COUNTING DOWN: The Best Yankee At Each Uniform Number (#25)
By Paul Semendinger
In these articles, I often list notable and not so notable names of former Yankees who wore the particular uniform number I am discussing.
I don't plan to do that for uniform #25 because the list of players in the running for the best ever is longer than most and very interesting.
46 different players have worn uniform #25, but four stand out who could be the greatest and one who might get there...:
Joe Pepitone (1962-69)
Tommy John (1979-82, 1986-89)
Jason Giambi (2002-08)
Mark Teixeira (2009-16)
Gleyber Torres (2018-Present)
That's an impressive list of some pretty good players. But, what strikes me most out of this list is that most of these players (in fact all of them except Tommy John) performed at levels below what the Yankees had probably expected from them over the long term. (Gleyber Torres, of course, could have a great career ahead of him.)
Joe Pepitone was an extremely talented baseball player who never lived up the the skills he possessed.
In the three seasons before becoming a Yankee, Jason Giambi averaged .330/38/127. In his Yankees career, Giambi averaged .260/29/86.
Mark Teixeira was basically a .285/30/100 player before becoming a Yankee. In pinstripes, he averaged .248/25/77.
After seeming to be a superstar in 2019 by hitting .278/38/90, Gleyber Torres has batted .256 since that season. In the two and a half seasons since 2019, he's also hit just 25 total home runs.
Tommy John, on the other hand, did well in his first go-around with the Yankees winning 20+ games in back-to-back seasons (1979 and 1980). TJ went 43-18 in that period. In the strike season of 1981, he had a nifty 2.63 ERA. I believe Tommy John out performed any expectations the Yankees might have had for him, as good as he was, when the Yankees signed him. In his whole career prior to coming to New York, he had won 20-games in a season only once. Later, when he returned to the Yankees, he actually led the team in starts in 1987 and 1988 pitching at 44 and 45-years-old.
But, to be fair, while Pepitone, Giambi, Teixeira, and Torres all underperformed somewhat, they all were longtime Yankees who put up some good (if not great numbers).
Joe Pepitone was a three-time All-Star. He won three Gold Gloves. Pepitone also had four seasons where he hit 27 or more homers.
Jason Giambi was also a three-time All-Star. He also won a Silver Slugger Award. In five seasons he hit over 30 homers, including two 41 home run seasons.
Mark Teixeira was a two-time All-Star. He won three Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. In 2009, he was the A.L. MVP runner-up. He had six seasons with more than 20 home runs including four that were over 30.
The jury is still out on Gleyber Torres. He might just be coming into his own. He's reached 24 and 38 home runs in his career and could hit close to 30 again this year.
While these players weren't as great as they might have been, they were still pretty darn good.
Ranked by WAR as Yankees, the players come in as follows (from 5th to first...):
5) Joe Pepitone - 7.4 (8 years)
4) Gleyber Torres - 10.0 (5 years)
3) Mark Teixeira - 19.3 (8 years)
2) Tommy John - 19.8 (8 years)
1) Jason Giambi - 22.0 (7 years)
This begs the question, does WAR accurately reflect these players in order of greatness? Is that the best ranking of these five players. I like WAR. I use WAR a lot, but it's a guide and not the final word.
Giambi was a poor fielder. As a Yankee, he played DH a lot. Teixeira was an excellent defensive player as was Joe Pepitone. All five of the long time players played in the World Series, but only Mark Teixeira was on a World Series winner. It's also tough to compare a pitcher with three first basemen and a second baseman/shortstop.
In time, Tommy John will be in the Hall of Fame. He's the only one on the list who is destined for that honor (understanding that Gleyber Torres is only 25-years-old and should have a long career ahead of him).
My ranking reads as follows:
5) Gleyber Torres
4) Joe Pepitone
3) Jason Giambi
2) Mark Teixeira
1) Tommy John
WAR was a good guide here, but I think my ranking more accurately reflects each player's impact and greatness on the Yankees.
For me,. the greatest Yankee to wear #25 is Tommy John.
As I wrap-up this piece, I can't help but throw in a few "honorable mentions:"
Hank Bauer (1948-51)
Jackie Jensen (1952)
Bobby Bonds (1975)
Don Baylor (1983-85)
Jim Abbott (1993-94)
Cecil Fielder (1996)
Joe Girardi (1996-99)
Most of the background research for this project came from Baseball-Reference.com and the SABR BioProject.
PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES: