The 5 best managers in Yankee history

15 04 2016

This concludes a series on the best Yankees at different rolesToday: manager.

1, Casey Stengel

Casey Stengel's autograph on a ball my wife's uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s. The ball now belongs to my son Mike.

Casey Stengel’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

You can’t place anyone else at the top of this list. Casey Stengel managed the Yankees for 12 seasons, 1949-60. They won seven World Series (more than any manager has ever won) and lost three (each in seven games). He never got out of last place with the Mets and never made the post-season (which back then was just the World Series) for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves. But for the 12 years he was the Yankees’ skipper, he was simply the best manager ever.

Stengel was a master of juggling his lineup and his pitching staff (rotation and bullpen, including pitchers who played both roles).

You can’t even credit Stengel’s success to the Yankees’ talent. During that 12-year stretch, the Yankees had five Hall of Famers in their primes: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle (overlapping just a year), Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Phil Rizzuto.

The Cleveland Indians of that era had six Hall of Famers in their primes: Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby and Joe Gordon, a former Yankee. And this doesn’t count Satchel Paige, who’s in the Hall of Fame for his pitching for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, but could still bring it when he joined the Indians at age 41.

The Dodgers of the same era matched the Yankees with five Hall of Famers in their primes: Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Don Drysdale.

The Braves (Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and Red Schoendienst) and Giants (Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Orlando Cepeda and Hoyt Wilhelm) were just behind Stengel’s Yankees with four Hall of Famers each in their primes from 1949 to ’60.

The Yankees gave Stengel good players to work with, but other teams had similar talent. The Yankees had the Old Perfessor, though. With platoons at multiple positions, moving Gil McDougald around the infield, pitching Ford irregularly against the American League’s best teams and moving Allie Reynolds back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Stengel truly reached the greatest sustained success of any manager ever. Read the rest of this entry »

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The 5 best second basemen in Yankee history

5 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positions. Today: second base.

1, Tony Lazzeri

I tried to talk myself out of Tony Lazzeri at second base, because I kept wanting someone to be better. He’s not even a top 10 all-time second baseman. But he’s a Hall of Famer (albeit from the ’20s and ’30s when that was easier than any time since). And he played second base 12 years for the Yankees. Willie Randolph played 13 and I loved Randolph, but Lazzeri had more hits, homers and RBI as a Yankee, and a higher batting average.

Lazzeri topped 100 RBI seven times and scored more than 100 runs twice (Randolph never topped 100 in either category). Lazzeri topped .300 in batting five times, including a .354 performance in 1929. He was a bona fide member of Murderer’s Row and clearly the best Yankee second baseman ever, somewhat to my surprise.

He anchored the Yankee infield for five world-champion teams, bridging the Ruth and DiMaggio years. This is an easier call than I anticipated.

2, Robinson Canó

I also expected Robinson Canó to rank lower on this list. I was surprised to see he had played nine years as a Yankee, but not surprised to see that he topped 100 RBI three times, scored 100 runs four times and hit over 200 Yankee homers. I don’t know if he’s going to make the Hall of Fame, or if he should, but he got his career off to a Hall of Fame start playing in New York.

He also earned two Gold Gloves with spectacular, if not always consistent, defense. I tried to push the other guys on this list above Canó because he kind of disappointed me with his post-season play (he was awful in the 2009 World Series and hit only .222 in 51 post-season games). But his regular-season play pushed him up here and even gained him consideration for No. 1.

3, Willie Randolph

I moved Randolph into third place because he played the position strongly on offense and defense for the Yankees for 13 years. He was great at drawing walks (1,005 for the Yankees, including a league-leading 119 in 1980). I think Randolph illustrates that I don’t argue for Hall of Fame election for every good Yankee player. Yes, he was better than some 1920s infielders in the Hall of Fame, but they don’t belong there and neither does he.

Lou Whitaker and Frank White were better contemporary second basemen in the American League. But Randolph was a cornerstone of the Yankee champions of 1976-81, when they won two World Series, two more A.L. championships and a fifth division title. He was a six-time All-Star and absolutely belongs on this list.

4, Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon had to wait a while to get into the Hall of Fame not just because of anti-Yankee bias and the voters’ bias in favor of longevity. He also had to wait because he was the odd beneficiary in 1942 of the writers’ bias against Ted Williams. Gordon had an outstanding year: hitting .322 with 18 homers, 103 RBI and great defense for the pennant-winning Yankees. But Williams won the Triple Crown that year: .356, 36, 137. Williams also led the league in runs (141), walks (145), total bases (388), on-base percentage (.499!), slugging (.648) and OPS (1.147). You know what Gordon led the league in? Strikeouts (95) and grounding into double plays (22). It was probably the most ridiculous MVP vote in history when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted Gordon the MVP over Williams. But that wasn’t Gordon’s fault.

He didn’t have Hall of Fame career numbers, but he sacrificed two prime years to serve in the military during World War II. And he was an All-Star five straight years before going into the military and four straight years after coming back. How many players who were All-Stars nine straight seasons aren’t in the Hall of Fame? And it probably would have been 11 if the war hadn’t interrupted his career.

Gordon would rank ahead of Randolph based on his full career, but he played only seven years for the Yankees (he was traded to the Indians after the 1946 season for Allie Reynolds, who should join him in the Hall of Fame).

Gordon hit well in only two of his six World Series, but he helped the Yankees to four world championships and the Indians to their last title, in 1948.

In another interesting swap, Gordon went from the Indians to the Tigers in 1960 for Jimmy Dykes in a rare trade of managers.

5, Bobby Richardson

EPSON MFP image

My autographed photo of Bobby Richardson

Bobby Richardson may have the biggest disparity between regular-season hitting and World Series hitting of anyone who played substantial World Series time. He was a good player, making seven All-Star teams, leading the league with 209 hits in 1962 and finishing second to Mickey Mantle in the MVP vote that year. But he was only a .266 career hitter, with 34 homers and 390 RBI in 12 seasons, all with the Yankees.

In October, though, Richardson was something special. He set hitting records that still stand in three different World Series:

  • In 1960, he drove in a record 12 runs, also scoring eight and hitting two triples and a grand slam (tying a record he still shares; no one has hit a second World Series grand slam). His 11 hits were one short of the record. He was the only World Series MVP ever from a losing team.
  • In 1961, his nine hits tied a record for a five-game series that he still shares.
  • In 1964, he set a record that he still shares with 13 hits in a World Series.

Bobby Richardson StoryHe hit only 4-for-27 in the 1962 World Series, but that Series is still best remembered for his spectacular Game Seven catch of a Willie McCovey line drive, with Matty Alou on third with the tying run and Willie Mays on second with the winner. While his stellar hitting in other Series was far better than his regular-season hitting, the defense was no surprise: 1962 was the second of five straight Gold Glove seasons for Richardson.

Who else in World Series history set offensive records in three series and made a Series-saving defensive play in a fourth, all in a five-year stretch? If you were compiling an all-time World Series team, Richardson has to be your second baseman.

I’ll disclose a bias here: Richardson was my childhood baseball hero, even above Mickey Mantle. I met him in the 1970s, when he came to a baseball event in Stanton, Iowa, and I was an editor in nearby Shenandoah. That’s where I got the autographed photo.

The rest

Billy Martin's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

Billy Martin’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

I tried to get Billy Martin onto this list, but he played only seven years (three playing 100 or more games) for the Yankees. His only All-Star season was 1956. He hit .333 in World Series play, had a spectacular game-saving catch of his own and still shares the record for 12 hits in a six-game World Series (1953).

Alfonso Soriano was spectacular in three years at second for the Yankees, leading the league in 2002 with 209 hits, 128 runs and 41 stolen bases (not to mention 39 homers and 102 RBI). But he played second base for the Yankees for just two years. And he was mostly horrible in the post-season, striking out 11 times against the Red Sox and nine times against the Marlins in the 2003 post-season. He didn’t play long enough at second for the Yankees or well enough in October to push Richardson off this list.

Chuck Knoblauch had a career to compare with some of the players on this list, if you count his Twin years, and he hit well for the Yankees and contributed to three World Series titles (plus a fourth with the Twins). But you just can’t overlook the throwing problems (26 errors in 1999 and 15 in part-time play in 2000) that forced the Yankees to move him to left field.

Speaking of throwing problems, Steve Sax had two All-Star years at second base for bad Yankees teams. Sax’s throwing problems were years earlier with the Dodgers. He played well at second for the Yankees, but not long enough to rank in the top five.

Gil McGougald's autograph (along with Hank Bauer's, Ed Lopat and Eddie Madjeski.

Gil McGougald’s autograph (along with Hank Bauer’s, Ed Lopat and Eddie Madjeski.

Gil McDougald might lead a list (if I ever make one) of Yankee utility players. He played his full 10-year career for the Yankees, making five All-Star teams. But he can’t rank very high at any position, having played 599 games at second, 508 at third and 284 at shortstop. He had only five seasons with 100 or more games at any one position, two at third base, two at second and one at shortstop. If you were ranking all-time Yankees at all positions, he might pass up some people on this list, but not just ranking second basemen.

Jerry Coleman was an All-Star in 1950, but played only 572 games at second base. He topped 100 games in only four of his nine seasons, all with the Yankees. He’d rank below McDougald both as a second baseman and a utility fielder.

With bigger stars all off to war in 1944-45, Snuffy Stirnweiss led the American League twice each in hits, runs and stolen bases and in 1945 added titles in batting, slugging and OPS. But he wasn’t as good with the major leagues at full strength. His only All-Star year, 1946, he played more at third base than second. He was a significant contributor to the 1947 champions, but became a part-time player after that.

Luis Sojo deserves special mention. In parts of seven seasons with the Yankees, he did not play 100 games in a season even once, so he was never more than a part-time player. But Yankee fans will always appreciate his clutch 2000 post-season (9 RBI in 14 games). Similarly, Brian Doyle never played even 40 games in a season for the Yankees. But when Randolph was injured for the 1978 post-season, Doyle hit .391. He was 7-of-16 with 3 RBI and 4 runs in the World Series, a pretty good place to play the best baseball of your career.

I also must mention Horace Clarke, who followed Richardson at second base. He anchored the position from 1967 to 1973, horrible years for the Yankees. He was a good fielder but a bad hitter. I call the drought between the 1964 and 1976 World Series teams the “Horace Clarke years,” which probably isn’t fair to him. But the Yankees weren’t very good then, and neither was he.

Other teams’ second base traditions

The Yankees are not a contender for the best tradition at second base. The Cardinals (Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch, Red Schoendienst) and Cubs (Johnny Evers, Billy Herman, Ryne Sandberg) both were the primary teams of three Hall of Fame second basemen, including someone who’d make most top-10 lists (Hornsby, Frisch, Sandberg). And the Cubs got Hornsby for an MVP season and three more years.

The White Sox (Eddie Collins and Nellie Fox), Indians (Nap Lajoie and Gordon), Reds (Joe Morgan and Bid McPhee), A’s (Collins and Lajoie) and Giants (Frisch and a year of Hornsby) each matched the Yankees with two Hall of Fame second basemen.

I haven’t researched this deeply enough to be confident with rankings (that might be a future post), but I see the Cubs at No. 1 here and the Yankees about fifth.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for second basemen.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Lazzeri), that carries considerable weight with me.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. Canó didn’t play at second for the Yankees as long as Randolph, but Canó’s peaks were higher.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, so Lazzeri and Richardson stand out not just for their great careers, but because all their time was spent with the Yankees.

Frisch made it to Cooperstown and had Hall of Fame seasons for both the Giants and Cardinals, so he counts heavily for both teams, but not as heavily as Sandberg does for the Cubs, because he played most of his career and all of his great seasons in Chicago.

Time at the position is important, too. If Soriano had stayed with the Yankees and moved to left field (as he did when he moved to the Nationals in 2006, two years after the Yankees traded him to the Rangers), his performance in left field would only be a tie-breaker, not a big factor.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. I should add that I don’t consider those to be the same thing. Lazzeri contributed to five Yankee world championships, to three for Richardson, so that’s an advantage for Lazzeri. However, Richardson played better in the post-season (Lazzeri was good, but you don’t find him among all-time leaders, let alone record-holders, in World Series batting).

If two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, Gordon’s play for the Indians (and his Hall of Fame election) helped me place him above Richardson for fourth place.

Special moments matter, too. If someone had been tied with Richardson on other factors, that catch to save the 1962 World Series would have given Richardson the final spot on the list.

Who do you think is best?

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Shortstop

Third base

Left field

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Other rankings of Yankee second basemen

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Tyler K. Patterson, Fan Graphs

Andrew Mearns, Pinstripe Alley

ChristopherJ

Source note

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





Does pitching really win championships? Yes, but …

21 10 2015

This concludes my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

This series started with an observation that the Yankees haven’t had many all-time great starters, but have won more world championships than any other team. I raised the question then about how could that be, if pitching actually wins championships?

I’ve covered notable pitchers in a variety of posts since then: Yankees in the Hall of Fame, Yankees who belong in the Hall of Fame, Yankees who had great careers but won’t make the Hall of Fame, and so on.

But I still haven’t thoroughly examined the question that started this discussion. So that’s where I’ll wrap it up. The Yankees have won so many championships without all-time great starting pitchers for a variety of reasons:

  • Pitching does win championships, but so do other factors. Yankee champion teams were often better at those factors than at starting pitching.
  • Pitching does win championships, but even an all-time great starting pitcher pitches only every few days. Depth of a rotation might be more important to winning a championship than having an all-time great as your No. 1 starter.
  • Pitching does win championships, but starting pitching is not all of pitching. Yankee closers rank higher on all-time-best lists than Yankee starters.
  • Managing, especially management of the pitching staff, wins championships.
  • Yankee starting pitchers have actually been pretty great. If not for the Hall of Fame biases against Yankees (and against longevity), Yankees would easily have more pitchers in the Hall of Fame than any other team.

I’ll elaborate on these points in order: Read the rest of this entry »





Yankee starting pitchers with family connections in baseball

15 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

The Yankees have had either or both of some of the best brother pitching acts in baseball history.

Of course, every sport has family connections. The combination of genetics and shared good coaching from fathers and youth coaches, plus probably some sibling competition (and perhaps some sibling advice and modeling) result in lots of brother and father-son combos in every sport. I don’t know if baseball has more than other sports or if the combos are more prevalent among pitchers than other positions. It seems that way to me, though.

But I do know that lots of brother combos have taken the mound in the major leagues, and some of the best have stopped, at least briefly, with the Yankees.

I think because pitching requires such a combination of natural talent and technique, brothers tend to be either all pitchers or all position players. One exception, though, included a brief Yankee: George Brett‘s brother, Ken, pitched two games in relief for the 1976 Yankees.

Four of the top nine pitching brother combos in baseball history, according to Bleacher Report, included at least one brother who pitched at least briefly for the Yankees.

I’d say that three of the four brothers in the best two pitching brother combos pitched for the Yankees.

Perrys and Niekros

The Maddux, PerryNiekro and Mathewson brothers each have one brother with 300 wins. Read the rest of this entry »





Yankee starting pitchers who belong in the Hall of Fame: Reynolds, John and Guidry

28 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Three Yankee starting pitchers who aren’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame should be there: Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds.

Roger Clemens also belongs there based on his achievements, but is being kept out of Cooperstown because of suspicion that he used performance-enhancing drugs. I dealt with Clemens in the 300-game-winners installment of this series on Yankee starting pitchers, so I won’t address him here.

I have detailed multiple times why John and Guidry belong in the Hall of Fame, so I will just summarize those arguments and link to earlier posts at the end of this one. Here I’ll primarily make the case for Reynolds, whom I touched on just briefly in 2013.

Allie Reynolds

Allie Reynolds' autograph on a baseball my wife's uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s. Yes, that's Mickey Mantle's autograph to the right. Also outfielder Gene Woodling and pitcher Bob Kuzava.

Allie Reynolds’ autograph on a baseball my wife’s uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s. Yes, that’s Mickey Mantle’s autograph to the right. Also outfielder Gene Woodling and pitcher Bob Kuzava. The ball now belongs to my son Mike.

One of the reasons Reynolds isn’t in the Hall of Fame is the longtime disdain of the Baseball Writers Association of America members for giving any consideration to post-season performance. Their anti-Yankee bias would collapse if they gave any weight to World Series success in Hall of Fame selection. But they cling fiercely to that bias, so championships and post-season performance, which count greatly for selection to the football or basketball halls, mean nothing in selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Golden Era Committee ballot included Reynolds in 2011, but he was snubbed by a committee that chose Ron Santo (who never played in a World Series).

Reynolds was arguably the best pitcher ever in World Series play. The only pitchers with as many World Series wins as Reynolds are Whitey Ford with 10 and Red Ruffing and Bob Gibson, tied with Reynolds at seven. Ford also lost eight games, so his actual dominance doesn’t match that of Reynolds, Ruffing and Gibson, who were all 7-2.

Bob Gibson's autograph, with some Cardinal teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Bob Gibson’s autograph, with some Cardinal teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Gibson’s 1.82 ERA was better than Ruffing’s 2.63 or Reynolds’ 2.79, and Gibson’s 92 strikeouts beat the 62 for Reynolds and 61 for Ruffing. I would argue that Gibson was the greatest starting pitcher in World Series play, edging out Reynolds.

But here’s what Reynolds did that none of those pitchers did: He saved four World Series games, too, giving him a key role in 11 wins. 

The greatest streak by any team ever in baseball history was the Yankees’ run of five straight world championships from 1949 to 1953. And the greatest pitcher of that greatest dynasty was Allie Reynolds. Here’s what he did in the regular season and World Series during that run: Read the rest of this entry »





Catfish Hunter and other Yankee pitchers who made the Hall of Fame primarily for other teams

25 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Most of the Yankee pitchers in the Hall of Fame are there mostly, if not exclusively for their achievements with other teams:

Catfish Hunter

Catfish is the only pitcher in this post who added notably to his Hall of Fame credentials as a Yankee (the Yankee 300-game winners are in a separate post). He’s in the Hall of Fame, though, for his pitching for the Oakland A’s.

Catfish won 167 games for the A’s, concluding with four straight 20-win seasons. He also was 7-2 in the post-season (4-0 in the World Series), the best pitcher on a team that won three straight World Series. He won the Cy Young Award in 1974 and was in the top four in Cy Young voting the other two World Series years. He pitched a perfect game for the A’s.

But stingy A’s owner Charlie Finley, who couldn’t stand to pay the cost of maintaining a championship dynasty, violated Hunter’s contract and Catfish became baseball’s first big-name free agent. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, hungering for the kind of success Finley had achieved, snapped Hunter up. Read the rest of this entry »