The 5 best center fielders in Yankee history

11 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positionsToday: center field.

Center field might rival or surpass catcher as the position with the strongest Yankee tradition.

1, Mickey Mantle

The MickThis is why center field might be even stronger than catcher: You don’t have a clear No. 1. As great as Bill Dickey was, Yogi Berra was the clear top choice at catcher, what with his three MVP awards and all his World Series records. But both Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio won three MVP awards. Both are Hall of Famers (as are Berra and Dickey).

So what counts more? DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Mantle’s Triple Crown? DiMaggio’s .325 career batting average or Mantle’s 536 career homers? DiMaggio led the league twice each in homers, RBI and batting average (just not in the same season). Mantle led four times in homers but once each (in the Triple Crown year, obviously) in RBI and batting. Each was such an icon, he was mentioned in song lyrics and pitched products on TV (I’ve embedded songs and commercials in the YouTube videos at the end of this post).

Each was a leading sports celebrity of his time, DiMaggio renowned for his grace on the field and his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, Mantle famed for his tape-measure homers, country-boy personality and carousing.

In the 1940s, baseball fans debated whether DiMaggio or Ted Williams was the best player, and in the ’50s and early ’60s, the debate was over Mantle and Willie Mays. Clearly both Yankees belong on any list of best baseball players ever.

Part of measuring Mantle vs. DiMaggio is weighing what they didn’t do: How do you account for all of Mantle’s injuries or for DiMaggio missing three prime years to military service during World War II?

Mickey Mantle ballHere’s the statistical case to choose Mantle for the top spot:

  • He played more games in center: 1,742 to 1,634.
  • Mantle hit more homers: 536 to 361.
  • Mantle got more hits, 2,415 to 2,214.
  • Mantle got more walks, 1,733 to 790 (some of these advantages are narrow enough to be explained by Mantle’s longer career, but not that one).
  • Mantle led the league in walks five times (DiMaggio never did).
  • Mantle led the league twice in intentional walks (the stat was not kept during DiMaggio’s career or for the first four years of Mantle’s).
  • Mantle scored more runs, 1,676 to 1,390.
  • Mantle led the league five times in runs scored (DiMaggio led the league once).
  • Mantle led the league three times in on-base percentage (DiMaggio never did) and had a higher career OBP, .421 to .398.
  • Mantle led the league four times in slugging (DiMaggio did it twice).
  • Mantle led the league six times in OPS (four times topping 1.000). DiMaggio never led the league in OPS, but their career figures were identical, .977.
  • Mantle hit for more total bases, 4,511 to 3,948. Each led the league in total bases three times.
  • Mantle stole more bases: 153 to 30. Six seasons Mantle was in double figures for steals, a feat DiMaggio never accomplished.
  • Mantle was faster down the first-base line, grounding into 113 career double plays in his longer career to 130 for DiMaggio (and the stat wasn’t kept his first three seasons). Mantle only twice topped 10 double plays in a season, and DiMaggio did it eight times.

The Quality of CourageDiMaggio has fewer but significant statistical advantages:

  • He drove in more runs, 1,537 to 1,509, though all those walks, especially the intentional ones, explain that difference.
  • DiMaggio slugged higher for his career, .579 to .557
  • DiMaggio struck out only 369 times to 1,710 for Mantle, who led the league in strikeouts five times.
  • DiMaggio doubled more times, 389 to 344.
  • DiMaggio tripled more times, 131 to 72 (each led his league in triples once).
  • DiMaggio topped 200 hits twice. Mantle never did (again, the walks help explain that).

For Mantle’s peak, from 1954 to 1962, he was better than DiMaggio. But Mantle’s final four years, 1965-68, really dragged down his career averages. DiMaggio’s only subpar year was his final season, 1951, the year their careers overlapped.

They both were incredible based on post-season play and championship contributions, which count heavily in my rankings. But here’s where I see Mantle with an advantage:

  • DiMaggio won nine World Series and played in a 10th. Mantle won seven World Series and played in a 10th.
  • Both of their batting averages were a bit down facing the National League’s best teams: DiMaggio hitting .271 in the World Series and Mantle hitting .257.
  • World Series pitchers walked Mantle a lot, 43 times vs. 19 for DiMaggio. That gave Mantle an OBP of .374, compared to .338 for DiMaggio.
  • Mantle also slugged more in October, .535 vs. .422. That gave him a huge OPS advantage in the World Series, .908 to .760.
  • Mantle had 40 World Series RBI, 10 more than DiMaggio.
  • Mantle scored more World Series runs, 42 to 27.
  • Mantle got more World Series hits, 59 to 54.
  • Mantle did play more games in the World Series than DiMaggio, 65 to 51. That advantage explains some of those differences in career totals, but Mantle’s higher averages (except in batting) don’t reflect playing time.
  • And even with more World Series games, Mantle grounded into only two double plays, compared to six for DiMaggio.

Here’s the big difference that sealed the advantage for Mantle in my view: He hit 18 World Series homers, breaking Babe Ruth’s record. DiMaggio hit eight homers, seventh all-time, but nowhere close to Mantle, who still holds the record. He holds the World Series records for homers, RBI, runs scored, walks and total bases. No one did more to help his teams win World Series than Mantle. His name appears 15 times in the rankings of World Series batting leaders, compared to nine for DiMaggio, who doesn’t hold any records.

I have to admit a bias here: Mantle was a childhood hero and I’ve read three books he “wrote” (ghost writers were clearly involved) as well as two biographies. If this were a dead-even tie, my childhood bias would give it to Mantle. But I think he wins on the basis of superior power and speed, especially in the World Series.

Mantle co-starred with Maris in perhaps the worst baseball movie (maybe the worst movie) of all-time. Even as a young boy idolizing both players, I could barely stand to watch “Safe at Home.”

I admired The Mick’s late-life admission that he was an alcoholic, a philanderer and a horrible role model. But I didn’t know any of that when I was a little boy. I just knew he was incredible to watch play. I only saw him on TV, not in real life. But it was watching Mantle play, and studying his stats on baseball cards, that launched me on a life as a Yankee fan and baseball-stats geek.

2, Joe DiMaggio

My autographed Joe DiMaggio card

My autographed Joe DiMaggio card

OK, I’ve already pretty much told you all the reasons DiMaggio was pretty close to Mantle’s equal. If World War II hadn’t interrupted DiMaggio’s career in his prime, his career totals might have passed Mantle’s in many respects.

While DiMaggio didn’t self-destruct with alcohol the way that Mantle did, Richard Ben Cramer’s outstanding biography depicts DiMaggio as a cheap, arrogant, controlling jerk. Mantle was a lousy husband and father, and those are two of the most important roles any man can play. But I’m pretty sure I’d prefer Mantle as a friend or as a ballplayer to encounter by chance in boyhood or as an adult. I think he was a nicer person, for all his many failings.

One of the most famous DiMaggio stories illustrates. Before I repeat it, I should admit my longtime suspicion that the story might be apocryphal: During their 1954 honeymoon in Japan, the Army asked Monroe to make a side trip to Korea to entertain the troops. When she returned to him, telling him about the warm welcome from the troops, she supposedly said, “You never heard such cheering,” and he responded, “Yes, I have.”

Well, if it’s true, he was a jerk to his new wife. Yes, he, too, had enjoyed the cheers of adoring crowds. But they each knew whom they were marrying. And only a jerk would try to one-up his wife’s enjoyment of entertaining the troops.

But, damn, he could play!

3, Bernie Williams

The consideration for the third spot shows how ridiculous Hall of Fame selection has become. Earle Combs is a Hall of Famer, elected by the Veterans Committee in 1970. Bernie Williams lasted just two years on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for the Hall of Fame. He’s a long shot, I suppose, for Veterans Committee selection someday. But he’s easily the better center fielder and he ranks third on this list.

Williams played 1,856 games in center for the Yankees, more than Mantle or DiMaggio (or Combs, who played 1,157). Bernie beat Combs in career totals for homers (287-58), RBI (1,257-633), hits (2,336-1,866), runs (1,366-1,186) and stolen bases (147-98). Combs had a better batting average (.325-.298), but that’s mostly explained by playing in an era of inflated batting averages. Williams led the American League in hitting (.339 in 1998) and Combs never did that. Their OPS figures were nearly identical (.859-.858 in favor of Combs), reflecting a higher OBP for Combs and better slugging for Williams.

Combs had slightly better averages in the post-season, but Williams played in an era where reaching the World Series required two earlier rounds of October play. He holds the record for career post-season RBI and ranks second in career runs, hits, homers, doubles and total bases.

Combs contributed to three World Series champions and one more A.L. champ. Williams played key roles in four world championships and two more A.L. champions.

I noted before that Williams would be a certain Hall of Famer if he’d contributed similarly to a football or basketball dynasty. The fact that Combs is in the Hall of Fame and Williams appears to have little shot of reaching it illustrates the changing Hall of Fame election standards for players since integration and the consistent anti-Yankee bias. But neither of those is a factor in this list, so Williams gets the third slot.

4, Earle Combs

Combs’ last year was 1935 and DiMaggio’s rookie year was 1936. Neither was in center field full-time those years, but they both played there. That gave the Yankees a Hall of Fame center fielder every year (except when DiMaggio was in the military) from 1924 to 1966, Mantle’s last year in the outfield.

5, Rickey Henderson

I was not expecting Rickey Henderson to make this list and was expecting him to rank high on the left-field list.

But his 1985 season, leading the American League with 146 runs scored and 80 stolen bases, was probably the second or third best season of his Hall of Fame career. He hit .314 that year, slugged 24 homers and walked 99 times. He played only in center field that season and it was his primary position the next two years, too. That was a better season than either Williams or Combs ever had. They rank ahead of him because of their lengthy tenures in center, and their post-season play, not because they were better.

Henderson’s second year in center field for New York, 1986, was nearly as good, again leading the league in runs (130) and stolen bases (87).

The rest

I expected Bobby MurcerMickey Rivers, Johnny Damon or Curtis Granderson to take the fifth spot on this list, before my research reminded me that Henderson had played primarily in center for the Yankees.

Murcer was an All-Star all four years he played center for the Yankees, but never as outstanding offensively as Henderson. Rivers played well for the Yankees but left in his fourth year and also didn’t approach Henderson’s offensive value. Damon played less time in center for the Yankees than Henderson and not as well. Granderson started three years in center and led the league in runs (136) and RBI (119) in 2011, as well as hitting 41 homers. I wouldn’t argue if you want to give Granderson the fifth slot, but I give the nod to Henderson.

Bobby Bonds also deserves mention: He played only one season, 1975, as New York’s center fielder, but he hit 32 homers and stole 30 bases, one of his five 30-30 seasons.

Roberto Kelly played four seasons for the Yankees in center, one as an All-Star, but wasn’t good enough to challenge Henderson for the fifth spot. His contribution to the dynasty of the 1990s was that the Yankees traded Kelly for Paul O’Neill at a time when Kelly was probably the better player and O’Neill was a couple years older. But O’Neill had more good years remaining.

Other center field traditions

The Yankees win this position easily. The Cleveland Indians had three Hall of Fame center fielders: Tris Speaker, Earl Averill and Larry Doby. But they weren’t as good as the Yankee center fielders and combined for 30 seasons in center for Cleveland, barely more than Mantle and DiMaggio combined.

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 center fielders.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Mantle, DiMaggio, Combs and Henderson) or belongs there (Williams), that carries considerable weight with me. His Cooperstown enshrinement helped Henderson nail down the fifth slot.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. That’s another reason Henderson won the fifth slot over players who spent longer in center for the Yankees. Measures of peak performance, such as MVP awards and leading leagues in important stats, will move a person up my list. Mantle and DiMaggio matched MVP awards, but Mantle led the league more, helping him win the top spot.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Mantle and DiMaggio did and that counted for them (watch those videos at the end of this post).

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, so Henderson couldn’t jump ahead of Williams and Combs, who spent their full careers with the Yankees. And Henderson doesn’t get credit for his great years with the A’s and other teams.

Time at the position is important, too. Henderson’s move to left field after 1986 almost cost him the final spot on this list.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. They were a big part of Williams’ advantage over Combs.

If two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. This factor was part of Henderson’s advantage over the other contenders for the final spot on the list.

Special moments matter, too. Mantle and DiMaggio had a lot of those, as did Williams.

Who was the best?

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Left field

Right field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Manager

Other rankings of Yankee center fielders

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Ryan Hatch, NJ.com

WasWatching, best seasons by Yankee center fielders

Source note

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

Mantle and DiMaggio videos

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The 5 best left fielders in Yankee history

8 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positions Today: left field.

Left field has been a place to visit more than a place to stay for the Yankees. I list the five best, but they won’t necessarily be the five you were thinking of. And the discussions of criteria and the outfielders who didn’t make the list may be more interesting than the five best (at least beyond number one).

This position could not be a sharper contrast between the Yankees and the Red Sox, who had Hall of Famers (Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice) defending the Green Monster from 1940 to 1986, each of them owning the position and playing more than 1,500 games in left (Williams and Yaz each topped 1,900).

The only Yankee Hall of Famer on this list actually played more at another position and will be a surprise to many here (he doesn’t even make either of the left-fielder lists I linked at the end of this post). But I don’t bar players from being on the top-5 list at multiple positions. Lots of other Yankee Hall of Famers played left field, but not long enough or well enough to make this list. More on them later.

1, Babe Ruth (really)

I was surprised to learn that Babe Ruth actually played 1,048 career games in left field (almost as many as the 1,132 games he played in right). He played 891 left-field games for the Yankees. Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t have complete breakdowns of his offensive performance by position.

He started 132 of his 152 games in 1921 in left, and he led the league that year in homers (59), RBI (168), runs (177), walks (145), on-base percentage (.512), slugging (,846), OPS (1.359) and total bases (457). His .378 batting average was third in the league. No Yankee left fielder ever had a better season.

In 1926, Ruth played 82 games in left field, 68 in right and two at first base. No need for all the numbers, but he led the American League in the same stats that year, too. In his epic 60-homer season of 1927, Ruth played more in right field than left, but still played 56 games in left.

I actually had this list completed and looked Ruth up to list first in the section of Hall of Famers who didn’t make the list, presuming he played a few games here. But when I noticed how many games he played, I had to figure out where he belonged. And he belongs at the top. Even though left field wasn’t his primary position, he played enough to nail down the top spot here. No Yankee left fielder ever played better.

2, Charlie Keller

Charlie Keller played left field for 874 games, scattered over 13 seasons, all with the Yankees. I almost didn’t give “King Kong” this slot because he played over 100 games in left only four seasons. But I favor peak performance over longevity, and Keller’s peak was strong and his longevity looks stronger on closer examination. After splitting time between left and right his first two seasons (including the first of five All-Star selections in 1940), Keller became the starter in 1941. He was the left-field starter except for missing the 1944 season and most of 1945 to military service until a slipped disc sidelined him after only 45 games in 1947. (He still made the All-Star team that year.) He never returned to his star form after back surgery. For an eight-year stretch, he was playing important time in left field for the Yankees, except when in the military. He’s one of only two Yankees to command the position that long.

Keller’s performance in those eight seasons was stellar: three 100-RBI seasons, three 100-run seasons and three 30-homer seasons, scattered over five seasons. He led the American League in walks in 1940 and ’43.

In four World Series (three of them as champions), he hit .306 with five homers and 18 RBI in 19 games.

3, Roy White

Roy White was the Yankees’ longest-serving left fielder by far, 1,521 games at the position. He played left field from 1966 to 1979, spending his whole career with the Yankees. Nine of those seasons, he played more than 100 games, including starting every game in left in 1973.

In the rankings by other bloggers at the end of this post, White ranks first in one and eighth in another, an indication of how difficult it is to rank the Yankees’ left fielders. I think third reflects his longevity as well as the consistent quality of his play.

His patience through some grim Yankee seasons was rewarded with championship seasons three of his final four years (World Series championships in 1977-78 and an A.L. championship in ’76). White played well in the post-season, particularly the 1978 World Series, when he hit .333 (8-for-24) with nine runs scored, a homer, four RBI and two stolen bases. If Bucky Dent hadn’t been so hot, White might have been the Series MVP.

White was good, but not great, with the bat and the glove and on the basepaths. I gave Keller the edge because he had more great seasons, but White had more good seasons. He never hit .300 for a full season, but four times hit in the .290s and had a .271 career average. He never hit more than 22 homers, but hit 10 or more in eight seasons and had 160 for his career. He was in double figures in stolen bases every full season he played, with a peak of 31 in 1976 and 233 for his career. He never reached 100 RBI in a season, but had nine seasons of 50 or more, peaking at 94 in 1970 (one of his two All-Star seasons). He led the league with 104 runs scored in 1976 (one of two 100-run seasons) and in walks with 99 in 1972. Never spectacular, but solid for more than a decade.

4, Hideki Matsui

As noted above, I generally favor peak performance over longevity, and Hideki Matsui was a better hitter than White, with four 100-RBI seasons and a high of 31 homers, three 100-run seasons and two .300 seasons. But White’s huge advantage on the basepaths and in longevity gave him the edge for No. 2. Matsui was a Yankee just seven years, to 15 for White, and started in left field only four of those years.

If his 2009 World Series MVP performance had come as the left fielder instead of the DH, I might have pushed Matsui up a notch, but he’ll have to settle for third place. Johnny Damon played left field, even in the three games in Philadelphia (Matsui pinch-hit in all three games).

5, Bob Meusel

Bob Meusel played left field more than any other position, 626 games for the Yankees. But he alternated between left and right, and never actually played 100 games in left in any single season. But he was a heck of a hitter, playing lots and regularly in left. In 1925, when he played 88 games in left, 44 in right and 27 at third base, Meusel led the American League with 33 homers and 134 RBI (one of five 100-RBI seasons). His batting average in 10 Yankee seasons was .311, and left field was his primary position seven of those seasons.

As you’ll see shortly, greater Yankees played in left field, but they didn’t play there as long or as well as Meusel, even though he wasn’t anchored in left.

Other Hall of Fame Yankee left fielders

In addition to The Babe, at least seven Hall of Famers played left field for the Yankees, but all are known better for playing at other positions and/or for other teams:

Dave Winfield played in left his first three seasons as a Yankee, 1981-3. He was No. 5 on this list until I learned how much Babe played in left. Winfield was an All-Star all three left-field seasons and topped 100 RBI in both full seasons (’81 was shortened by a strike). He also won two Gold Gloves. I could have moved Winfield ahead of Meusel based on playing much more in left all three seasons than Meusel played in any season. But Meusel played almost 300 more games in left and played better in the post-season. And Winfield’s best Yankee years came in right field.

I presumed Rickey Henderson would be in the top five and maybe even top the list. But I was surprised to see that he played only one full season in left for the Yankees. I was remembering incorrectly that his center field hitch was pretty short. But it was the full 1985 and ’86 seasons. And ’85 was easily Henderson’s best season as a Yankee.

Joe DiMaggio played more games in left field (64) than center (55) his rookie year, before becoming the Yankees’ regular center fielder.

Mickey Mantle ballMickey Mantle played left field mostly in 1965.

Earle Combs, another center fielder, played 215 games in left.

Yogi Berra played 148 games in left, 81 of them in 1961, when it was his primary position.

Enos Slaughter earned his Hall of Fame perch in his years with the St. Louis Cardinals (playing mostly right field). But late in his career, he played 100 games in left for the Yankees, spread across four seasons playing part-time.

By the way, I checked and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and should-be Hall of Famer Roger Maris played left field for the A’s but never for the Yankees.

I’m going to guess that Willie Keeler appeared in left field sometime, though Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t break down his outfield appearances by position. The Hall of Fame lists right field as his primary position. The Yankees were the Highlanders then, and I’m focusing on actual Yankees here.

The rest

Two Yankees who belong in the Hall of Fame also played left field:

Also playing left field (almost 50 games) for the 1990s Yankees was Darryl Strawberry, a former National League home run leader who appeared headed for Cooperstown before cocaine addiction sidetracked his career.

I was thinking Johnny Damon might have a shot at the fifth spot on the list, but he played mostly center for the Yankees. His only full-time season in left for the Yankees was 2009, a good season, but not good enough to move him onto the list. I think Damon’s shot at Cooperstown rested on reaching 3,000 hits, but he retired at 2,769.

Brett Gardner could push his way onto this list in a few years. He’s been the Yankees’ primary left fielder for four seasons (plus 2013 in center) and his hitting is improving. He led the league with 49 steals in 2011, but he isn’t the hitter Meusel was.

I thought Lou Piniella might make the fifth spot on this list (he’s fifth on both of the lists linked at the end of this post). But as I did my research, I found that he never started 100 games in left field in a season.

Gene Woodling's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Gene Woodling’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Gene Woodling started 100 or more games in left field four straight championship years for the Yankees (1950-53), but he never played more than 125 games for the Yankees, never hit 20 homers or drove in 70 runs. He hit .300 a couple times and led the league with a .429 on-base percentage in 1953. On longevity, he deserves consideration for the fifth spot, but he was never a full-time player. He was one of Casey Stengel’s platoon players.

David Justice played only 59 games in left for the Yankees.

Chad Curtis hit two homers in the 1998 World Series, but didn’t play left field long enough or well enough (except in that World Series) to push his way onto the list, even with my bias in favor of post-season play.

Chuck Knoblauch moved to left field after his defensive troubles at second base started.

Even Jose Canseco played four games in left for the Yankees. And a lot of Yankee left fielders played way more than that, but I’m not going to list them all here.

Other left-field traditions

As I noted at the top, the Red Sox had three straight Hall of Fame left fielders covering most of four-plus decades, except the breaks for Williams’ military service. Throw in Manny Ramirez and Mike Greenwell, and the Red Sox clearly have the best tradition in left field.

The St. Louis Cardinals (Joe Medwick, Stan Musial for 929 games, Lou Brock), Pittsburgh Pirates (Fred Clarke, Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell) and Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (Goose Goslin, Heinie Manush and 471 games of Harmon Killebrew) also had three Hall of Fame left fielders. The A’s have two (Henderson and Al Simmons). The Yankees’ left-field tradition might rank somewhere between fifth and seventh, if not lower.

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 left fielders.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Ruth) or belongs there (Howard and Raines), that carries considerable weight with me. If Howard had played left primarily or Raines had played for the Yankees in his prime, they would have made the list, probably second place.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. That’s why Ruth and Keller, who didn’t play as long in left as White, ranked ahead of him. Measures of peak performance, such as MVP awards and leading leagues in important stats, will move a person up my list. All the other left fielders together didn’t lead the league in important stats as Yankees as many times as Ruth did.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Ruth did and that counted for him, too.

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

Time at the position is important, too. Winfield missed the list because he played only three seasons in left field. Look for him on my right field list.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. Winfield made one post-season for the Yankees and hit 1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series. George Steinbrenner’s “Mr. May” shot was cruel and unwarranted, but all the people on the list played well in the post-season and contributed to Yankee championships.

This factor didn’t play into any of these decisions, but if two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, if Winfield or Henderson had been tied with someone, their years with the Padres, Blue Jays, A’s, etc. would have pushed them ahead.

Special moments matter, too. Ruth had a few of those.

Your turn

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Manager

Other rankings of Yankee left fielders

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Christopher J151515

Source note

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





Yankee starting pitchers with the greatest teammates: Bullet Joe Bush and Mike Torrez

17 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Bullet Joe Bush and Mike Torrez didn’t spend long with the Yankees (or many teams). But they pitched well for New York. And they have two of the most amazing groups of teammates of any players in major league history.

This is perhaps the oddest post in this series, but it’s a topic that has fascinated me for years: the coincidence of players’ intersecting careers. And since two of the players with the most awesome collections of teammates in baseball history were briefly starting pitchers for the Yankees, I couldn’t resist. I think these two might have the best teammate collections. Or two of the best three.

Bullet Joe Bush

New York Yankees

Bullet Joe Bush

Wikimedia photo

Bush pitched three solid years for the Yankees, going 26-7 in 1922, 19-15 in ’23 and 17-16 in ’24. His Yankee teammates included Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle CombsHome Run Baker, Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock.

The Yankees were managed by yet another Hall of Famer, Miller Huggins.

Another Yankee teammate, Lefty O’Doul, might have made the Hall of Fame if he had started out playing the outfield. He was a fellow pitcher of Bush’s with the Yankees at age 25, but O’Doul was an unremarkable pitcher, going 1-1 and getting only one start in four years with the Yankees and Red Sox. He finally made it back to the majors as an outfielder in 1928 at age 31 and won two batting titles, hitting .398 in 1929 and .368 in 1932. His .349 career batting average is the fourth-highest of all time, behind Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby (both Bush teammates, as you’ll see shortly) and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

O’Doul might be second to Babe Ruth among players who both pitched and played other positions in the major leagues. Which tells you how great Ruth was. O’Doul was an awful pitcher who revived his career by moving to the outfield. Ruth was a Hall of Fame pitcher who was such a great hitter they had to play him every day.

Philadelphia A’s (second time)

In his final year, Bush was lucky to play with the most amazing collection of offensive talent I’ve found in any team, the 1928 Philadelphia A’s (I wrote a story on this team for Baseball Digest back in the 1980s). Unfortunately, most of this talent wasn’t in its prime, so the A’s finished second that year, behind the Yankees. But these were Bush’s Hall of Fame teammates that year: Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Al Simmons and Lefty Grove. (Speaker, along with Cobb, Hornsby and O’Doul makes four of the top six all-time leading batters who played with Bush. Throw in Ruth and Bush played with five of the top 10.) Read the rest of this entry »





Comparing borderline white Hall of Famers with black and Latino contenders

8 10 2015

Which of these players, if either, do you think belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

  • In nearly 17 major league years, Outfielder A had 2,349 hits, scored 1,259 runs, hit 121 homers, drove in 1,024 runs, stole 237 bases, with a .312 batting average.
  • In nearly 18 seasons, Outfielder B had 2,246 hits, scored 1,156 runs, hit 227 homers, drove in 1,062 runs, stole 276 bases, with a .287 batting average.

Let’s start with this clear conclusion: Both players are borderline Hall of Famers, not likely to get voted into Cooperstown by the Baseball Writers Association of America, but possibly candidates for eventual election by a Veterans Committee.

Outfielder A has a slight advantage in hits and runs and a clear advantage in batting average. Outfielder B has a slight advantage in RBI, a clear advantage in stolen bases and a big advantage in homers.

If you were to choose one over the other for the Hall of Fame, it might be based on a few really spectacular years or consistency, perhaps defensive excellence, perhaps some special achievement that doesn’t show up in the stats. But based on the whole career, these two players are closely comparable.

Here’s who the two players are: Read the rest of this entry »