The 10 Greatest Yankees Ever – by Andy Singer
The 10 Greatest Yankees
by Andy Singer
January 5, 2022
Who are the ten greatest Yankees ever?
Please see my list below (listed in vaguely chronological order as opposed to a strict ranking):
The first four names on this list are self-explanatory, as are the last two. Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, Rivera, and Jeter are all inner-circle Hall-of-Famers as far as I’m concerned. I had significantly more trouble debating the other 3 names that I felt were worthy of inclusion, as the Yankees have been host to so many brilliant careers. I struggled mightily to narrow it down from 4 names to 3. My initial list contained 11 names, and my debate came down to deciding between two players whose careers intertwined only briefly: Ron Guidry and Thurman Munson.
I know that neither are in the Hall of Fame, but I believe they were dominant in their own rights for significant periods of time. Thurman Munson meant so much to the Yankees of the 1970s and he was genuinely the heart and soul of those rosters, but Guidry’s individual performance peaks were higher, and I just felt that the numbers justify the idea that Guidry was both more dominant and more consistent in his prime than Munson was in his. I wish I had 11 spots, but with only 10, Guidry scoots in as the best starting pitcher in Yankee history, at least in terms of his 7-year peak.
To round out my top-10, I included Elston Howard and Don Mattingly.
Elston Howard might surprise some of you. I think Howard’s impact goes far beyond what his career was between the lines. The Yankees were among the last teams in baseball to bring an African American to the big leagues, a full 8 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Contrary to what is insinuated in many public histories, the Yankees’ delay was not for lack of black talent in their farm system. I’m working on reformatting some of my previous academic research work on this topic for the blog, but Yankee fans should understand the way minor league players like Vic Power were held back by Yankee management despite deserving a Major League opportunity with the Yankees. Elston Howard was the first player to break through that barrier, and he did it with exemplary dignity, class, and courage. I would argue that the Yankees waited far too long to make Howard a regular, even at a position other than catcher, and that his career numbers suffered for it in totality. Howard did not become anything approaching a regular until the tail end of his prime at the age of 30. Despite that, he continued to produce like a well-rounded all-star, starring both offensively and defensively well into his 30s. For me, Elston Howard belongs on any top-10 list when discussing the greatest Yankees of all-time.
The last player who gets the nod for me is Don Mattingly. Mattingly had a painfully short peak, but wow was Mattingly’s peak as impressive as all but maybe Mantle, Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio offensively on this list. From 1984-1989, Mattingly hit .327/.372/.530, good for a 147 OPS+/143 wRC+, while walking more than he struck out. In retrospect, his 5% strikeout rate during that time is comically good in comparison to even the most disciplined hitters in the modern game. Basically every Yankee fan I have ever known that grew up 3-10 years before I did reveres Donny Baseball, if that gives you any indication on the impact he had on a generation of fans. Mattingly’s back issues began at the tail end of his short peak, finally impacting him badly enough beginning in 1990 that his once powerful gap-gap swing became a shell of its former glory. Mattingly gutted through the pain and still played as long as he could, and generally with decent results. Mattingly may be one of the great “what if?” cases in modern baseball history, but the peak was just too good to ignore. Mattingly gets the nod from me over some other very deserving candidates.