By Andy Lindberg
Derek Jeter’s place in pinstripes has been hotly contested in recent days. There is no doubt Jeter is one of the greatest Yankees of all-time, but does Jeter belong in the Yankee top-10 or top-20? The problem with the Yankees is that they are so stacked with legends of the game of baseball that it is mind-numbing to try to begin to organize them.
Well, because I like debate, I have done just that. As you all know, I’m a Red Sox fan, but I love baseball and baseball history. After Jeter’s monster 5-5 day where he swatted a home run for his 3000th career hit, I felt compelled to make the Yankee top-10. I’m sure some of you will disagree with the picks or the order, as there were a few times I sat back and uttered, “this is fricking impossible,” whilst compiling this list.
10. Earle Combs: Combs played during the time of Murderer’s Row when the team featured Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mark Koenig, and Robert Meusel. Combs wore the number 1, which at that time meant he batted leadoff, meaning he got to set the table for Ruth and Gehrig. He scored a lot of runs because of that, the seventh most in Yankee history with 1,186. Combs led the Majors in triples three times and finished his career tied with Joe DiMaggio with a .325 batting average.
9. Mariano Rivera: It’s a rough place for Mo to be considering when all is said and done he will be the single greatest closer to ever play the game and when that time comes he will probably move up a spot or two on this list. In 17 seasons with the Yankees thus far he has amassed 581 saves with the Yankees and has finished a record 858 games. There is nobody else in the history of the sport (arguably) that a manager would rather hand the ball to in the ninth inning. He has a career 2.22 ERA and has had an ERA under 2.00 an astounding 10 times in his career. If he keeps up his performance this year, it will be 11 times.
8. Don Mattingly: Donnie Baseball is a sad story. He retires in 1995 after 14 long seasons with New York. Then a kid named Derek Jeter hits the scene and the Yankees win a World Series for the first time since 1978. (I know, right? There was a long period of time where the Yankees actually sucked!) Unfortunately for Mattingly, he played during that long tenure of suckitude that I really hope would return, but it won’t. It seems criminal for Mattingly not to have a ring as a player. During his time in New York he won nine Gold Gloves, setting the standard for Yankee first baseman for decades to come. He won League MVP in 1985 and finished his career with a .307 average and a miniscule 444 strikeouts.
7. Whitey Ford: The Chairman of the Board was once the most feared Yankee pitcher the rotation had to offer. Ford holds the all-time Yankee record for wins with 236. With the coddling of pitchers these days and free agency, this record may never be broken, making it all the more impressive. Ford finished his 16-year tenure with the Yankees sporting six World Series rings, one Cy Young award (after going 25-4 in 1961) and a career 2.75 ERA.
6. Derek Jeter: I don’t think there’s a question that Jeter has to be on this list. With all the power and offensive force in the history of the Yankees, with all the ability to hit the ball, no Yankee has ever amassed 3,000 hits until Jeter. Jeter knows how to win, plain and simple. His intangibles are off the charts. In seven Word Series appearances he has five rings. He has a career .313/.383/.450 line. Amazingly, Jeter has never won a league MVP award and he has only led the league in hits once (with 219 in 1999). He is the model of consistency, playing through injuries his entire career and never making excuses.
5. Mickey Mantle: Mantle played the most games ever in a Yankee uniform with 2,401. That statistic is amazing considering the massive chunks of time he missed due to the plethora of injuries he suffered over the course of his career, beginning his rookie year in the 1951 Word Series when Joe DiMaggio called late for a fly ball, causing Mantle to put on the brakes and blow out his knee on a drain in the outfield. Carl Yastrzemski once said, “If that guy were healthy, he’d hit eighty home runs.” Mantle was the pure combination of power and speed in the Majors. He hit 536 career home runs (which was good for third all-time when he retired after 1968) and batted .298 for his career, a statistic he lamented. He was the best power switch-hitter the game had ever seen and Mantle won three MVP awards. He coined the tape-measure home run.
4. Joe DiMaggio: Joltin’ Joe loved the spotlight. He once allegedly punched Billy Crystal in the stomach for not introducing him as the greatest living ballplayer. His ego could outmatch any number of athletes today. However ego or none, DiMaggio owned New York. Like many other ballplayers of that time, DiMaggio dedicated three years in his prime to service during WWII. He still won three MVP awards and finished his career with a .325/.398/.597 line, 361 homers, and 1,537 RBI. He won nine World Series rings in ten tries.
3. Lou Gehrig: the Luckiest Man Alive was the epitome of class. Gehrig held the record of consecutive games played (until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it) and clobbered 493 homers with 1,995 RBI, which is still good for fifth all-time. He won two MVP awards but his career was cut short by what is now considered Lou Gehrig’s disease (or ALS), but his time in pinstripes saw the great number 4 bat .340/.447/.632 for his career and accumulate six championship rings.
2. Yogi Berra: Too many people forget about Yogi Berra as one of the best Yankees of all time, let alone one of the best catchers period and a man who is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. More known for his quirky catch phrases, all Berra did was win. A three-time MVP and a 15-time all-star (all consecutive appearances) Berra has a monumental amount of World Series rings with an astounding 10, the most of any baseball player all-time. The active players with the most? Jeter, Rivera, and Jorge Posada tied with only five. DiMaggio is second all-time with 9. The Yankees are all about winning, and their fans will tell you that until your ears bleed and then tell you some more. Berra won, and won relentlessly.
1. Babe Ruth: For the majority of his career, George Herman “Babe” Ruth was baseball. The Sultan of Swat amassed almost as
many nicknames as he did home runs. Amazingly, Ruth won only a single MVP award in his entire career, which was in 1923 when he hit 41 homers, had 131 RBI and batted .393. Meaning when he hit 60 homers in 1927 (then a single-season record by far) he didn’t win MVP. Questionable, but Ruth’s statistics speak for themselves. He played 15 years with the Yankees, clouting 659 homers and knocking in 1,971 runs. He walked 1,852 times in a Yankee uniform and led the league in that category 11 times. Ruth holds the all-time record for slugging percentage with a .690 mark. He also holds the all-time mark for OPS (1.164). To this day, Ruth still defines Yankee lore.