A team of the best players for both the Yankees and Mets

18 09 2015

As we head into another Subway Series tonight, with both teams in contention for the post-season, I present the all-time team of players who have been both Yankees and Mets.

I discuss criteria for choosing players at the bottom of the piece, but read it first if you prefer. To qualify for the team, you had to play in games for both the Yankees and the Mets. You only had to play the position you’re assigned for one team, but playing it for both is preferred, and everyone but the designated hitter did play the position in question for both teams.

Catcher: Yogi Berra


This is as easy a call as you have on this team. Yogi didn’t give the Mets much as a player: four games, nine a-bats and two hits in the 1965 season, and only two games behind the plate. But he was a Yankee stalwart from 1947 through 1963, hitting 358 homers, winning three MVP awards and setting World Series records for games played, at-bats, hits and doubles. Most important, he has the all-time record for most World Series championships by a player, 10.

He made a bigger contribution to the Mets as a manager than as a catcher, leading the Mets to the 1973 World Series.

First base, Marv Throneberry


If Dave Kingman had played more first base for either team, he would be the choice here. Kong was a mighty homerun hitter for the Mets, leading the National League in 1982 with 37 homers (he also led the league with 156 strikeouts that year) and getting 37 more homers for the Mets in 1976 and 36 in 1975. But he played only eight games (and hit four homers) for the Yankees. He was only a DH for the Yankees and that 1982 season was the only year he played primarily first base for the Mets. Even so, if this were decided on quality of (offensive) play, Kingman would still win.

But Marvelous Marv Throneberry, gets a spot on this team based on his cultural niches in both teams. For the Yankees, he hit only 15 homers in three part-time seasons. He was barely better for the Mets, hitting 16 homers and 49 RBI, with a .244 batting average in his only full season as a Met. And he led NL first basemen with 17 errors that year (in just 97 games at first).

So why does he merit a spot on both teams? Well, he went from the Yankees to Kansas City in the Roger Maris trade, and that worked out pretty well. And “Marvelous Marv” came to symbolize the dreadful 1962 Mets. This great passage from his 1994 New York Times obituary explained:

In a game against the Chicago Cubs, he hit what appeared to be a game-winning triple with the bases loaded and two outs. The problem was that everybody in the dugout noticed that he missed touching first base. When the Cubs’ pitcher tossed the ball to the first baseman, the umpire called Throneberry out. The inning ended and the runs didn’t count. Casey Stengel, the grizzled manager of the Mets, couldn’t believe it and began arguing with the first-base umpire. As they exchanged words, another umpire walked over and said, “Casey, I hate to tell you this, but he also missed second.”

Not surprisingly, whenever Stengel lamented, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” the target of his plea often was Throneberry.

You gotta have that guy on this team. And Kong’s strikeouts, batting average, fielding and attitude make it easy to leave him off the team.

Second base, Willie Randolph


Randolph gave the Mets more than Yogi, but his spot on this team is similar: a long and outstanding career for the Yankees, ending with a brief stint with the Mets, whom he later managed.

Randolph anchored the infield for the Yankees when they played in four World Series (and won two) from 1976 to 1981. He played 13 seasons for the Yankees, getting five of his six All-Star appearances for them. He hit .275 for the Yankees and stole 251 bases for them in 1,694 games. He played only 90 games for the Mets in 1992, getting only 72 hits.

Shortstop, Phil Linz


Tony Fernandez was a better shortstop than Linz, but not in New York. He played his best seasons for the Blue Jays and played less than a full season for each of the New York teams late in his career.

Linz played in 70 or more games four straight years for the Yankees, 1962-65. Tony Kubek was the starter, but Linz saw plenty of action. His best season was 1964, when he played 112 games and hit .250 with 92 hits and 63 runs scored. Plus, his harmonica incident in 1964 is a fun part of Yankee lore. He also managed two homers in the 1964 World Series, one of them off Bob Gibson, after hitting just five all season (and 11 for his career).

Like Berra and Randolph, Linz wrapped up with the Mets, playing part-time in 1967 and ’68.

Third base, Robin Ventura

Ventura is the first player on this team to give quality seasons to both teams. He had the best year of his career for the Mets in 1999, hitting .301 with 32 homers and 120 RBI. He finished sixth in the MVP voting that year and won the last of his six Gold Gloves.

After giving the Mets two solid seasons, Ventura moved across town and had an All-Star season for the Yankees, with 27 homers and 93 RBI in 2002. He was traded to the Dodgers during the 2003 season.

Ventura is tied with Willie McCovey for fifth in career grand slams. His most famous grand slam, though, was his 15th-inning “grand slam single” to beat the Braves in the 1999 National League Championship Series. Because he was mobbed by hit teammates between first and second bases, and never touched home plate, the official scorer credited Ventura with a single.

Left field, Rickey Henderson


Rickey played four-plus seasons for the Yankees in his prime, leading the American League in steals in 1985, ’86 and ’88 and in runs in ’86 and ’85 (a career-best 146, setting the table for RBI king Don Mattingly). The Yankees traded Henderson to the A’s during the 1989 season and his combined totals led the league in stolen bases, runs and walks.

Rickey was 40 when he reached the Mets in 1999, but still he managed to hit .315, with a .423 on-base percentage, 37 steals and 89 runs scored. It was one of the best age-40 seasons ever. And he added 10 hits, seven runs and seven stolen bases in the post-season.

He did more for the A’s than either New York team (thus the A’s video above), but his Yankee contributions were huge and his Met performance was respectable. I could make a case for Darryl Strawberry over Henderson in left field, based on his play for the two teams. But I chose Henderson.

Update: Jeff Edelstein reminds me that Strawberry played right field for the Mets (he played some left for the Yankees). More on that in my right field section.

Kingman got brief consideration in left, but not much.

Center field, Carlos Beltrán


This might be the closest call of any position. Beltrán and Curtis Granderson have nearly mirror-image careers. Each started his career and became a star with another American League team. Beltrán reached New York (with the Mets) the year he turned 28, just a year younger than Granderson when he joined the Yankees. Both continued starring for their first New York team and neither was quite as good in his second Big Apple stint.

Beltrán didn’t have any year with the Mets greater than Granderson’s 2011 season for the Yankees (leading the league with 119 RBI and 136 runs, plus 41 homers and 25 steals). But Beltrán was close in 2006, with 41 homers, 116 RBI, 127 runs and 18 steals. His averages were all better than Granderson’s in those best seasons, and both finished fourth in MVP voting.

But even if you give Granderson the edge for best year, Beltrán topped 100 RBI twice more for the Mets and Granderson only did it once. Beltrán had three great seasons for the Mets and Granderson had only two for the Yankees.

Both were disappointing last season, their first seasons for their second New York teams. Granderson had 20 homers and 66 RBI for the Mets and Beltrán had 15 and 49 for the Yankees. Both have improved, but not returned to star form, this year.

You could argue that their New York tenures were pretty equal. While I give Beltrán a slight edge for New York performance, I give him a bigger edge for performance with other teams: He topped 100 RBI and 100 runs each four times for the Royals and a fifth time (for both runs and RBI) in a season split between the Royals and Astros. He topped 30 homers once each for the Royals and Cardinals and topped 30 steals four straight seasons for the Royals.

Granderson’s tenure with the Tigers was impressive, but he topped 100 runs only twice and never reached 100 RBI or 30 steals. He reached 30 homers once before coming to New York. All of Beltrán’s career averages are higher than Granderson’s.

And when you add post-season performance outside New York, Beltrán blows almost anyone away: After that incredible eight-homer post-season for the Astros in 2004, he hit three more for the Mets and another five for the Cardinals. His 16 career post-season homers are tied for ninth all-time, and he holds the records for homers and runs scored in a single post-season. Granderson was mostly a post-season disappointment for the Yankees.

Granderson is four years younger and could end up doing enough more for the Mets that he pushes Beltrán from this spot.

Right field, Gary Sheffield


Sheffield had back-to-back great seasons for the Yankees, topping .290, 30 homers, 120 RBI and 100 runs in both 2004 and 2005.  He finished his career with a mediocre 2009 season for the Mets.

Sheff and Henderson have to be near the top of the list of great players who played for the most teams (and who had great seasons for the most teams). Sheffield played for eight teams and had 100-RBI and/or 100-run seasons for six of them. He didn’t get 100 RBI for the Brewers (he left at age 22), but he stole a career-high 25 bases for Milwaukee in 1990. He was an All-Star for the Padres, Marlins, Dodgers, Braves and Yankees. The Mets were the only team he didn’t play well for.

Henderson played for the A’s (four separate times), Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres (twice), Angels, Mets, Mariners, Red Sox and Dodgers. That’s more teams than Sheffield, even if you don’t count separate tenures with the same team. He led the league in stolen bases for the Yankees and in three of his four Oakland stops. He also managed 30-steal seasons for the Padres, Mariners and Mets. He spent only 44 games with Toronto, but stole 22 bases (and three more in the post-season).

Bobby Abreu and Ron Swoboda got brief consideration in right field. Having already included Throneberry as an early Met-fan favorite, I couldn’t choose Swoboda over Sheffield. The gap in quality is much bigger in Sheffield’s favor than it was at first base for Kingman (plus Sheffield actually played right field primarily, and Kingman didn’t play much at first base in New York).

Update: As noted earlier, I should have considered Strawberry in right field instead of left, because his best years were for the Mets, where he played right. But I’m not going to change the picks here, because Strawberry played more DH for the Yankees than Sheffield, who excelled for the Yankees. Strawberry might have been the better New York right fielder, though, so I’m not going to argue if you want to put him in the field and play Sheffield at DH.

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Designated hitter, Darryl Strawberry


Strawberry actually might have been a better leftfielder, considering just their New York tenures, than Henderson. But Strawberry played more DH for the Yankees than either Henderson or Kingman, the most notable hitter left off this team. Strawberry hit 29 homers and drove in 77 runs in 143 games as a DH.

And his non-DH career was both more notable than Kingman’s and more in New York. Except for three seasons with the Dodgers and one with the Giants, Strawberry played his whole career for the Yankees and Mets. The Mets definitely got his best years, including 1988, when he led the league in homers (39), slugging (.545) and OPS (.911).

He’s the only hitter on this team to win World Series rings for both New York teams.

Starting pitcher, Dwight Gooden


Gooden is the only pitcher on this team to win World Series with both teams. He and Strawberry had parallel careers: Rookies of the Year who starred for the Mets in the 1980s, won World Series rings in 1986, ruined their careers with cocaine addiction, came back as role players for the Yankees of the 1990s and went to prison following their baseball careers. They both had Hall of Fame talent but pissed away their greatness and will never make it to Cooperstown.

Gooden’s Cy Young performance for the Mets in 1985 was one of the best seasons ever, 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts and 16 complete games, all figures (except losses) leading the league.

Gooden’s Yankee highlight was his no-hitter May 14, 1996.

Starting pitcher, David Cone


Cone and Gooden both won 194 games and both pitched no-hitters for the Yankees (Cone’s was perfect). Gooden is the first pitcher here because he had the greatest season, but Cone spread his greatness better across both New York teams, winning 20 for the Mets in 1988 and 10 years later for the Yankees.

Cone won his Cy Young Award for the Royals in 1994 and won his first World Series ring for the Blue Jays in 1992. But he pitched five full seasons for each New York team, plus part of a sixth, then returned to the Mets in 2003 at age 40, without much left. He went 81-51 for the Mets and 64-40 for the Yankees.

Cone excelled in the post-season, going 6-1 for the Yankees, 1-1 for the Mets and 8-3 overall.

Starting pitcher Al Leiter


Better pitchers such as Kenny Rogers and John Candelaria pitched for both New York teams, but they didn’t pitch as well or as long in New York as Leiter. He split time between the Yankees and the minor leagues in 1987, ’88 and ’89, showing promise but not nailing down a starting spot. Then he returned in 2005 at age 39. His 11-13 career for the Yankees, spread over four seasons, just qualifies him for this team. It’s his 95-67 record in seven seasons with the Mets that wins him a spot in this rotation.

Leiter was probably the Mets’ best pitcher, with strong seasons, in 1998 (17-6, 2.47, 147 strikeouts), 2000 (16-8, 3.20, 200) and 2003 (15-9, 3.99, 139). He was also the best pitcher for the last-place Mets in 2002 (13-13, 3.38, 172). He never won fewer than 10 games in a season for the Mets and never had a losing record.

He pitched in the 2000 Subway Series, getting no decision in the 12-inning Game 1 win by the Yankees and taking a tough loss in Game 5. Matched up with Andy Pettitte, he took a 2-2 tie into the ninth inning. After two strikeouts to open the ninth, he walked Jorge Posada and gave up a single to Scott Brosius. Luis Sojo‘s groundball up the middle put the Yankees ahead and Brosius scored on an error on the throw home. John Franco came in to get the last out, but the Yankees handed Mariano Rivera a 4-2 lead and he wrapped up the series.

Starting pitcher Orlando Hernandez


“El Duque” probably pitched his best in Cuba, before joining the Yankees at age 32. But he pitched respectably for both New York teams. He broke onto the scene with the Yankees in 1998, going 12-4, with a 3.13 ERA, and giving up only one run in two post-season wins.

He followed that with a 17-9 showing in 1999 and three more post-season wins.

After that, he was never as dominant, and missed the full 2003 season (when he was an Expo) due to rotator-cuff surgery. But El Duque re-signed with the Yankees and finished 2004 strong, going 8-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 15 starts.

He was the starter in Game Four against the Red Sox, with the Yankees leading the American League Championship Series three games to none. El Duque left in the sixth inning leading 4-3, in position to return to another World Series. But nothing good happened for the Yankees after that.

El Duque’s post-season record for the Yankees was an impressive 9-3. He won a fourth World Series ring with the White Sox and returned to New York as a Met at age 40. He was 9-7 in 20 starts and 9-5 in 24 in 2006-7 to finish his career respectably.

Starting pitcher Mike Torrez


I could argue that Candelaria or Rogers or Ralph Terry or Dock Ellis or Doc Medich could make this team ahead of Torrez. (Actually, it would be kind of cool to have a rotation that was 60 percent “Docs” — Medich, Ellis and Gooden). But none of them was a clear choice, pitching well for both teams.

Torrez wins the fifth starting spot on the basis of five factors:

  1. A solid 14-12 season for the 1977 Yankees.
  2. Two World Series wins over the Dodgers that same year, his only season as a Yankee.
  3. He did pitch a lot for the Mets in 1983, going 10-17 for the last-place team and leading the league in losses, earned runs (108) and walks (113). Not a great season, but he pitched a lot of innings for a really bad team.
  4. He does hold a special place in Yankee lore, though not for his pitching as a Yankee. The year after he pitched for the Yankees, he signed with the Red Sox and served up the Bucky Dent home run.
  5. He’s the only guy who’s on both my all-Yankees-Red Sox team and my all Yankees-Mets team.

Medich and Terry each had a few strong seasons for the Yankees, (Medich topping out at 19 wins in 1974 and Terry at 23 in 1962), but neither managed even a single win in brief stints with the Mets. I have to go with Torrez as the No. 5 starter.

Closer, Jesse Orosco


Again, we have a close call, this time between two closers who were standouts for the Mets and made only brief appearances with the Yankees. The Yankee fan in me hoped that Sparky Lyle or Goose Gossage made a brief appearance in Shea, but this decision came down to Orosco and Armando Benítez.

Based on their pitching with the Yankees, Benítez has the advantage, with a 1.93 ERA, compared to 10.38 for Orosco. But they only had 14 innings combined for the Yankees. This choice has to be based on pitching for the Mets.

Orosco pitched in eight seasons for the Mets, 1979 and 1981-87. He became the closer in 1983, his first of two All-Star years. He shared closer duties with Roger McDowell from 1985 to ’87. Benítez shared closer duties with John Franco in 1999, then took over the closer role in 2000 and held it until being traded to the Yankees in July 2003. The Yankees traded him less than a month later to the Mariners.

So they both had roughly five seasons as a closer for the Mets. If you based it solely on saves, Benítez would win, with 160 of his 288 career saves for the Mets. Orosco had 107 of his 144 career saves for the Mets. Benítez saved 41 games in 2000, 43 in 2001 and 33 in 2002. Orosco’s best save totals were 31 in ’84 and 21 in ’86.

But you have to evaluate relief pitchers especially in context of their times. When Benítez saved 41 in 2000, he was third in the league in saves, same ranking at Orosco when he saved 31 in 1984. Benítez pitched in a time when managers gave nearly all of their saves to a single pitcher, mostly in one-inning outings. He appeared in 76 games in 2000 and pitched 76 innings, with a 4-4 record. On the other hand, Orosco’s 1984 performance included 84 innings over 60 games, with a 10-6 record.

From 1981 to 1986, Orosco’s ERA didn’t go above 2.73, and he had two seasons under 2.00. Benitez had two seasons as a closer with an ERA over 3.00. But again context mattered: Benítez pitched at the peak of performance-enhancing drugs, reaching his career peak for saves the same year Barry Bonds set the tainted record of 73 homers in a season.

I see Orosco and Benítez as a standoff for best regular-season closer for the Mets. Here’s why I give Orosco the edge: Each was his team’s closer in a World Series. Benítez blew a save in Game One of the 2000 World Series, giving up the tying run in the ninth inning of a game the Mets eventually lost in 12 innings. He did get a save in Game Three, but that should have put the Mets ahead, rather than keeping them from going down 3-0. Orosco pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Red Sox in 1986, saving Game Four and Game Seven. When a franchise has only celebrated two championships in its history, you have to give some credit to the pitcher who got the final out that triggered one of those celebrations.

Benítez pitched well in the playoffs, but didn’t match Orosco’s 1986 National League Championship Series performance of three wins in four relief appearances. In Game Three, he entered in the eighth inning, trailing 5-4 and kept the game close, winning on Len Dykstra‘s ninth-inning walk-off two-run homer. In Game Five, Orosco entered in the 11th, retired six straight Astros and got the win on Gary Carter‘s 12th-inning RBI single. In Game Six, he entered in the 14th inning. This time he blew the save, giving up a tying homer to Billy Hatcher. But Orosco kept battling. He got out of that inning without further damage and retired the Astros in order in the 15th. After the Mets took a 7-4 lead in the top of the 16th, Orosco gave up a walk and three singles to make the game 7-6. But Davey Johnson stayed with him, and Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to nail down his third win. Though he gave up those three runs, Orosco gave up only five hits and two walks in eight innings against the Astros and struck out 10. He’s the only pitcher ever to win three games in an NLCS.

Also, I gave Orosco a slight edge for career outside New York. Benítez led the National League with 47 saves for the Marlins in 2004, but otherwise he was nothing special except in his stint with the Mets. Orosco holds the all-time record for most games pitched, with 1,252. While Benítez pitched a respectable 15 years in the majors, Orosco pitched 24, pitching in four decades and making the transition from set-up man to closer to that left-hander who comes in to retire one or two left-handed batters.

Manager: Casey Stengel


This is closer than you might think. Yogi Berra was the only manager to be successful with both teams, leading the Yankees to the 1964 World Series and the Mets to the 1973 World Series and losing both times. But he only managed three years for the Yankees (in two hitches) and four for the Mets, and never finished first again.

Stengel and Joe Torre both managed awful Mets teams. Casey never got out of last place in four Met years. And Torre never had a Met winner in five years and finished last three times.

But Stengel and Torre had splendid, similar 12-year runs with the Yankees. Both men finished first 10 of their 12 years, but Stengel was winning the eight-team American League and Torre was winning the five-team Eastern Division. Torre also won an incredible six American League pennants, but that’s four less than Stengel. Casey also won more World Series than Torre, seven to four, including five in a row from 1949-53.

Stengel was also an awful manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Bees and Braves, never finishing higher than fifth. I don’t know how he got the Yankee job. But he did, and he won seven World Series and 10 pennants. That simply trumps what anyone else who ever managed did. So he could have sucked 10 more years for the Mets and he’d still be the manager here.

And he gave the greatest congressional testimony ever, though Mickey Mantle might have topped him:

How I chose this team

My primary criteria in choosing players for this team was how they played for the two New York teams. In close calls, these were deciding criteria (in order):

  1. Was he an all-time great (Hall of Famer or someone who should or will be in the Hall of Fame)? So Yogi Berra would make it over a catcher who had multiple good years for both teams. This helped Rickey Henderson beat out Darryl Strawberry in left field.
  2. Playing well and long for both teams. David Cone, with five-plus strong seasons for both teams, is the best example.
  3. Does he hold a special place in Yankee or Met lore? This helped Marv Throneberry, Phil Linz and Mike Torrez win spots on the team.
  4. How much did he actually play this position for either team? If Dave Kingman had actually played first base much in New York, his quality of play might have pushed him ahead of Throneberry, but he didn’t.
  5. Can either player play another position? If Strawberry hadn’t DH’d significantly for the Yankees, I might have had to give him the edge in left field, based on more time played for the New York teams than Henderson. But given Rickey’s excellence with both teams, including four-plus prime seasons with the Yankees, and his overall career, plus the fact that Strawberry would also be best at DH, I was able to get both players on the team.
  6. Post-season play always matters to me. Hernandez, Torrez and Orosco nailed down their positions here partly based on their post-season play.
  7. Overall career. This was decided mostly on the basis of performance for the Yankees and Mets. But Henderson’s career greatness came into play in the left field decision, and Beltrán’s overall career helped break a close tie with Granderson in center. But I wouldn’t place a player with a great career here based mostly on play for other teams. Tony Fernandez had a far superior career at shortstop to Phil Linz. But his New York years weren’t as good as Linz’s. If he were Ozzie Smith or Cal Ripken Jr., his overall career might tip the balance over a role player like Linz. But Linz won on better New York play and the harmonica incident.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this blog post a few months ago late at night, unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my selections, that’s fine, too.

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6 responses

23 09 2015
Farewell to Yogi Berra: A Hall of Fame character (and player) | Hated Yankees

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[…] More on Al Leiter in my post on the team of best players who played for both the Yankees and Mets. […]

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19 10 2015
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1 11 2015
2015 World Series echoes Mets’ and Royals’ mid-’80s classics | Hated Yankees

[…] may need to update my September post in which I assembled a team of the best ever to play for both the Yankees and Mets. Granderson lost out narrowly there in center to Carlos Beltrán. I may need to update that post […]

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31 12 2015
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[…] Early in the year, I began two separate series of posts that I wouldn’t publish for months, but that kept the blog active every weekday for a long stretch of late September and early October, plus a separate post written in the spring and timed to run with the September Subway Series against the Mets. […]

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