PT, perhaps Cerone should have earned it by posting decent stats.
15 Loved It: Hideki Matsui
After posting colossal numbers in Japan with the Yomiyuri Giants, Hideki Matsui hailed the opportunity to play baseball on the grandest stage of all: Yankee Stadium.
Matsui put forth seven solid seasons for the Yankees from 2003-2009. While landing two All-Star appearances and being a beacon of consistency, “Godzilla” always abided by the team and showed gratitude for being given a chance to play for the most stately team in the sport.
Fans won’t soon forget Matsui’s MVP effort in the 2009 World Series: The Japanese sensation posted an astonishing .615 batting average and drove in eight runs along with three homers in six games against the Phillies. Matsui led the Yankees onslaught; burying the Phillies with a barrage of devastating clutch hits.
Matsui left an indelible impression on the Yankees and vice versa. He eventually moved on from the Yankees, but Matsui never recaptured the success he struck in New York. In 2013, Matsui re-signed with the club in order to officially retire as a Yankee. The team held a ceremony in his honor that year.
14 Hated It: Ken Griffey
Ken Griffey Sr. was yet another disgruntled member of the mid-80s Yankees. While Senior was not nearly as gifted as Junior, he was a reliable offensive producer throughout his big league career.
Grumbling began in 1984 for Griffey when he disclosed that he wasn’t getting due playing time. As mentioned, Griffey was paired in an unseemly platoon with Omar Moreno. Both Moreno and Griffey were lefties, but Moreno, despite his lesser batting skills, was slated in regular the lineup against right-handers. Griffey got marginal playing time; with the majority of his at-bats coming against southpaws.
Griffey’s gripe seems legitimate: He got on base at a better rate than Moreno in '84 and he hit more home runs. Moreno wasn’t stealing enough bases. Why was Senior getting slighted? Was it political? Was it flagrant mismanagement by Yogi Berra? Maybe we’ll never know.
Senior left the Yanks in ‘86 and put up decent numbers for various clubs before retiring in 1991. No matter the fuss – Griffey’s greatest gift to baseball will always be his son.
13 Loved It: Mickey Mantle
You might think that Mickey Mantle’s abilities would have bloated his ego and made him blustery. By all accounts, that wasn’t the case. Mantle was a simple, humble Oklahoma kid who got to actualize his dreams on the biggest and realest of fields. His iconic stature could not be gleaned by his unpretentious persona.
Mantle adored playing for the Yankees – he spent his entire 18-year career with the club. Why wouldn’t he be happy? His success, and the success of the team, led Mantle to countless accolades; including six American League MVP Awards and seven World Series rings. Mantle was a proud Yankee whose rare prowess elevated the world’s awareness of himself and the Yankee brand.
Mantle was a generational star whose influence reached beyond baseball. He was a good-natured athletic mutant that everyone in the country could root for and live vicariously through.
12 Hated It: A.J. Burnett
When A.J. Burnett signed a five-year, $82 million deal with the Yankees in 2009, both parties expected to prosper from the arrangement. Neither did.
Burnett had shown himself to be a reliable innings-eater with Toronto and Florida before the Yankee deal. Still, it was a risky contract for an aging, middling arm. Burnett ended up providing the Yanks with plenty of innings. Too many of them, however, were not quality innings.
The Arkansas native started 99 games for the Yankees between 2009 and 2011. He ended up with a record of 34-35 with an E.R.A. near 5.00 during his Yankee tenure. The team dealt Burnett to the Pirates in 2012 for a few low-level prospects; happy to shed Burnett from the roster.
It seems Burnett was just as unhappy with the Yankees as they were with him: In an interview with NESN in 2012, Burnett said that he felt as if the Yankees staff tinkered too much with his delivery thereby causing him to crumple. Burnett rebounded well, posting several high-quality seasons with the Pirates before retiring.
11 Loved It: Robinson Cano
Despite leaving the Yankees for a mammoth contract with the Mariners, Robinson Cano enjoyed playing for the team and everything that playing for the Yankees entailed – the attention, the glamour, and the shine of being a star on the most popular baseball team in the world.
Cano’s best years were with the Yankees. Since moving on to Seattle, Cano’s offensive numbers have slipped and the Mariners haven’t made the playoffs. Maybe his decline is due to age – Cano is 33 now – or maybe Cano is feeling the ills of playing in a pitcher-friendly park in Seattle.
Rumors swirled last year that Cano wanted to return to the Yankees, since he was unhappy with Seattle’s front office direction and the Yankees had a void at second base. Only Cano and his inner circle know what’s on his mind now, but I doubt he would hesitate to put on the pinstripes again. His monstrous contract, however, is prohibitive, and it may keep him in Seattle until the dusk of his career.
10 Hated It: Andy Pettitte
Andy Pettitte was groomed and brought up by the Yankees. He spent the better part of 15 seasons in pinstripes and won five championships with the team as a high-end starting pitcher. Pettitte, however, was not a submissive guy. The Louisiana boy wouldn’t hesitate to air his grievances with the front office.
While the Yankees were happy to field Pettitte, the pitcher was a shrewd public negotiator. He played hardball: In 2009, Pettitte told the press that he thought the team didn’t appreciate his contributions, and that they were trying to shortchange him by offering him a $10 million, 1-year deal. Pettitte was not so enamored with the team or the idea of being a Yankee that he neglected the bottom line. In fact, Pettite was very about the bottom line.
Ultimately Pettitte and the Yankees agreed on terms and the southpaw rode out the rest of his career in the Bronx. He performed well and meshed with most of his teammates, but Pettitte never had an affinity for the way the Yankees do business.
9 Loved It: Jorge Posada
Jorge Posada was a rare breed of modern player – the type to contently spend his entire career with one team. Then again, the Yankees have a penchant for developing dutiful players.
Posada emerged as an indispensable cog in the Yankees dynasty of the late 90‘s. Defensively Posada was no wizard, but he gained a tight rapport with the pitching staff and quickly earned trust as a pitch-caller. As a batter, he drew lots of walks and had solid power to boot.
He stayed with the Yankees after the winning nucleus of the '90s was mostly disbanded, and was rewarded with another championship in 2009. The Puerto Rican catcher ended his career with four World Series rings for his display case along with four All-Star selections.
While Posada’s numbers weren’t as snazzy as some of his peers were, he averaged 24 home runs per 162 games – a respectable figure. More importantly, he was a no-nonsense workhorse who made everyone around him better.
7 Hated It: Alex Rodriguez
By the time Alex Rodriguez’s contract expires in 2017, the Yankees will have paid him $317 million since the birth of his contract in 2004. That’s ludicrous considering how harshly A-Rod has fizzled in New York.
Rodriguez’s decline, to be fair, wasn’t as radical as some fans make it out to be: A-Rod did make the All-Star team seven times as a Yankee, and was a prime contributor to the team’s championship run in 2009. He had plenty of good-to-decent seasons with the Yankees. I’m sure he was content with his situation in New York at times. The sum of his time with the Yankees, though, is a miserable, creeping asphyxiation.
Amid the Biogenesis scandal, A-Rod became a shell of his former glory. Injuries, age, and off-field antics caught up to Rodriguez and caused him to miss hundreds of games for the Yankees, including the entire 2014 season. His bat speed and mobility vanished long before then, though.
The Yankees finally mercy-killed A-Rod’s playing career in 2016 and stowed him in the front office. At the expense of his own happiness and fulfillment, Rodriguez has at least provided decent drama.
6 Loved It: Mariano Rivera
The Yankees are have a rich tradition of cultivating players who are faithful to the pinstripes. Mariano Rivera is a gleaming example.
As with many players on this list, Rivera spent his entire career with the Yankees; an incredible 19-year stretch of dominance. The Panamanian pitcher floundered as a starter in 1995 before seizing his role as the team’s closer in 1997. Rivera endeared himself to fans and dismayed opposing batters with his wicked cutter; a pitch he wielded to the tune of 652 career saves, five championships, and 13 All-Star game appearances.
Rivera’s supremacy and clutchness on the mound are nary touchable, but his gentleness and humbleness as a man make Rivera stand out as a Yankee legend. He appreciated the Yankees and showed his loyalty by remaining with the team for his entire career. Rivera was never at the center of controversy; he wasn’t effusive in general. By far the meanest feature of Rivera was the way he pitched, which is just the way he and the Yankees liked it.
4 Hated It: Reggie Jackson
There’s no denying the winning legacy of Reggie Jackson. “Mr. October” was a menace with the Yankees: He powered the Bombers to two titles with his big bat and clutch tendencies. However, Jackson was enigmatic and pompous, which led to conflicts between him and his coworkers.
Jackson made many proclamations of his own greatness to the media, including the infamous: “I’m the straw that stirs the drink” line. Thurman Munson, Leo Durocher and other old heads were enraged by Jackson’s antics. Jackson did not ingratiate himself. He was tolerated, not liked. Fans adored him, but Jackson was not embraced by the players or staff.
Durocher said of Jackson: “He’s a butcher in the outfield and he’s got a big mouth. He’s a bum.”
In 2012, Jackson was banned indefinitely from Yankees events following his public molten tirade on Alex Rodriguez and steroids. I doubt Jackson cares.
3 Loved It: Derek Jeter
Baseball fans, especially Yankee fans, are quick to gush about Derek Jeter’s holiness. There are few athletes who are as supremely consecrated as Jeter.
Let’s temper our enthusiasm: Jeter is not above human. He is not an angelic being cut from celestial cloth. He is not a unique gift from the baseball gods. Jeter is very human, which makes his spotless tenure with the Yankees all the more impressive.
Jeter’s accolades are a chore to list given their breadth. He made the All-Star team 14 times, won Rookie of the Year in 1996, and logged 3465 hits throughout his 20 seasons with the Yankees. He radiated enthusiasm and class his entire career; flourishing in the madcap theater that is Yankees baseball. The Yankees adored Jeter and he adored them.
With glee, Jeter embodied every principle the Yankees value – he worked hard, he was loyal, he rarely complained, and he didn’t bask in praise. Number 2 never stirred controversy or let any prickly sound bites spill from his mouth. He said the right things and, at least in the public’s eye, he did the right things.
He’s an admirable man who’s looked up to by many people, especially young players, for his classiness and prolonged greatness. In his grace, Jeter was an ideal Yankee, and he reveled in that.
2 Hated It: Don Mattingly
Don Mattingly enjoyed a remarkable run with the Yankees. “Donnie Baseball” played for New York throughout his 13-year career and made the All-Star team six times. Mattingly was, without question, one of the finest hitters of his era. Stats granted, his relationship with the Yankees was not always peachy and I’m sure Mattingly would have been happy to play elsewhere.
Mattingly’s luster was smudged by the team’s lackluster play during his career. The Yankees did not sparkle with Mattingly at their core; in fact Mattingly’s Yankees made the playoffs only once (1995). The late '80s to early '90s was not a lush period for the team – they stunk and attendance plummeted as a result. Surely Mattingly, a career .307 hitter with a .830 OPS, would have loved to lend his talents to a winning team.
On occasion, with winning out of reach, Mattingly would groan and snap at the media. He didn’t mask his discontent. His relationship with the team got testy in 1995 when it seemed as if Yankee brass were trying to oust Mattingly, who by then was past his prime and hobbled by injuries. Mattingly sensed the team trying to move away from him and it engendered resentment.
Mattingly awoke and propelled the Yankees to the playoffs in 1995, but the team traded for Tino Martinez in the offseason while Mattingly pondered his career options. Martinez would replace Mattingly at first base in 1996, though the team didn’t serve notice to Mattingly, who was working out in preparation for the '96 season when he learned the Yankees had traded for his replacement. The fan-favorite retired shortly after.
The Yankees were shady and shrewd about unseating Mattingly. Despite years of devotion and production, the great slugger was not treated with any pomp.
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