The All Time Yankees Hall of Very Good Team (Part 1 of 2)
Last month two Yankees greats, Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly, failed to get elected to the Hall of Fame by the special Modern Baseball Era committee. Munson, whose career was cut short by his tragic death in 1979, should, in my view, be in the Hall of Fame. Mattingly was a wonderful player and a beloved Yankee, but his peak was too short and his decline phase too mediocre for him to belong in the Hall of Fame. Munson and Mattingly are now both charter members of the Hall of Very Good. The Hall of Very Good is for players who were either good enough for the Hall of Fame, but never made it in or were very good players, but not quite Hall of Fame caliber. Obviously there is a lot of overlap and subjectivity involving these two categories. The news about Munson and Mattingly got me thinking about what the all time Yankees Hall of Very Good team would be.
For players to be eligible for my Hall of Very Good, they had to fit the overall criteria of having a very good Yankee for several years, but there were some specifics as well. They could no longer be active, on the current regular ballot or too recently retired to be on the ballot. This means that, for example, Brett Gardner, a prototypical Hall of Very Good player, was not eligible. Additionally, players whose Hall of Fame candidacy was marred by steroids were not eligible, so, for example, Jason Giambi, was not eligible.
With that in mind, here is my Yankees All Time Hall of Very Good team. (We will begin today with the infield. The outfield, pitchers, and catcher will come tomorrow.)
For the first few years of his career, Don Mattingly looked like a certain Hall of Famer. Following the 1987 season he was only the 16th player up to that time to have 3,000 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 150 or better through their age 26 season. All but two of the others were Hall of Famers. Over the next eight years, due to injuries and eventually age, Mattingly was essentially a league average player. His OPS+ from 1988 through 1995, his final season, was 112. During his last six years with the Yankees, Mattingly never hit twenty home runs in a season, hit .300 or better only once and was a shadow of the player he had once been. Mattingly’s defense at first base was not what it had once been either. It was a sad thing for Yankees fans to watch. Nonetheless for a few years in the 1980s Mattingly was a great player, and for a few more a better than average one, so he is the first baseman on this team. Sadly, the Hall of Fame got it right on Mattingly, although things certainly looked different in January of 1988.
Willie Randolph is part of a trio of American League second baseman from his era, along with Bobby Gritch and Lou Whitaker, who have been criminally overlooked by Hall of Fame voters. All three are clearly better than Hall of Fame second baseman including Billy Herman, Nellie Fox, Tony Lazzeri and Red Schoendeinst. There are very few players who, like Randolph, had 65 or more WAR, and not even a hint of scandal during their career who were one and done on the Hall of Fame ballot. Randolph was a splendid player who could do three things very well, draw walks, steal bases and play defense ,while hitting very respectably. Randolph’s .374 OBP during his 13 years in pinstripes combined with his always excellent defense made him a very valuable part of many Yankees teams. Randolph played with the Yankees during a time when controversy was a constant, but he always seemed an oasis of businesslike calm during those years. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Hall of Fame voters found him so easy to overlook.
The third baseman on the Hall of Very Good Yankees team played in the infield with Randolph for eight years and also accumulated almost 70 WAR while being largely overlooked by Hall of Fame Voters. Graig Nettles was on the Hall of Fame ballot four times and never got even ten percent of the vote. Like Randolph, Nettles was an excellent defender. His two Gold Gloves understate his defensive value, but his 21.4 dWAR give a better sense of how good he was. His glovework in the 1978 World Series, particularly in game three, was an essential ingredient in the Yankees championship. Nettles primary offensive contributions came through his power. As a lefty batter in Yankee Stadium he was a dangerous hitter. Nettles led the American League in home runs in 1976 with 32 and hit 37 in 1977. He hit 250 home runs during his time with the Yankees and 390 over the course of his 22 year career.
The shortstop for this team was one of the Yankees earliest stars. Roger Peckinpaugh played for the team from 1914-1921 and had the skill set of most infielders of that era. Peckinpaugh fielded his position well, hit for almost no power as he slugged only 35 home runs during his entire time with the Yankees. However, because he could get on base, a .335 OBP with the Yankees, and steal bases reasonably well, 124 in 167 tries, Peckinpaugh had some offensive value as well. Peckinpaugh’s career lasted from 1910-1927, so he retired before the All Star Game was created, but he received MVP votes in 1914 with the Yankees and 1922 and 1923 with the Senators.
(Part 2 Comes Tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.)