Last week, ESPNNewYork.com ran its list of the 50 greatest Yankees of all time. It was a fun project and I was lucky enough to be one of the voters on the panel.
I was actually crazy enough to write nearly 4,000 words on the topic. I didn't post last week since there was so much going on with the season starting, and so on, but I hate to waste all that work. So here's my list, starting with No. 50. I considered only a player's time with the Yankees, focusing mostly on his regular-season value while also factoring in postseason heroics and maybe an intangible or two. I'm not a Yankees fan, so I didn't consider this a list of most beloved Yankees, as some may have.
Here we go. We'll post in chunks throughout the week. The overall ranking from the panel is included in parenthesis.
50. Catfish Hunter, P (46)
Hunter was great his first season with the Yankees (23-14, 2.58), not so great after that (although he did have a big win in the 1978 World Series), but earns mention for being the first high-priced free agent to sign with New York. A true trailblazer who set the tone for the next 35 years of baseball in the Bronx.
49. Eddie Lopat, P (41)
The Yankees acquired Lopat after he had gone 29-26 with a 2.77 ERA for the White Sox in 1946-47. The White Sox acquired Aaron Robinson, a 32-year-old catcher who could hit a little (he had been an All-Star in ’47), but who the Yankees hardly needed with Yogi Berra ready. Lopat went 113-59 with the Yankees and proved to be a clutch World Series performer (4-1, 2.60). That said, the deal actually turned out OK for the White Sox. Robinson was flipped after one season to Detroit for Billy Pierce, who became one of the AL’s best pitchers of the 1950s.
48. Wally Pipp, 1B (not ranked)
He was a solid player for a decade with the Yankees, rapping out over 1,500 hits from 1915 to 1924. But you may remember him for something else.
47. Rickey Henderson, OF (40)
Don't blame Rickey for the Yankees' failures to win a division title in the mid-'80s. During his four-plus seasons with New York, he hit .288/.395/.455 and scored 513 runs in 596 games and arguably should have won the '85 MVP Award over teammate Don Mattingly. OK, not arguably. He should have won (with apologies to George Brett, who had a monster season for the Royals). From Baseball-Reference.com, Rickey had a 10.0 WAR (wins above replacement) that year, one of only two 10-plus seasons from a hitter in the '80s (Robin Yount’s 1982 was the other).
46. Spud Chandler, P (34)
Chandler was 109-43 in his career (all with the Yankees), for a .717 winning percentage. No pitcher with at least 100 victories has a better percentage. A football and baseball player at the University of Georgia, Chandler spent five years in the minors and didn’t reach the majors until he was 29, making him one of the least likely MVP winners ever (he won in 1943 with a 20-4, 1.64 season).
45. Herb Pennock, P (27)
A crafty left-hander for the Yanks from 1923-33 who survived on a variety of overhand and sidearm curveballs, it was once written of him, "His biceps is conspicuous by its absence." He also had a great nickname: The Knight of Kennett Square. (He was from Kennett Square, Pa.) Pennock was one of many 1920s Yankees acquired from the Red Sox, moves that helped create the first New York dynasty. He later made the Hall of Fame, although he's one of its weakest members.
44. Robinson Cano, 2B (not ranked)
If he has more seasons like 2010, he’ll start to climb much higher.
43. Bobby Murcer, OF (35)
Like Mickey Mantle he was from Oklahoma and a shortstop in the minor leagues. Burdened by the unfair Mantle comparisons, he was never fully appreciated and his best seasons came in the low-offense environment of the early '70s, obscuring that he was one of the best players in the league for a few years.
42. Joe Gordon, 2B (38)
A slugging second baseman for seven seasons (missing two years due to World War II), Gordon was an All-Star six of those seasons and the 1942 AL MVP when he hit .322 with 103 RBIs.
41. Bill Skowron, 1B (not ranked)
Nicknamed "Moose," although he actually wasn't as big as the moniker suggested (5-foot-11, 195 pounds). A five-time All-Star in the '50s, he hit .300 five times and was a great World Series performer, hitting .293 with 29 RBIs in 39 career games.
40. David Cone, P (45)
I was sure I rated Cone lower than most of the voters, but he actually ended up just 45th on the final list. It seems like Cone pitched forever for the Yankees -- that's the impression a lot of postseason games can leave on you -- but he won just 64 games in pinstripes. He started 12 playoff games and went 6-1 with a 3.86 ERA including a crucial win in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series when the Yankees were down 2 games to 0.
39. Roger Clemens, P (not ranked)
Clemens over Cone? I don't see how you rank them the other way. Clemens was 83-42 with a 4.01 ERA with the Yankees, good for a 114 ERA+; Cone was 64-40 with a 3.91 ERA, good for a 119 ERA+. Clemens pitched nearly 200 more innings, and his postseason résumé was actually stronger than Cone's: 7-5, 3.42 ERA. As far as big postseason games, he had the 15-strikeout one-hitter in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS against Seattle (arguably the most dominant postseason game ever pitched) and people forget the Piazza Game featured Clemens pitching eight shutout innings of two-hit baseball.
38. Dave Winfield, OF (28)
An All-Star all eight of his seasons in the Bronx, Winfield won five Gold Gloves with the Yankees, including one as a 35-year-old right fielder. Really? A big, tall, old, lumbering right fielder was one of the three best outfielders in the American League in 1987? Winfield famously went 1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series and the Yankees never made it back to the playoffs that decade, somewhat obscuring that he was a great run producer for a lot of years.
37. Elston Howard, C (24)
The first African-American to play for the Yankees, Howard didn’t get 400 plate appearances in a season until he was 29, as he served in a utility role until finally winning regular catching duties from Yogi Berra. Despite the late start to his career, he made nine straight All-Star teams and won the 1963 AL MVP award.
36. Earle Combs, OF (23)
The leadoff hitter and center fielder on the famed '27 Murderer’s Row lineup, Combs may be a questionable Hall of Famer (primarily due to a short career), but averaged 125 runs a season during his eight years as a regular thanks to a .325 career average, good speed (he hit 20-plus triples three times) and good on-base skills.
35. Mike Mussina, P (50)
I think no pitcher has been as unappreciated over the past 20 years as Mike Mussina. He should be a Hall of Famer but will struggle to get in, at least initially. He had the bad timing of joining the Yankees the year after they won the World Series and retiring the year before they won again. He won 123 games with the Yankees.
Mike Mussina in the postseason: 23 G, 21 GS, 7-8, 3.42 ERA, .676 OPS
Andy Pettitte in the postseason: 42 G, 42 GS, 19-10, 3.83 ERA, .739 OPS
The big difference? Pettitte received an average of 4.39 runs per game of support while Mussina averaged just 3.07 runs of support.
34. Paul O’Neill, OF (30)
The Yankees acquired O’Neill from the Reds in the sort of trade you never see anymore: an old-fashioned challenge trade. O'Neill was turning 30, coming off a year in which he'd hit .246 and dropped from 28 home runs to 14. Roberto Kelly was 18 months younger, played center field, and had been an All-Star in 1992, although he'd slumped in the second half to finish at .272 with 10 home runs. On first glance, you would say the Reds made the smarter deal. What did the Yankees see? How did a guy with a .259 career average top .300 the next six seasons? Retrospective reports have said that Lou Piniella drove O'Neill too hard in Cincinnati, tried to turn him into a home run hitter. It's one of those stories that sounds good after the fact, but doesn't always match the truth. Michael Key has joked with O'Neill on Yankee broadcasts about his relationship with Piniella, which O'Neill artfully dodges.
But you know what? When you check the records, it rings true. In his final three seasons with the Reds, 18 percent of O'Neill's flyballs were infield popups. Over his Yankee career, only 9 percent of his flyballs were infield popups. Also, he started hitting more groundballs and more line drives. He was no longer trying to hammer home runs every swing.
33. Tommy Henrich, OF (37)
Broadcaster Mel Allen nicknamed him "Old Reliable" for his ability to get the big hit. Henrich actually grew up playing softball in high school and didn't sign with the Indians until he was 20. After a few years in their system he was declared a minor league free agent and signed with the Yankees, where he played on seven World Series champions. He hit the first walkoff home run in World Series history, a bottom-of-the-ninth shot off Don Newcombe that gave the Yankees a 1-0 win the 1949 opener.
32. Waite Hoyt, P (32)
Originally signed by the New York Giants out of high school in Brooklyn, Hoyt later went to the Red Sox and then the Yankees, where he became a Hall of Famer for the 1920s powerhouses, winning 157 games in pinstripes plus six more in the World Series. Hoyt apparently coined the phrase, "It's great to be young and a Yankee," performed vaudeville in the offseason, worked as a mortician, became known for his Babe Ruth stories and was the popular longtime broadcaster for the Reds.
31. Orlando Hernandez (not ranked)
Not even in the top 50? More evidence that El Duque gets a short shrift when it comes to his proper place in Yankee mythology. Sure, he was a pedestrian 61-40 in the regular season, but when the Yankees won three straight World Series from 1998-2000, Hernandez was the key postseason performer, going 8-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 10 starts. During those years he was a more important playoff performer than Jeter, more important than Rivera, more important than Pettitte or Bernie. Those guys became legends in large part to help from Hernandez.