With the impending retirement of Derek Jeter I thought it an appropriate time to look back at the greatest Yankees ever to don the pinstripes. When attempting to come up with a list of the top 10 New York Yankees of all time I was not handcuffed by a lack of possible selections. This team is the most decorated in all of North American professional sports, and has been in existence for more than a century. It is thus no surprise they’ve boasted some of the greatest legends of the game of baseball throughout their storied history. Here is my list of the top 10 New York Yankees ever to throw a ball or swing a bat:
10 – Don Mattingly
This Yankee first baseman was a 9 time gold glove winner and a 6 time all-star. While he shared first base duty in his rookie season, it didn’t take long for the Yanks to figure out this kid should be tending the bag full time. In his second full season he hit .343, taking home the American League batting title. From there it was straight up for Mattingly. He won the AL MVP award in 1986, and tied an MLB record in 1987 when he hit at least one home run in 8 consecutive games. Mattingly’s credentials are good enough to have him squeak into the number 10 spot on the list of the top 10 New York Yankees of all time.
9 – Yogi Berra
One of the greatest Yankees ever and also one of the most quotable characters in the history of any sport, this affable catcher played his entire career with the Yankees. He helped the Yankees to 10 World Series titles during his Hall of Fame career, earning 3 AL MVP awards along the way, and playing in 15 All Star Games. He is one of only four catchers in league history to field 1.00 in a season, and once had a streak of 88 errorless games.
8 – Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson may not have worn the Yankee pinstripes his entire career, but during the time he was in New York, boy did he make an impact. “Mr. October” is best known for his work in the 1977 World Series when he crushed 3 home runs in a single game. In all he won 5 World Series titles in his career (2 with the Yankees), appeared in 14 All Star Games, and hit 563 career home runs.
7 – Derek Jeter
It is a true testament to the embarrassment of riches the Yankees have enjoyed over their long history that this gentleman only manages to crack the number 7 spot on this list. With over 3,400 career hits he is the active leader in that category, and in the top 10 of all time. He’s appeared in 14 All Star Games, won 5 gold gloves, and his five World Series rings match the total of longtime teammate Mariano Rivera. Not only was he great on the field, but off it as well. Baseball will very much miss its greatest ambassador when he walks off the field for the last time.
6 – Mariano Rivera
A relief pitcher one of the top 10 greatest Yankees of all time? Well, since he is considered by many as the greatest closer in the history of baseball, it would be hard to deny him consideration as one of the greatest Yankees ever. Though he came into the league as a starter, and spent a brief stint as a setup man, he was absolutely lights out since converting to the role of closer in 1997. His clutch pitching down the stretch was an instrumental part of all 5 of the World Series he helped the Yankees win, as shown by his miniscule .70 career ERA in the post-season (the lowest in history). He won two ALCS and one World Series MVP title (only reliever to accomplish this), and appeared in 13 All Star Games.
5 – Whitey Ford
The Yankees have been blessed with so many legendary sluggers during their history that often their pitchers have been overlooked. However, it is pretty difficult to ignore the accomplishments of “The Chairman of the Board” when compiling a list of the greatest Yankees ever. He earned the nickname because of his incredible ability to remain calm under pressure-packed situations, proving this immediately by winning his first ever game for the Yankees. He would go on to winning 8 more in a row, before finally dropping a game in relief. That was the beginning of great things for Ford, who would go on to win 6 World Series titles with the Yankees, a World Series MVP award, and a Cy Young award, and his 236 wins as a Yankee still stands as a franchise record.
4 – Joe DiMaggio
Now we are really getting into the biggest legends in the game. It is easy to see just how blessed with talent the Yankees have been when “Joltin’ Joe” can only crack the number 4 spot on the list of the top 10 New York Yankees of all time. Like several others on this list, DiMaggio played his entire career as a Yankee, winning the AL MVP award 3 times along the way. Of course, the achievement DiMaggio is most famous for is “The Streak”. In 1941, DiMaggio put together what must be considered the greatest streak in the history of any sport when he went 56 consecutive games with at least 1 hit. It is a mark that hasn’t been broken to this day, 67 years later, and might be as untouchable as any record in sports.
3 – Mickey Mantle
How good was Mickey Mantle? This Yankee slugger was named to the All Star team in 16 of his 18 years in the league. How is that for consistent dominance? He helped the Yanks win 7 World Series titles along the way, and is the all time record holder for home runs in the World Series with 18. He won 3 AL MVP awards during his career, including 1 in the 1956 season, when he captured the elusive “Triple Crown”, leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBI. Truly one of the Yankees’ and baseball’s all time greats.
2 – Lou Gherig
“The Iron Horse” was known for his legendary durability, playing in a staggering 2,130 consecutive games during a stretch in his career. But it wasn’t just his durability that qualifies him for the number 2 spot on this list of top 10 Yankees of all time. It was his prowess as a slugger that really made him a baseball legend. Gherig had a career batting average of .340, and smacked 493 home runs during his career. He enjoyed one of the greatest seasons in baseball history in 1927, hitting a staggering .373, with 47 homers, 175 RBI, and a .765 slugging percentage. He had 3 of the 6 highest RBI season totals in the history of the sport, including 184 in 1931, still an American League record. Only on the Yankees would this incredible athlete rank as the 2nd greatest ever.
1 – Babe Ruth
As good as the others on this list are, there really can be only one choice when naming the best Yankees ever. “The Bambino” is the greatest home run hitter to play the game of baseball. Forget Bonds or Aaron, nobody could smack the cover off a baseball like Babe Ruth. He hit 714 home runs, good for 3rd place on the all time list. However, he would have been 1st by a country mile had he played as many games as either Aaron or Bonds. Ruth is so well known as a home run hitter that many forget just how good an all-purpose hitter he was. His .342 career batting average is 10th highest in baseball history, and his .690 career slugging percentage is still the MLB all time record. With 7 World Series titles Ruth proved he could compete when it counted too. There is so much more I could write about this legendary Bronx Bomber, but his exploits are well known by anyone who follows the game. Simply the greatest Yankee of all time.
Featured image by Keith Allison