New York Yankees: All Time Greatest Team

 New York Yankees (1903-Present)

Baltimore Orioles (1901-1902)

Also known as the New York Highlanders

American League (1901-Present)

American League Champion: 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009

World Series Champion: 1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009

The most successful American Sports Franchise in history, the New York Yankees, didn’t even start in New York, but in Baltimore. Ban Johnson, in an attempt to reproduce the magic of the most famous team in 19th century baseball, recreated the Baltimore Orioles. They even hired the former Oriole John McGraw to manage them and play third base. Ex-Oriole Wilbert Robinson, who would go on to manage Brooklyn for 29 years, was their catcher. It wasn’t to be in Baltimore. After a so-so year in 1901 the Baltimore Club fell apart in 1902. After a mediocre 28-34 start to their season the New York Giants pried Manager John McGraw away from Baltimore, and the team collapsed, finishing last in the American League at 50-88.

The peace between the two Leagues then gave Johnson the opportunity to set up an American League team in New York, and he jumped at it. The New York Highlanders joined the Junior Circuit in 1903, but even then the franchise didn’t immediately flourish. They did finish as high as second in 1904, 1906, and 1910, but never won. In 1904 they lost on the last day of the season when their 41-game winner, Jack Chesbro, threw a 9th inning wild pitch that handed the pennant to the Boston Americans. This was the most famous play in the early history of the new league.

The Highlanders then entered a ten year phase of not being competitive, changing their name to the Yankees along the way, but only having two winning seasons. After suffering a 71-82 record in 1917, New York hired Miller Huggins to manage the club. They improved to 60-63 in 1918, then jumped to 80-59 and a third place finish in 1919. The stage was set for the deal that would rock the sport, and forever change baseball and the New York Yankees.

Harry Frazee, Boston’s owner who launched the Yankees into a dynasty.

The popular story told today is that Boston’s new owner, Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to fund a Broadway Play, “No, No, Nannette”. That probably is not true. Frazee did fund the musical, but “No, No, Nannette” did not come out on Broadway until 1925. The more likely reason is that Frazee was afraid Ruth’s excesses in his lifestyle and salary demands would ruin his club.

He reportedly said, “While Ruth, without question, is the greatest hitter that the game has ever seen, he is likewise one of the most selfish and inconsiderate men that ever wore a baseball uniform. Had he possessed the right disposition, had he been willing to take orders and work for the good of the club, like the other men on the team, I would never have dared let him go.” This was not an unpopular opinion. Many of the sportswriters of the day said similar things. Ruth was perceived as being a bad teammate. 

Frazee later that year shipped another of his troublemakers to the Yankees, pitching ace Carl Mays (the one who would kill Ray Chapman). The Yankees would lose a close 3-way pennant race to the Cleveland Indians in 1920, and then in 1921 became the “New York Yankees”.

Harry Frazee was again the key player. Frazee was in a bitter power struggle with American League President Ban Johnson. One of his few allies in this struggle were the Yankees. Isolated, he knew that only the Yankees would trade with him. Before the 1920 season he sent future Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt to New York, and then “Bullet” Joe Bush prior to the 1921 season. In fact, when the New York Yankees began their run as the best team in the American League in the early 1920s, their pitching staff was dominated by ex-Red Sox pitchers. Carl Mays, Waite Hoyt, Joe Bush, Jack Quinn, and Herb Pennock were the heart of a pitching staff that won six American League Championships and three World Series Titles between 1921 and 1928.

In 1921 The Yankees began a run of championships unmatched in professional sports. Six pennants and three World Championships in the 1920s, five of each in the 1930s (including four in a row, 1936-1939), five more pennants and four Series Titles in the 1940s, an incredible eight pennants and six World Series’ in the 1950s, and then another five flags and and two World Championships in the 1960s. From 1949 to 1953 the New York Yankees won five consecutive World Series Titles.

From 1965 until 1975 they won no championships, and were rarely in contention, but with the new ownership, led by George Steinbrenner, they won three straight pennants and two World Series from 1976-1978. Since then they have not been nearly as dominant, but they did have a run of five pennants in six years and four World Series victories, between 1996 and 2001. The Yankees remain, along with the Dodgers, the most valuable sports franchise in America.

Catcher

Lawerence “Yogi” Berra (1946-1963) has been compared to Bill Dickey (1928-1946) every since he came up in 1946. Dickey was still on the roster that first year. Dickey even managed the team for 105 games. Bucky Harris became manager in 1947, but Dickey was retained as a coach. Berra could always hit, but his defense was problematic. Dickey tutored Yogi constantly and Berra demonstrated steady progress in the early years. Berra didn’t immediately win the regular job, but gradually improved his defense and by 1949 was the clear regular. Berra finished 15th in the MVP vote in 1949 when the Yankees won their first of five straight World Series Titles. From 1950 to 1956 Yogi Berra would win three MVP Awards, finish 2nd twice, 3rd once, and also 4th once. At the time he played the sportswriter thought he was the most valuable player in baseball. Bill Dickey was one of the 10 best catchers in baseball history, but Yogi just might be the best. This choice is not difficult.

First Base

The choice of Lou Gehrig (1923-1939) as the best first baseman in Yankee history is obvious. Is he the greatest first baseman of all time? Probably, with only his contemporary Jimmie Foxx in the discussion.

Second Base

The weakest position for New York, and also the only one that there isn’t an obvious choice. It comes down to three. Tony Lazzari (1926-1937), Willie Randolph (1976-1988), and Robinson Cano (2005-2013). By the metrics we use Tony Lazzari (1926-1937)  is narrowly ahead, but the reason for that is we give extra credit for being on a championship team. Tony Lazzari was a member of the Yankees famous “Murderers Row” in the 1920s. Hitting behind Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Lou Gehrig he anchored the most feared line-up in baseball history. He was the regular second baseman on six American League Championship teams, and was a 5-time World Champion. Without that advantage he would fall behind the other two, but not by much. Willie Randolph’s (1976-1988) Yankee Teams were not as accomplished as Lazzeri’s, but the Yankees did win four pennants and two World Championships during his time with the club. Randolph was good at just about everything, but not great at anything, therefore he was the definition of an underrated player, which he was. On the other hand, Robinson Cano (2005-2013) was/is a big star. An eight time All-Star, with the Yankees he was a member of what might be the greatest infield of all time. With Mark Teixeira at first, Cano at second, Alex Rodriguez at third and Derek Jeter at short from 2009 til 2012 the Yankees should have dominated the American League. They didn’t, winning the World Series in 2009, but, despite winning 95, 97, and 95 games in the regular season, falling short in the post season the other three times. How much do we penalize Cano for his team’s failure to make the World Series those three years? The Yankees won four Division Titles during Cano’s nine years. Of course, Cano has tested positive for PEDs since he left the Yankees which puts an asterisk next to all his accomplishments. It’s basically a 3-way tie, but we’ll go with Willie Randolph (1976-1988).

Third Base

Yankees fans will not want to hear this, but when they acquired Alex Rodriguez (2004-2016) in 2004, Derek Jeter was no longer the best player on the team. Actually, A-Rod was a better defensive shortstop than Jeter, and as we have shown before a much better offensive player. New York fans never appreciated this, but Rodriguez had to know that, but without complaint he shifted to third base. When he became a Yankee he was in the middle of about a five year run as the best player in the American League, and maybe in all of baseball. Due to his PED use he will not be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he is one of the all time greats. If we rate him as a shortstop, he would be second all time behind Honus Wagner. Rated as a third baseman he would probably be third behind Mike Schmidt and George Brett. He is the best player of his generation.

Shortstop

In 1950 Phil Rizzuto (1941-1956) had the best year ever by a Yankee Shortstop, winning a well deserved MVP. A controversial selection by the Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame, he’s not without merit. Like many ball players of his generation he lost three years to World War II. If we could give him those three years, he might have a case against Derek Jeter (1995-2014). But we can not give him credit for years he didn’t play and that makes Jeter the undeniable choice.

Left Field

Charlie Keller (1939-1949) was very good, but he’s not even close to the quality of the two center fielders. This shouldn’t be controversial, but it probably is. As great as Joe DiMaggio was, Mickey Mantle (1951-1968) was better. The reason we move Mantle to left is that Joe was better with the glove. 

This is a 1961 file photo of New York Yankees Mickey Mantle.

Center Field

“Joltin” Joe DiMaggio (1936-1951), “The Yankee Clipper”, like many others of his generation, donated three prime years to serve in the U.S. Military during World War II. The three years he lost he was 28, 29, and 30 years old. 

Right Field

George “Babe” Ruth (1920-1934) is Babe Ruth. Need we say more?

Pitchers

The New York Yankees have the best 8-man line-up in all of baseball, so it’s surprising how weak their pitching choices are. #1 Edward “Whitey” Ford (1950-1967) was very good, but his career just doesn’t measure up compared to the #1 pitchers for many other franchises. Was he the equal of Mathewson? Johnson? Clemens? Koufax? Alexander? How about Bob Gibson? Lefty Grove? Warren Spahn? It’s obvious that he wouldn’t match up well.

Behind Ford there is Charles “Red” Ruffing (1930-1946). The ace of the staff when the Yanks won four straight World Series Title from 1936-1939. Like Ford, Ruffing is correctly in the Hall of Fame, another arm that New York received from the Boston Red Sox.

The #3 spot goes to Mariano Rivera (1995-2013).The first person ever to receive 100% of the Hall of Fame vote. Rivera was a “Closer”, and we at A Sip of Sports think “Closers” are extremely overrated. In defense of Rivera, he was the best “Closer” ever.

That leaves the last spot for either Vernon “Lefty” Gomez (1930-1942) or Bob Shawkey (1916-1927). To the casual fan this choice should not be close. Gomez was a big star of the Yankee juggernaut of the 1930s. He went 24-7 when the Yankees won the World Series in 1932, 21 when they won again in 1937. His best year was 1934, when the Yankees won 94 games, but finished 2nd to the Tigers. Shawkey’s, on the other hand, best years were before The Yankees became “The Yankees”. He won 20 three times before the Yanks first Championship in 1921. He was 30 when New York won their first pennant in 1921, 32 when they won the World Series in 1923. He was just about through by 1927, going 2-3 and not appearing in the Yankees 4-0 sweep of the Pirates. This one is very close, Shawkey’s overall record with the Yankees was 168-131, Gomez’ was 189-101. This is offset by the fact that the Yankees of Gomez’ time were much better than the Yankees of Shawkey’s. The metrics we use put Vernon “Lefty” Gomez (1930-1942) a tiny bit ahead. We’ll go with that.

Manager

The Yankees have been so successful that big winners, such as Miller Huggins (1918-1929) and Joe Torre (1996-2007) aren’t even in the discussion. It comes down to Charles “Casey” Stengell (1949-1960) and Joe McCarthy (1931-1946). McCarthy’s overall record is better than Stengells, but this includes his time with the Cubs and Red Sox. McCarthy’s Yankees won 8 Pennants and 7 World Championships during his 16 years. Stengell’s won 10 Pennants and 7 World Championships in his 12 years. A slight advantage seems to be with  Charles “Casey” Stengell (1949-1960).

MVP

The Yankees are loaded with candidates for greatest New York Yankee ever. They have six players who at one time were considered the best player in baseball while wearing the pinstripes. Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Alex Rodriguez are all among the 30 greatest players ever, but, despite the previous five’s greatness, the MVP of the Yankees is an easy choice. Not only is Babe Ruth the greatest Yankee of all time, he is the greatest baseball player of all time. End of discussion.


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