The Best I Have Ever Seen
About the Off-Season: The Best I Have Ever Seen
By Tim Kabel
December 29, 2022
Now that the Yankees have signed Aaron Judge to a 9-year contract, it is more or less guaranteed that he will finish his career as a Yankee. He has already been named captain and most likely, if all goes well, he will eventually have his number retired and be honored in monument park. This set me to thinking.
We are in the final days of 2022. This is the time to be reflective. I have been watching the Yankees regularly since 1975. There have not been that many players who spent their entire career as Yankees. Of those, who are the best career Yankees I have seen? Will Judge be the best ever? He could be but he has at least nine years to prove it.
Of the players who spent their entire career with the Yankees, I have seen nine: Brett Gardner, Ron Guidry. Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Roy White, and Bernie Williams. Theoretically, we can add Judge to that list. He is not a finished product yet but for the sake of argument, he would round it out to 10.
Of the 9 players listed above who have completed their careers, who are the five best I have ever seen? Who is the best?
Narrowing it down from 9 to 5 was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I easily made it to 6 by excluding Brett Gardner, Jorge Posada, and Roy White. It's the next one that gave me trouble. For me, it came down to Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, and Bernie Williams.
Munson's career was not as long, because of his tragic death. Mattingly had amazing years at the beginning of his career, but injuries derailed what would have been a definite Hall of Fame career. Bernie Williams was consistent throughout his career. If I have to limit it to 5, which I am forcing myself to do, I will have to say that Bernie Williams gets the edge over Mattingly. Mattingly just had too many ordinary years in the second half of his career. After 1989, the most home runs he hit in a season was seven. The most RBI he had in a season was 86. He only hit over .300 once.
So, the five greatest career Yankees I have ever seen are Ron Guidry, Derek Jeter, Thurman Munson, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams. Now, I will rank them in reverse order.
5. Bernie Williams. Bernie had a very solid career that lasted 16 years. He has four World Series rings. He is often overlooked and is not considered to be part of the Core Four but, he was a crucial part of the Yankees’ championship run in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
4. Thurman Munson. He led the Yankees’ resurgence in the 70’s and was the captain of the team that won the World Series in 1977 and 1978. He was the league MVP in 1976. He was an incredible clutch hitter and although the Yankees lost the World Series in four games to the Cincinnati Reds in 1976, who can ever forget his tremendous performance. He batted .529 in that series with an OPS of 1.059.
3. Ron Guidry. We all know about 1978 when he went 25-3 with a .893 winning percentage and an ERA of 1.74. He also threw 9 shutouts that season and 16 complete games. He won twenty games or more three times in his career. When he was on, he was almost unbeatable. To this day, when a Yankees’ pitcher gets two strikes on a batter, the crowd begins clapping rhythmically. That started with Guidry. I remember staying up late and listening to the radio when he struck out 18 batters against the California Angels on June 17th, 1978.
2. Derek Jeter. He was the last captain before Judge. He played his entire 20-year career with the Yankees. He ranks 6th in MLB history with 3465 hits. He is the all-time career leader for hits for shortstops. He has five World Series rings. He's in the Hall of Fame. His number is retired, and he has a plaque in monument park. He had an amazing career. Watching him play was one of my joys of being a Yankees’ fan.
1. Mariano Rivera. He is the greatest closer of all time. There is no argument there. He was a unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame. No matter who the Yankees had or will have after him, they will always pale in comparison. He has 652 career saves. He has 5 World Series rings. His number has been retired by the Yankees and he is in monument park. He was the greatest career Yankee I have ever seen.
This is a very subjective list. Someone else could have a completely different order. Will Aaron Judge crack the top five when he retires? It's entirely possible. Could he become the greatest career Yankee I have ever seen? That is also possible, but he has a long way to go. Let's get started.