The New York Yankees are the most storied and accomplished franchise in all of professional sports. The team has won twenty-seven World Series championships which is tops not only in professional baseball but all across the board. The Yankees, who are just as much hated as they are loved, draw fanbase, criticism, and out right disdain from baseball fans all over the world. The name is known throughout the circuit more so than any other baseball franchise.
To accumulate such success a team must have produced its fair share of legends and the Yankees certainly have. The National Baseball Hall of Fame currently recognizes forty-four former Yankees players and eleven former Yankees managers as members. The tales of Yankees baseball are tales of greatness, sadness, triumph, tragedy, victory, defeat, chaos, curtain calls, and prestige. It is difficult to be moderate when it comes to the Bronx Bombers – you’re either with them or against them.
However, I do try my best to remain as moderate as possible when dealing with the Yankees. I definitely don’t love them and certainly don’t hate them. I have found myself in the past cheering for their success and rooting for their failure – it’s a respect thing. Somewhere in the hearts of all baseball fans must be some shred of respect for the legacy of this team. Somewhere along the way a particular player or game or act of solidarity must have sparked the tiniest flame of respect.
Even Red Sox fans cannot deny the respect that they showed for Derek Jeter when he played his final series in Boston and officially ended his baseball career in the city where the Yankees are loathed more than anywhere else.
The following list will attempt, perhaps in vain, to display the 20 greatest New York Yankees. This list was not written by a die-hard fan but by a baseball bystander with a great deal of respect for the franchise.
20. Ron Guidry
Ron Guidry won two World Series championships during his fourteen-year career with the New York Yankees. Known as “Louisiana Lightning” and “Gator,” the left-handed pitcher would be named the American League’s best in 1978 when he won his first and only Cy Young Award. Guidry also won five straight Gold Glove Awards from 1982 to 1986 as well as a Roberto Clemente Award which is given to the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, and community. Guidry is a former captain of the Yankees and has joined the ranks of many past greats by having his jersey (#49) retired in New York.
19. Jorge Posada
The switch-hitting catcher from Peurto Rico was originally drafted by the New York Yankees as an infielder before transitioning to his role behind the plate while in the minor league system. Posada like many of the men you will see on this list was another Yankee-lifer, spending all of his seventeen season as a member of the franchise. During his time with the team, Posada managed to pick up four World Series rings as well as five Silver Slugger Awards, which cemented his status as one of the best hitting catchers in the game of baseball.
18. Paul O’Neill
George Steinbrenner once called right-fielder Paul O’Neill, “The Warrior.” This was a result of O’Neill’s love and passion for the game of baseball. During the Yankees dominance and dynasty of the nineties, O’Neill was widely regarded as the heart and soul of the team. In 2008, relief pitcher, LaTroy Hawkins took to the field wearing #21 but would soon switch to #22 following relentless criticism from the Yankee faithful. While the number has never been retired in New York, in the minds of fans, #21 belongs to Paul O’Neill (O’Neill is honored with his own plaque in Monument Park).
17. Roger Maris
During the 1961 season as a member of the New York Yankees, Roger Maris would break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record of sixty long-balls which he set back in 1927 by hitting sixty-one home runs, the last of which would come on the final day of the season at Yankee Stadium. Maris’ record would hold until 1998 when both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa would surpass the mark by hitting seventy and sixty-six home runs respectively. However, McGwire’s new single season record would remain in tact for only three seasons before Barry Bonds would step in and hit seventy-three. Since all three of these men have been accused of steroid use, they are many who still regard Roger Maris as the single season home run record holder.
16. Tony Lazzeri
Tony Lazzeri was once a contributing member of the famed “Murderer’s Row,” which was a nickname given to the New York Yankees of the late 1920’s – a team which is perhaps the in baseball history. Lazzeri who played second base was very easily overshadowed by the massive shadows of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig but was still considered to be one of the best hitting second basemen of his time. Lazzeri was a member of five World Series championship teams and in 1991 was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
15. Andy Pettitte
Surprisingly, Andy Pettitte was never able to capture a Cy Young Award throughout his illustrious career. Although, he was a member of five World Series championship teams with the New York Yankees and holds the record for most postseason wins by a pitcher with nineteen. Pettitte ranks first among Yankees pitchers as the all-time leader in strikeouts and could arguably be considered the pitcher of the 2000’s having won more games than any other starter during the decade. Andy Pettitte pitched eighteen season of big league ball (all but three as a Yankee) and never once produced a losing record.
14. Thurman Munson
Thurman Munson was unceremoniously killed in a plane crash during the 1979 all-star break. Munson was only thirty-two-years-old at the time of his death. Having spent his entire career (eleven season) with the Yankees, Munson quickly become a force to be reckoned with in New York. Munson was named the AL Rookie of the Year in 1970 and by 1976 would be named the franchises first captain since the great Lou Gehrig. That same year Munson would achieve another level of success by being named the AL MVP. Thurman Munson had his life cut short by tragic circumstance but remains a part of the New York spirit.
13. Red Ruffing
Red Ruffing began his career as a member of the Boston Red Sox where he saw limited success as a pitcher. His numbers were terrible and his final record as a Red Sox pitcher was 39-96. Discouraged with his pitching, Ruffing was considering a switch to the outfield but was convinced to remain on the mound when he joined the New York Yankees in 1930 by then manager, Bob Shawkey – a former pitcher in his own right who thought he could help Ruffing change his pitching approach thus producing better results. Shawkey’s vision came true as Ruffing’s career began to take a turn for the better and it wasn’t long before he became a pivotal park of the Yankees rotation, finishing with a 231-124 record.
12. Bill Dickey
Bill Dickey spent his entire playing career of seventeen seasons as a a proud member of the New York Yankees. During Dickey’s final season as an active player he would briefly assume the role as club manager. When his days on the field were officially behind him Dickey would return to the franchise as a base coach. The hall of fame bound, Bill Dickey would accumulate an astonishing fourteen World Series championships during his tenure in New York (eight as a player, six on staff). To say Bill Dickey had the Yankee lifestyle in his blood would be an understatement.
11. Lefty Gomez
The two time pitching Triple Crown winner and four time twenty game winner, Lefty Gomez was known just as much for his tremendous personality and great sense humor as he was for his pitching abilities. Gomez set a World Series record by winning six games without a loss. New York City is a place of big personality, larger-than-life persona, and freewheeling fanaticism. The type of town where charm and charisma can take a man a long way. Lefty Gomez was all of those things. The kind of man who was made to be a Yankee.
10. Don Mattingly
Don Mattingly is the active manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers but spent his fourteen-year playing career back East as a member of the New York Yankees. “Donnie Baseball,” as he became known, was one of the best fielding first basemen in the game having picked up nine Gold Glove Awards. Unlike the other players on this list, Mattingly never won a World Series championship as a member of the Yankees. Unfortunately, his time in New York was a dark period for the franchise as the Yankees struggled season after season. In 1995, Mattingly would play in his only postseason series when the Yankees won the AL Wild Card. While his individual performance was great, the team could not overcome the opposing Seattle Mariners in the Division Series and were eliminated in five games. Mattingly would then retire from the game.
9. Reggie Jackson
While Reggie Jackson’s time as a Yankee was significantly shorter than others on this list, his five seasons in New York were at times remarkable and at other times volatile. Jackson would often find himself embroiled in disputes with club manager Billy Martin and fellow teammates. It was in New York where Jackson was dubbed “Mr. October,” a testament to his outstanding postseason performances and despite all the chaotic nature that came along with a player like Reggie Jackson, “Mr. October,” would not disappoint the New York fans by helping the Yankees win back-to-back World Series championships in the 1977 and 1978 seasons.
8. Mariano Rivera
Perhaps the best closing pitcher on the planet, Mariano Rivera spent seventeen seasons in the closing role for the New York Yankees, complying more saves than any other pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball. Rivera was a thirteen time all-star and five time World Series champion. The type of relief pitcher that teams often dream of but rarely find was indeed found and consistently present at Yankee Stadium and any other ballpark that required late-inning excellence. Rivera never seemed flustered or frustrated on the mound. His demeanor was calm and almost dream-like which was fitting for a guy nicknamed the “Sandman.”
7. Whitey Ford
Whitey Ford is a homegrown New York boy who made it to the big leagues and got to pitch in the city he loved. The lefty won two-hundred-and-thirty-six games as a member of the Yankees – more than any other pitcher has accumulated in a Yankee uniform. Ford played a major role in collecting six World Series championships for the Yankees. Known for maintaining his composure during high-level play, Ford was able to shake off any nerves he may have been experiencing at the time and deliver time and again for Yankees. Clearly, one of the best to have ever pitched for the franchise.
6. Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra was a three time AL MVP while playing for the New York Yankees and has won thirteen World Series championships combined as both a player and manager. To many, Yogi Berra is simply the greatest catcher to ever play the game of baseball, as his agility behind the plate was unmatched. Berra was well known for his unusual and often contradictory quotes such as: “it ain’t over ’til it’s over,” and “I really didn’t say everything I said.” Yogi Berra, always a colorful character in New York.
5. Derek Jeter
The storybook career of “The Captain” has recently come to an end but not without its hero coming through one last time. In his final game in New York, Derek Jeter would hit a walk-off single giving the Yankees the victory. In his final series which took place in Boston, Jeter opted to play as designated hitter so that his final memories of playing shortstop would be at Yankee Stadium. The face of the franchise for so many years and a class-act all around, Derek Jeter will go down as one of the greatest players to ever wear the honored Yankees uniform.
4. Joe DiMaggio
Joe DiMaggio played thirteen seasons in New York in which he was named an all-star in each and every season. Along with his three AL MVP awards, there is no denying Joe DiMaggio’s long-lasting impact on the Yankees franchise and baseball in general. It what may be one of the most impressive records in all of baseball, DiMaggio managed to secure a hit in fifty-six consecutive games back in 1941 – a record that still stand to this day. Joe DiMaggio is one of the most popular Yankees of all time having been the subject of art, film, and literature. The appeal of Joe DiMaggio is vast and never too far gone.
3. Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle is regarded as the greatest switch-hitter of all time and is certainly one of the best all-round ball players to have ever played the game. Mantle was known for his ability to bat for average, as well as power, which is a difficult task to place on any baseball player as only a truly gifted hitter could pull it off with precision. Mantle is a former American League batting champion and lead the league in home runs four times helping to prove his versatility as a hitter. Mantle won seven World Series championship with the Yankees. Just another one of the greats to add to the history books.
2. Lou Gehrig
The most heartbreaking story baseball has ever known is the story of Lou Gehrig and how ALS shortened his life and stole away the greatness of a man that was loved beyond recognition in New York. Gehrig faced the twilight of his life with complete courage, refusing to cower in the face of adversity. He remained philosophical as opposed to pessimistic as his inevitable fate approached. While ALS may have weakened Gehrig physically, it could never break him mentally or spiritually. Today, the battle against ALS continues as hopes for a cure remain strong. In memory Lou Gehrig, the game must go on and the fight must continue.
1. Babe Ruth
I guess it comes as no surprise that the top choice for greatest New York Yankee would be the one-and-only Babe Ruth. The name itself is the most commonly associated name involved with professional baseball. His antics off the field were often the focal point of public attention and criticism but none of that seemed to matter when he steeped into the batter’s box. The best power hitter to ever swing a bat, Babe Ruth was every pitcher’s most passionate nightmare. “The Babe” is the ultimate baseball legend.
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