The All-Time New York Yankees Team – By Season
Yeah – I haven’t done one of these in a while. So I figured I would do one that might actually get some buzz. So enjoy my take on the best seasons in the history of the Galactic Empire.
C – Yogi Berra, 1956
Thanks to one of his teammates having one of the greatest seasons that any player has ever attained, Yogi Berra missed out on winning his fourth MVP in 1956, but I’m not sure he minded when he won his seventh World Series ring. During that series, by the way, he hit three homers, drove in ten runs, and called a perfect game. During the season, the Hall-of-Famer reached career highs in homeruns (30) and OPS+ (142) while striking out just 29 times.
1B – Lou Gehrig, 1927
This was a tough one. No, I didn’t agonize over the choice of who to put at first, but which season. Lou Gehrig is the greatest first baseman of all-time, so it’s hard to pick just one year; I went with 1927 when, hitting behind the Great Bambino, he hit .373/.474/.765 with 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 homeruns, 149 runs scored and 175 RBI. His OPS+ was a career high 220 (only five players ever did better).
2B – Tony Lazzeri, 1929
Tony Lazzeri was one of the hitters that turned “Murderers-Two-Guys-you-should-probably-just-walk” into Murderers Row. He batted sixth for that 1927 team and still drove in 102 runs; two years later, he was even better, hitting .354/.429/.561 for a 159 OPS+ while hitting 37 doubles, 11 triples, and 18 homeruns.
3B – Alex Rodriguez, 2007
Fast-forward about 80 or so years now; despite sportswriters complaining about how “Choke-Rod,” as they preferred to call him, could never come up big for the Yankees (and how he didn’t embody the “True Yankee Spirit”), Alex Rodriguez put his entire team on his back and had one of the best seasons ever by a third baseman. A-Rod kicked off the season by hitting 14 homeruns in April and concluded it with another 10 in September. He was in a groove all season long that most players never experience for a week – he ended up leading the league in OPS+, slugging, total bases, homeruns (a 3B record 54), RBI and runs scored.
SS – Derek Jeter, 1999
Contrary to the belief I may have perpetuated here, I don’t hate Derek Jeter. I just think that maybe his 40 year old self isn’t going to be worth 17 million dollars in playing value. His 25 year old self was worth all of that money and more; in 1999, Derek Jeter helped lead his team to their third world title in four years, reaching career highs in all his rate stats (.349/.438/.552 for a 152 OPS+) as well as hitting a career high 24 homeruns and a league-leading 219 hits.
LF – Rickey Henderson, 1985
This might be the biggest surprise at all; normally people don’t associate Rickey Henderson as much with the Yankees (although he is their all-time leader in stolen bases, at least until Jeter passes him this year). It’s also kind of surprising that a Yankee from the 1980’s was picked, given it was the period of the Yankees greatest period of futility. I maintain, however, that you can’t pass up an opportunity to have the game’s greatest lead-off hitter on your team if the option is available, so I took it. In 1985, Henderson did all the things that made him an all-time great – he reached base (99 walks, .419 OBP), he stole bases (80 for 90), and he used his tremendous speed to score runs, coming across the plate 149 times, more than any baseball player in the previous 35 years.
CF – Joe Dimaggio, 1937
Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio got credit for winning a couple MVP’s over Ted Williams that he very clearly should not have won, but he was very deserving of one MVP that went to another guy; in 1937, Joe Dimaggio hit .346/.412/.673 with a league-leading 46 homeruns and 418 total bases as a graceful centerfielder but fell short of the MVP to Detroit’s Charlie Gehringer. No, he didn’t have a 56 game hitting streak in 1937 – but he did reach base for 44 straight games between June 27 and August 12, during which time he slugged a cool .910.
RF – Babe Ruth, 1921
I maintain that The Bambino is the greatest baseball player of all-time, period, end of discussion. After about 6 years of solid dominance as a starting pitcher, Babe Ruth transitioned into the outfield (the Rick Ankiel of his day!) and proceeded to put up Nintendo-like numbers for a decade and a half. 1921 was the most Nintendo-ish of his seasons as he hit .378/.512/.846 with 59 homeruns, 171 RBI, 177 runs scored, 145 walks, an all-time record 457 total bases, and a pretty sweet 238 OPS+. He personally hit over three times as many homeruns as the team that had sold him two years prior. In summary, George Herman Ruth was very good at baseball.
DH – Mickey Mantle, 1956
Seems kind of a travesty to take one of the top 3 centerfielders of all-time and make him the DH doesn’t it? Well even though The Mick retired five years before the very first DH was ever implemented, I’m putting him in there just to get both him and the Yankee Clipper in the same lineup (otherwise, I guess I’d have the Babe pitch? Or something?). Anyway, Mickey Mantle had an absolutely incredible season in 1956 and probably would have been good enough to win the MVP even by playing half the game. He won the Triple Crown with a .353 average, 52 homeruns and 130 RBI while leading the league with a slugging percentage of .705 and a 210 OPS+. He then hit three more homeruns in the World Series to help the Yankees win their first title in about 1100 days (what a drought!)
LHP: Ron Guidry, 1978
If you’ve never seen MLB Network’s show Prime 9, it’s a simple count-down show which ranks the top 9 of anything in baseball history. Of the episodes that I have seen, Ron Guidry has made two lists. The first is for a top nickname: Louisiana Lightening. The other and probably more significant list is for one of the top seasons ever by a Major League pitcher. After being held back for several years in the Yankee system, Guidry earned his place in the Yankee rotation when he went 16-7 in 25 starts for Billy Martin’s Bronx Zoo in 1977; the next year he earned a place in history. Louisiana Lightening led the league in ERA by about half a run at 1.74 which translated to an incredible 208 ERA+ to go along with a 0.946 WHIP. His dominance resulted in a 25-3 record, still the highest winning percentage for a pitcher with over 30 starts.
LHP: Whitey Ford, 1964
Whitey Ford was a consistently great pitcher for the Yankees throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s who could be counted on to give his team a big performance. 1964 was no exception; the southpaw went 17-6 with a 2.13 ERA in 36 starts, tossing eight shutouts.
RHP: Spud Chandler, 1943
War-time pitching performances are very difficult to gage, but at the same time, Spud Chandler had a uniquely great season in 1943, becoming the only Yankee pitcher to ever win the MVP. The righty led the league in both ERA+ (198) and WHIP (0.992) en route to a career season in which he won 20 of his 30 starts.
LHP: Lefty Gomez, 1934
A solid case can be made that his 1937 season was better, but no matter what, Lefty Gomez belongs on this team. In 1934, he dominated American League batters, holding over 1100 of them to a .215 batting average with just 12 homeruns. He won the Pitching Triple Crown with 26 wins, a 2.33 ERA and 158 strikeouts while also leading the league in WHIP, complete games, and shutouts.
RHP: Jack Chesbro, 1904
I’ll preface this by saying that it was a different game; still Jack Chesbro was the number one pitcher in the American League all year long in 1904, winning 41 of his 51 starts (with 48 complete games). Chesbro gave up one less earned run than Javier Vazquez in 2010, and pitched about three times as many innings. Unfortunately, he was working his way towards win number 42 on the last day of the season against the Boston Americans when he threw a wild pitch that resulted in a loss that enabled Boston to beat out the Highlanders for the 1904 pennant; 100 years later, a similar sort of scenerio happened involving New York, Boston, and a reliable Yankee righty…
C – Bill Dickey, 1937: 144 OPS+ with three times as many walks as strikeouts
1B – Don Mattingly, 1986: Led league in hits, doubles, total bases, and OPS+
2B – Joe Gordon, 1942: MVP had a .409 OBP, can move Lazzeri to third if need be
SS – Phil Rizzuto, 1950: Posted 200 hits and 92 walks in MVP season
OF – Reggie Jackson, 1980: Led league with 41 homeruns in best Yankee season
OF – Roger Maris, 1961: The People’s Homerun King
Closer: Mariano Rivera, 2008: Best season was really 1996, but team is stocked with firemen
Setup: John Wetteland, 1996: World Series MVP with 4 saves
Fireman: Goose Gossage, 1983: 13 relief wins before heading to West Coast
Fireman: Sparky Lyle, 1977: Threw 137 innings in relief, winning AL Cy Young
LHP: Dave Righetti, 1986: Most saves by a Yankee not named Rivera