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 »





The Yankees’ 50 best starting pitchers

19 10 2015

As we approach the end of my series on Yankee starting pitchers, I have ranked the pitchers I regard as the 50 best Yankee starters.

I will explain my selection criteria after the list, but I don’t elaborate on the choices individually in the list. Links are to earlier posts in which I address those pitchers (most of them in this series): Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Yankee pitchers who are nearly Hall of Famers: Mussina, Pettitte, Cone, Tiant, Kaat

30 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Five Yankee starting pitchers have strong cases for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but probably not strong enough for most of them.

Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, David ConeLuis Tiant and Jim Kaat were among the greatest pitchers of their times, but fall short of the standards that normally get pitchers into Cooperstown.

In earlier posts in this series, I dealt with the Yankee Hall of Famers, 300-game winners who pitched for the Yankees and three Yankee starters who belong in the Hall of Fame.

These pitchers are a notch below the others. I won’t argue if an Era Committee someday welcomes one of these pitchers to Cooperstown, and they probably belong there, but I’d be surprised if they all make it and won’t campaign for any of them.

Mike Mussina


Moose passed on a shot at ensuring his spot at Cooperstown, retiring at the top of his game after 18 years. He had his only 20-win season in his final year, winning exactly 20 at age 39 and retiring with 270 wins.

Roger Clemens, who’s being kept out of the Hall of Fame only because of suspicions about performance-enhancing drugs, is the only 300-game winner who’s not in Cooperstown. You can’t be sure that a pitcher entering his 40s has 30 more wins in him. But a healthy and durable pitcher who wins 20 in his late 30s probably can win 30 more over two or three more years.

But Moose stuck with his announced retirement. And it’s hard to picture the Hall of Fame voters embracing a 270-game winner with only one 20-win season.

Moose’s case for the Hall of Fame is pretty similar to Bert Blyleven‘s or Don Sutton‘s (except that Sutton stuck around long enough to reach 300 wins). Like them, he never won a Cy Young Award or had a really great season. But he had a lot of good seasons. Nine times Mussina was in the top six in the Cy Young voting, but the closest he came was second, to unanimous-choice Pedro Martinez in 1999.

In 10 years with the Orioles and eight with New York, Mussina led the American League once in wins, once in winning percentage and once in shutouts. He also led the league once in innings pitched and twice in starts. But never in ERA or strikeouts.

Moose finished higher in Cy Young voting more often than either Sutton or Blyleven. He was a league leader about as many times as Blyleven and more times than Sutton. And both also had just one 20-win season.

Mussina was an All-Star five times, the same as Sutton, and Blyleven made only two All-Star games. Moose won seven Gold Gloves and neither of the others ever did.

Sutton never won less than 50 percent of the Hall of Fame vote and was elected his fifth year of eligibility, crossing the 75-percent threshold with 82 percent. His 324 wins ensured his election and he made it relatively quickly.

Blyleven started out getting in the teens in the voting, but his percentages gradually increased, reaching 80 percent in 2011, his 14th year on the ballot.

Mussina started out faring better in Hall of Fame voting than Blyleven, getting 20 percent his first year and 25 percent this year, his second on the ballot. Blyleven didn’t reach that level until his fifth year on the ballot.

I can see Moose making the Hall of Fame in his final years on the writers’ ballot, as Blyleven did, or being an eventual Era Committee choice. He’s definitely comparable to Hall of Famers, but he’s a borderline candidate, and I don’t argue strenuously for borderline candidates. At least three Yankee starters — Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds — were notably greater pitchers than Mussina and belong in the Hall of Fame before him.

For several Yankees, a big part of my case for putting them in the Hall of Fame is their excellence in the post-season and World Series play. Mussina was average in October, 7-8 in post-season and 1-1 in World Series play.

But the Hall of Fame voters don’t care about post-season play and they do tend to smile on those who play well for long careers. So Moose has a shot.

If Bleacher Report’s rankings reflect Hall voting, Mussina has a good shot. He rank 35th all-time on the list, ahead of about half of the starters in the Hall of Fame. That’s higher than I would rank him.

Andy Pettitte

The Hall of Fame voters’ disdain for post-season performance is the reason Andy Pettitte probably wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame, even if his reputation hadn’t been tainted by his admitted use of human growth hormone.

Pettitte won 256 games, usually enough to get a pitcher into Cooperstown. Of the nine pitchers with more wins than Pettitte who are not in the Hall of Fame, four were Yankees: Mussina, Roger ClemensTommy John and Jim Kaat (only briefly a Yankee; more on him shortly).

And no one in history has more post-season wins than Pettitte’s 19. Only John Smoltz has more post-season strikeouts. Pettitte was the anchor of the starting rotation for a dynasty that won four World Series in five years and another nine years later. In addition to his October prowess, he led the Yankees in wins and innings pitched in two of their championship years an in innings in a third.

As with Bernie Williams, Pettitte will be hurt by how differently baseball’s Hall of Fame voters regard championships (which is because of their anti-Yankee bias). You simply can’t name a football or basketball player who was as important to a championship dynasty as Pettitte who isn’t in his sport’s Hall of Fame.

But, as I noted the first time he retired, Pettitte is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, and Yankees who are borderline simply don’t get in. Add his drug involvement, even though he was one of the few PED users who readily admitted his use, and I don’t think he has much of a shot at Cooperstown.

He retired in 2013 and has to wait another three years before he can be on the Hall of Fame ballot.

David Cone

Of course, if Pettitte’s 19-11 post-season record isn’t going to help him get into the Hall of Fame, Cone’s 8-3 record won’t do the trick either. He lasted just one year on the writers’ ballot, getting just 3.9 percent of the vote.

But here’s why there’s some hope for Cone, Pettitte and Mussina to make it to Cooperstown eventually: They were among the best dozen or so pitchers of their time, and that many pitchers from an era usually make the Hall of Fame.

I assigned Hall of Fame pitchers to decades, giving multiple decades to some pitchers if they achieved some Hall of Fame credentials in that decade. For instance, Nolan Ryan didn’t achieve much with the 1968 or ’69 Mets, so he doesn’t count as one of the Hall of Famers from the ’60s. He had great decades in the ’70s and ’80s, so of course he counts there. He pitched only four years of the ’90s, and didn’t win many games then. But he won the last of his 11 strikeout crowns in 1990 at age 43. He pitched his sixth and seventh no-hitters in the 1990s, not to mention placing his famous headlock on Robin Ventura in 1993, his final year, at age 46. So I count Ryan as a Hall of Famer from the last three of his four decades.

Five different decades had a dozen or more Hall of Famers: the 1900s, Teens, ’20s, ’30s, ’60s and ’70s.

The 1980s, ’90s and beyond will get more Hall of Famers as time goes ons. The low numbers of Hall of Famers from the 1930s (9), ’40s (7) and ’50s (8) may reflect careers shortened by service in World War II or lives lost in the war.

The 1990s have already produced six Hall of Fame starting pitchers: Ryan, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Clemens makes seven pitchers from the era who were clearly better than this Yankee trio, though we don’t know when, if ever, Hall of Fame voters will decide they have meted out enough punishment to Clemens and other greats whose fame includes suspicion of drug use.

If the ’90s are going to get a dozen starting pitchers into the Hall of Fame, you really can’t get there without Mussina, Pettitte and Cone, even if Clemens gets there eventually.

Jack Morris and Curt Schilling were arguably better than the Yankee trio, but neither won as many games as Mussina or Pettitte. Schilling and Cone tied for the lowest ERAs of the group, 3.46. Mussina and Pettitte had lower ERAs than Morris’s 3.90.

Cone was the only Cy Young Award winner in the bunch, though Schilling finished second three times and Pettitte once (he was screwed in 1996). Counting the times they led their leagues in wins, winning percentage, ERA, shutouts or strikeouts, Schilling and Cone each had five, Morris four, Mussina three and Pettitte one.

Morris and Schilling both were great in the post-season (let’s pretend a moment that that matters in Hall of Fame selection), but Pettitte won more post-season games than both of them combined. Schilling’s 11-2 October record is stellar, but Cone’s 8-3 is better than Morris’s 7-4.

Moving into the 2000s, when each of the Yankee trio had great years, as did Clemens and the five of the six Hall of Famers from the ’90s (all but Ryan), and Roy Halladay is a contender. His 203 wins usually wouldn’t be enough to make Cooperstown, but he’s a two-time Cy Young winner who led his leagues six times in the key categories mentioned above. His 3-2 record in the post-season includes a no-hitter.

With the exception of Clayton Kershaw, other star pitchers of this century either had injury-shortened careers (Chris Carpenter and Johan Santana) or are too early in their careers to project their Hall of Fame chances (David Price, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez) or appear likely to fall short of Hall of Fame standards (CC Sabathia, whom I’ll discuss in a later post in this series). None of the best Hall of Fame prospects of this century overlapped significantly with the three Yankees under consideration here.

Other pitchers of the 1990s and early 2000s with some sort of Hall of Fame credentials don’t match up well with Mussina, Pettitte and Cone. Jamie Moyer pitched forever and won 269 games, just one behind Mussina. He won 20 twice, led the league in winning percentage once and was in the top six Cy Young vote-getters three times. Just one comparison: Moose was in the top six nine times, Pettitte and Cone five each. Moyer was an All-Star once, compared to five times each for Cone and Moose and three for Pettitte. Moyer does hold one major league record: most home runs allowed.

Other leading pitchers of their era include a bunch who spent time with the Yankees (and will be discussed later in this series): Doug Drabek, Jack McDowellBartolo Colón, Jimmy KeyDenny NeagleDavid Wells, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia. A bunch of non-Yankees also were among the best pitchers of the time: Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser, Chuck Finley, Tim Wakefield, Barry Zito, Pat Hentgen, Mark Mulder, John Burkett, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Dontrelle Willis, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Kevin Appier.

Though some of those are still pitching, none of them has a Hall of Fame case as strong as Mussina, Pettitte or Cone. Except for Clemens, Schilling, Morris, Halladay, and the Hall of Famers, the best contemporaries lag behind this Yankee trio (usually behind two, sometimes all three) in most if not all of these measures: career wins, ERA, strikeouts, 20-win seasons, leading the league, All-Star appearances, Cy Young voting, post-season performance.

By any criteria you want to choose, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone were among the best pitchers of their time.

So if Hall of Fame selection of pitchers from the 1900s and early 2000s results in a dozen starters (including Clemens; I’ll settle for 11 Hall of Famers if he never makes it), the group will be Ryan, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Johnson, Martinez and five of these six pitchers: Schilling, Morris, Halladay, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone.

I suspect, given the Hall of Fame voters’ bias for longevity, that Moose has the best shot of the Yankees. I think Cone was the best pitcher of the three. Pettitte might pay a price for his drug use.

I expect at least one will make it eventually, and I’ll be surprised if all three do.

Luis Tiant

Tiant was a Yankee only briefly and late in his career, winning 13 and eight games for them in 1979 and ’80.

He was best known as the ace of the 1970s Red Sox, who lost the World Series to the Reds in seven games and lost the AL East title to the Yankees in a one-game playoff (he didn’t pitch that game; Mike Torrez was the starter). But he had great seasons for the Indians, too.

El Tiante was a character and a gamer. Here’s why he should be in the Hall of Fame:

  • He won 229 games, more than Jim BunningDon Drysdale, Catfish Hunter, or Sandy Koufax, contemporaries of Tiant who made the Hall of Fame.
  • He won 20 games four times, more than contemporaries Bert Blyleven, Bunning, Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Koufax, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan or Don Sutton.
  • Tiant led his league in ERA twice (1968 and 1972), both times with ERAs under 2.00. Blyleven, Bunning, Steve Carlton, Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Hunter, Ferguson JenkinsJuan Marichal, Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts and Sutton were players whose careers overlapped with Tiant’s who didn’t lead their leagues twice in ERA. Ford, Jim Palmer and Ryan matched Tiant’s two ERA crowns.
  • Tiant led his league in shutouts twice. Contemporaries Carlton, Drysdale, Hunter, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Sutton led their leagues only once in shutouts or never posted the most shutouts. Blyleven, Bunning, Ford, Marichal, Palmer, Ryan and Tom Seaver matched Tiant with two shutout titles.
  • He was 3-0 in post-season play, undefeated in the 1975 post-season with a playoff win over the three-time defending World Series champion Oakland A’s and two wins over Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the World Series. Bunning, Marichal, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Ryan didn’t match Tiant’s three post-season wins (some also played most of their careers before league playoff started). Drysdale and Seaver were 3-3 in the post-season, (Drysdale all in the World Series). Other contemporaries in the Hall of Fame had more post-season wins than Tiant, but weren’t undefeated.

You can’t examine the careers of Tiant and his contemporaries and say he doesn’t belong in Cooperstown along with them. But he’s not there.

Here’s why Tiant won’t be in the Hall of Fame: He wasn’t in the top dozen pitchers of his time. Tiant’s great years fell in the 1960s and ’70s. The 1960s and ’70s already have 17 pitchers in the Hall of Fame (the 16 named above, plus Warren Spahn, who bested Tiant and most of his contemporaries in all the categories I examined).

I don’t think those pitchers were all better than Tiant, but 17 of Tiant’s contemporaries are in the Hall of Fame. I’ve argued that Ron Guidry and Tommy John should be there, too. Guidry probably won’t make it, but John probably will. And you could make about a strong a case for Mickey Lolich (not as strong as for Tiant, I think, but similar).

Tiant pitched in an era of great pitchers, and maybe a few more will make it. Red Sox tend to fare well in Hall of Fame selection, but Tiant never got more than 31 percent of the writers’ vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never makes it to Cooperstown.

But man, I enjoyed watching him pitch, and I’ll cheer him on if a Golden Era or Expansion Era Committee ever lets him in. The dividing line between the eras is 1973, about halfway through Tiant’s career. The Golden Era Committee rejected him last year.

(I’ll deal with Tiant again next week in a post about racial discrimination in Hall of Fame elections.)

Jim Kaat

Here’s a fun fact: Since Kaat pitched parts of two seasons for the Yankees in his 40s, the three post-19th-century pitchers with the most wins who aren’t in the Hall of Fame were all Yankees. Roger Clemens won 354 (I don’t have to explain again why he’s not in the Hall of Fame, do I?). Tommy John, who, of course, belongs in Cooperstown, won 288. And Kaat is next at 283.

Add three 20-win seasons for Kaat and 16 Gold Gloves (a record broken by Greg Maddux) and Kaat has a strong case, but the Golden Era Committee rejected him along with Tiant last year anyway. Two of his 20-win seasons came in 1974-75, so he could possibly get Expansion Era consideration, too.

Another fun fact: Kaat’s career spanned four decades, starting in 1959 with the Washington Senators and ending in 1983 with the Cardinals. Tiant’s whole career fit within Kaat’s. I won’t try to figure out how many more Hall of Famers he overlapped with than Tiant, but Early Wynn comes to mind.

I value peak performance more than longevity, so I’d favor Tiant if only one of them ever makes the Hall of Fame. Voters favor longevity, though, so I think Kaat might have the better shot.

Both men are long shots for the Hall of Fame. Here’s how I’d order the chances of the men in this post for making Cooperstown:

  1. Mussina
  2. Kaat
  3. Tiant
  4. Pettitte
  5. Cone

All are better than some in the Hall of Fame, and anti-Yankee bias is probably no factor in Kaat and Tiant’s cases. But I’ll be surprised if more than one or two make the Hall of Fame, shocked if they all do.

Also in this series

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

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

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while 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 opinions, that’s fine, too.





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 »





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.





Kevin Youkilis joins a long line of Red Sox heroes who’ve become Yankees

12 02 2013

Youk!

Yes, if pitchers and catchers have reported, it won’t be long before we’ll see Kevin Youkilis in pinstripes and Yankee fans will be cheering (again) this year for an old Red Sox fan favorite. Youk signed a one-year deal to play for the Yankees, probably playing third base while Alex Rodriguez rehabs from surgery (and longer, if the Yankees can unload A-Rod or get out of his contract).

It will be difficult for Red Sox fans to see Youkilis in pinstripes, and no doubt the cheers at Fenway will really be “Booo!” and not “Youk!” now. But Red Sox fans have become used to seeing old favorites playing for the Yankees (and vice versa).

In baseball’s most storied rivalry, lots of players, including some all-time greats, have gone over to the Dark Side, whichever side you consider to be dark. You probably could find similar connections between any pair of longtime teams, but the players who have played on both sides of this rivalry stand out somehow.

You could put together a pretty good team of players who’ve worked both sides of the rivalry, so I have. Read the rest of this entry »