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 »





Other notable Yankee starting pitchers: Al Downing, Don Gullett, Jim Beattie …

18 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

This is the potpourri installment in this series. These guys didn’t make the Hall of Fame, win 300 games (or even 200), don’t have a strong case for the Hall of Fame (or even a long shot), didn’t win a Cy Young Award, pitch a no-hitter, win 20 games, have a great nickname or have a relative in the big leagues. But they made notable contributions to Yankee teams. Or maybe they got a lot of attention despite not making much contribution. Or maybe I just found them interesting.

Al Downing

Downing had five straight seasons in double figures in wins for the Yankees, including an All-Star appearance in 1967. His best season, 20-9 and third place in the Cy Young voting, came in 1971 for the Dodgers. All in all, he had a successful career, 123-107.

But Downing is best remembered for a pitch he served up to Hank Aaron in 1974, the 715th homer of Hammerin’ Hank’s career, breaking Babe Ruth’s career record.

Don Gullett

Gullett was one of the Yankees’ first big-name free-agent pitchers. You can’t call him a bust, because he contributed to their 1977 championship with a solid 14-4 season. But a shoulder injury the next year ended his career at age 27.

Jim Beattie

Jim Beattie had a more successful career as a baseball executive than as a pitcher. Still, he got 35 starts (only nine wins) for the Yankees in 1978-79. But he won an ALCS game over the Royals and pitched a complete-game World Series win over the Dodgers.

I argued in a post about Guidry’s performance that year that Beattie was the R in WAR, a replacement player against whom another pitcher’s hypothetical wins are measured. (I’m not a fan of hypothetical stats.)

The rookie-year post-season wins were the highlights of a replacement-player career. Beattie finished 52-87, with losing seasons (for the Mariners) in his only two years with double-digit wins.

He held various front-office jobs, including general manager, with the Orioles, Expos and Mariners.

Well-timed career peaks

Beattie was one of several Yankee starting pitchers with unremarkable careers who timed their best years or best games perfectly to contribute to championships:

  • Bill Stafford pitched only eight years and retired with a 43-40 record. But he was 14-9 back-to-back years for the 1961-62 World Series champions, mostly as a starter. He pitched five shutouts those two seasons and pitched a complete game to beat the Giants, 3-2 in Game Three of the 1962 World Series.
  • Rollie Sheldon‘s career was even less distinguished than Stafford’s but also well-timed. He was 11-5 as a rookie in 1961, mostly as a starter, with two shutouts. That was the high mark of a five-year, 38-36 career. He was far down enough on the Yankees’ staff that he appeared only twice in the World Series, both in relief roles in 1964.
  • Art Ditmar had his best year, 15-9, for the 1960 Yankees. He pitched horribly in the World Series, though, starting and losing Game One and Game Five to the Pirates, not making it out of the second inning in either game. He also was 13-9 for the 1959 Yankees, the high points of a 72-77, nine-year career.
  • Tom Sturdivant had only two seasons in his career with double figures in wins. But they were 16-win seasons for the 1956-7 Yankees. He won Game Four of the ’56 World Series, pitching a complete game. He won 59 career games, pitching mostly in mop-up relief toward the end of his 10-year career.
  • Johnny Kucks won 18 at age 23 for the 1956 Yankees, topping the season with a Game Seven shutout over the Dodgers to clinch the world championship. And he never won more than eight games again in a six-year career, retiring at 54-56.
  • Tommy Byrne had only three notable years in a 13-year career. He was 15-7 for the 1949 Yankees (the first of a record five straight world champions) and 15-9 and an All-Star the next year. After some mediocre seasons with the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators and Chicago White Sox, he returned to the Yankees. In 1955, Byrne led the league in winning percentage, going 16-5 for a team that won the American League but lost to the Dodgers in the World Series. He was 1-1 in six World Series appearances.
  • Atley Donald pitched his full eight-year career for the Yankees, half of it during World War II. His 13-3 year for the 1939 world champions, leading the league in winning percentage, might have been his best season, but his 3.71 ERA was nothing special. He had two other seasons with double-digit wins and retired 65-33. He lost Game Four of the 1942 World Series.
  • Tom Gorman signed this ball right above the autograph of his manager, Casey Stengel. The ball belongs to my son Mike.

    Tom Gorman signed this ball right above the autograph of his manager, Casey Stengel. The ball belongs to my son Mike.

    Tom Gorman had a promising rookie season for the Yankees in 1952, going 6-2, with half of his wins coming in his six starts, including a 5-0 shutout over the Red Sox. He lasted just three seasons with the Yankees before going to Kansas City. He relieved more than he started, but never excelled at either pursuit. He had an eight-year career, finishing 36-36 with 33 starts (seven for the Yankees) and 44 saves. But he autographed a ball for my wife’s uncle, so I gotta include him, right?

  • Marius Russo pitched six seasons, all for the Yankees. He won 14 games twice, earning an All-Star selection in 1941. He also won 2-1 complete games in the 1941 and ’43 World Series.
  • Johnny Broaca mysteriously left the Yankees (possibly because of a crumbling marriage) early in his fourth season, 1937. He pitched 22 games, mostly in relief, for the 1939 Indians and then was done with baseball at age 29. But his three full seasons for the Yankees were notable: 12-9, 15-7 and 12-7 in 1934-36. He never pitched in a World Series.

Asian pitchers

Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ fourth Japanese starter, is finishing his second strong season with the Yankees. Hiroki Kuroda gave the Yankees a nice three-year run, going 38-33. Earlier Japanese free agents Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu were disappointments. Irabu was a fifth starter on the 1998-99 championship teams, but got only one start in the post-season either year (and the Red Sox pounded him for eight runs in less than five innings of relief).

Chien-Ming Wang, from Taiwan, had a spectacular start for the Yankees, with back-to-back 19-win seasons in 2006-7. At age 26, he was second in the Cy Young Award voting to Johan Santana, tied for the league lead in wins.

He should have won 20 that year. On Father’s Day, playing the Nationals in old Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, he took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning. I was in the ballpark with my family, cheering Wang on to victory. Mariano Rivera had pitched the previous two nights, getting a win and a loss, and Joe Torre didn’t want to go to him again. Torre felt more confident in Wang, who had given up only four hits, than his other relievers, such as Kyle Farnsworth or Scott Proctor. It was Wang’s game to lose. And he did. Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off homer.

A foot injury in 2008 started a succession of health issues for Wang and he never returned to his early form.

You can’t be disappointed with a pitcher who gave you two great seasons. But you can’t help wishing for more.

Other tantalizing pitchers

It wouldn’t be fair to call Phil Hughes a disappointment. He gave the Yankees an 18-8 All-Star season in 2010 and a solid 16-13 season two years later. I hoped for more, and I’m sure he did, too. But he wasn’t a bust as a Yankee.

A.J. Burnett had a losing record, 34-35, in three years as a Yankee. But he won Game Five of the 2009 World Series, the last time we won a championship. I’ll take that.

Javier Vazquez was an All-Star in a 14-10 2004 season, and actually beat the Red Sox before that series turned around. I didn’t want to trade him (at age 27) for 40-year-old Randy Johnson. He did have more good years left in him than Johnson, but I’m not sure he ever got as good as an aging Johnson. He finished his career 165-160, and his return to the Yankees was forgettable, 10-10 in 2010.

Cory Lidle

Lidle was an average pitcher who made only nine starts for the Yankees after joining them in a 2006 trade-deadline deal. He died just four days after the season ended, when a small plane he was flying crashed into a Manhattan building.

Mike Kekich

I already mentioned the Fritz Peterson/Mike Kekich wife swap in the post on 20-game winners (which Peterson was). But that bit of 1970s culture is worth another mention here. As a pitcher, Kekich was otherwise forgettable, 39-51 for his career with just two 10-win seasons, both with the Yankees. (And note that Peterson commented on that post. Wonder if I can get a Kekich comment here?)

Hank Borowy

Players whose best years came during World War II never get much credit, and probably for valid reasons. Many of the best major leaguers were off in the military.

Borowy started his career in 1942 with the Yankees. He went 15-4, 14-9 and 17-12, with one All-Star selection, then won 21 games in 1945, splitting the year between the Yankees and Cubs. He never won more than 12 games in a season when the nation wasn’t at war.

He won a game for the Yankees in the 1943 World Series and went 2-2 for the Cubs in 1945, their most recent World Series appearance.

Tim Leary

Leary merits mention only briefly. He did not pitch well or long for the Yankees, but his nine wins for the last-place Yankees in 1990 were the most of any starter in perhaps the worst rotation the Yankees ever sent to the mound. He led the league with 19 losses, too. He wasn’t the more famous Timothy Leary of an earlier generation.

Gave up too soon

Several pitchers who broke in with the Yankees went on to greater things elsewhere, often traded for older, established players (some of them past their primes):

  • Larry Gura gave the Yankees two inconsequential years, and they traded him for inconsequential catcher Fran Healy after the 1975 season, at age 27. Gura developed into a strong starter for the Royals, winning 111 games in 10 years. Twice he won 18, and he had a reputation as a “Yankee killer,” but he was only 2-2 against New York in four playoff series.
  • One of these things is not like the others. Mickey Mantle's a Hall of Famer. Allie Reynolds should be. Gene Woodling was an All-Star. Bob Kuzava was just a big-leaguer. My wife's uncle got all their autographs on this ball, belonging to my son Mike.

    One of these things is not like the others. Mickey Mantle’s a Hall of Famer. Allie Reynolds should be. Gene Woodling was an All-Star. Bob Kuzava was just a big-leaguer. My wife’s uncle got all their autographs on this ball, belonging to my son Mike.

    Stan Bahnsen was Rookie of the Year as a Yankee, going 17-12 in 1968. After four solid seasons, the Yankees traded him to the White Sox for Rich McKinney, an inconsequential infielder who got only 26 of his 199 career hits for the Yankees. Bahnsen would get 91 more wins in his career, including 21 for the White Sox in 1972.

  • Bob Porterfield started just 22 games for the Yankees before being traded in 1951 to the Senators at age 27 along with two other players for Bob Kuzava, a pitcher who made little difference for the Yankees in four years, but was kind enough to sign an autograph for my wife’s uncle. Porterfield led the American League two years later with 22 wins, 24 complete games and nine shutouts for the fifth-place Senators. Could the Yankees’ dynasty of the 1950s have been even better if they’d hung onto Porterfield.

Just passing through

Some pitchers didn’t spend long with the Yankees, but made notable contributions. Or improved after leaving:

  • Bill Gullickson pitched only eight games for the Yankees before moving on as a free agent. After playing two years in Japan, he returned to the majors and became a 20-game winner for the Tigers in 1991.
  • Doyle Alexander had two unremarkable hitches with the Yankees, winning just 11 games and losing the 1976 World Series opener. He won 194 games in a respectable career, three times reaching 17 wins. But he stands as one of the ultimate cautionary tales about trading a promising prospect for a wily veteran. On Aug. 12, 1987, the Braves traded him to the Tigers, who were in a pennant race and hoping for a big post-season. Alexander delivered a brilliant stretch run, going 9-0 and finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting, even though he only had 11 American League starts. He did lose two ALCS starts to the Twins, though. And that prospect the Tigers gave up, John Smoltz, turned out to be a Hall of Famer for the Braves.
  • Pat Dobson won 20 games for the Orioles in 1971 (one of four Oriole starters with 20 or more that year) and 19 for the Yankees in 1974. Those were the high points of an 11-year career with a losing record, 122-129. He spent three years with the Yankees, one of five teams he played for.
  • Jack Quinn started his career with the New York Highlanders and later joined the Yankees. He played seven of his 23 seasons and won 81 of his 247 games for New York. His two-year stint in the Federal League, 1914-15, presented quite a contrast, winning 26 games his first year and losing 22 the second.

Ed Whitson

Yankee fans don’t remember Whitson fondly. He epitomized George Steinbrenner‘s willingness to overpay for an overrated free agent. Whitson had a respectable year, but nothing special, for the Padres in 1984, going 14-8. He beat the Cubs in a playoff game, but didn’t make it out of the first inning in a World Series start against the Tigers.

That was his best season at age 29. Realistically, the 10-8 season he gave the Yankees in ’85 was at least as likely a next season as matching 14-8 or even improving it. Whitson lasted less than two years with the Yankees and had an undistinguished but respectable career, going 126-123 in 15 years.

Other disappointments

I am certain I have (mercifully) forgotten some of the pitchers who disappointed Yankee fans. Whitson is one of many who played their best years before arriving in New York (and in some cases after they left, too):

  • Denny Neagle was a 20-game winner for the Braves and 124-game winner for his career, but went 7-7 in a forgettable turn for the 2000 Yankees. He took both losses in the ALCS against the Mariners.
  • Freddy Garcia was a two-time All-Star and an ERA champ for the Mariners in the early 2000s. But he was a pretty average pitcher when he joined the Yankees in 2011 at age 34. He gave New York seasons of 12-8 and 7-6.
  • Carl Pavano was a bigger free-agent bust than Whitson, signing with the Yankees at age 29, following an 18-8 season for the Marlins. He won just nine games in three injury-plagued seasons in New York. He started and stank in the worst Yankee game I ever watched (maybe the worst anyone ever watched).
  • Jaret Wright signed with the Yankees at age 29. His 15-8 season for the Braves the year before was one of only three decent seasons he’d had in the majors. He went 5-5 and 11-7 in two forgettable seasons for the Yankees and retired without reaching 100 wins.
  • Richard Dotson won 22 games for the White Sox in 1983, 10 more than he won for the Yankees five years later, his only full season in New York.
  • John Candelaria was a 20-game winner for the Pirates in 1977, 11 years before becoming a Yankee. He gave New York a decent 13-7 year before moving on.
  • Jose Contreras was 31 when he joined the Yankees as a free agent from Cuba. He evoked memories of El Duque, but didn’t reach Hernandez’s level of excellence (and perhaps the Yankees gave up on him too quickly). After Contreras went 7-2 in 2003, the Yankees traded him, with an 8-5 record, at the 2004 trading deadline, for Estaban Loaiza. Contreras had two strong years for the White Sox but didn’t win 100 major league games. Loaiza, who had won 21 games for the White Sox in 2003, won only one for the Yankees before leaving as a free agent in the off-season.
  • Ken Holtzman, a 20-game winner who was part of the dominant A’s rotation of the early 1970s and pitched two no-hitters for the Cubs, had little left when he joined the Yankees in 1976. He won just 12 games in three years.
  • Andy Messersmith was a 20-game winner for the Angels and Dodgers, and won 130 career games, but was 0-3 for the 1978 Yankees.
  • Sam McDowell had a great first half to a Hall of Fame career, leading the American League in strikeouts five times in his 20s, including two 300-K seasons. He also had a 20-win season and an ERA crown. At age 29, after six All-Star selections in seven years, the Indians traded McDowell to the Giants for 32-year-old Gaylord Perry. Few would have guessed that Perry had 180 wins and two Cy Youngs in his future, and McDowell had only 19 wins left in him. “Sudden Sam” joined the Yankees at age 30, midway through the 1973 season. He was 6-14 in less than two seasons in New York and retired after the 1975 season.
  • Steve Barber won 20 games in 1963, one of two All-Star seasons in his seven years with the Orioles. He didn’t have much left when he joined the Yankees at age 29 in 1967. He won only 12 games in less than two seasons for New York. He never had another good year and retired in 1974 at 121-106.
  • Bob Friend was another former 20-game winner who joined the Yankees at the end of his career. He was a three-time All-Star who won 191 games for the Pirates, but he had nine losing seasons, twice leading the National League in losses. He retired with a losing record, 197-230.
  • Wes Ferrell gets some Hall of Fame love and will get some consideration this year by the Hall’s Pre-Integration Era Committee. But at least a half-dozen Yankee pitchers belong in the Hall of Fame before he does. He did win 20-games six times, but in an era of lots of 20-game winners. (In four of those seasons, he was one of five 20-game winners in the eight-team American League.) By the time he joined the Yankees in 1938 at age 30, he had nothing left. He won three games in parts of two seasons and retired at age 33 with a 194-128 record. He was a good hitter, though, belting 38 homers and batting .280 for his career.
  • How could a pitcher of the 1920s win 20 games four straight years for the St. Louis Browns and never do it after joining the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees? Well, Urban Shocker did. He had three strong seasons for the Yankees, 12-12, 19-11 and 18-6 in 1925-7. His only World Series decision was a 1926 loss.
  • Dutch Ruether was another pitcher on the Murderers’ Row Yankees who didn’t live up to his performance with other teams. Ruether won 21 games for the 1922 Dodgers. He was a respectable 13-6 in 26 starts for the 1927 Yankees, his final season at age 33. Ruether also lost a 1926 World Series game.
  • Kenny Rogers, Brown, Gaylord Perry and Randy Johnson belong on this list of disappointments (all acquired when past their primes), but I dealt with them in other installments in this series.

Bill Zuber

Zuber was hardly a notable Yankee starter, though he did start 40 games for the Yankees and went 18-23 in four years in New York, mostly during World War II. Zuber’s 11 years in the majors were unremarkable, finishing with a 43-42 record and only six saves (except with the Yankees, he pitched mostly in relief). He never won more than nine games in a season and retired with an ERA of 4.28.

So why do I mention Zuber here at all? Because I ate in his restaurant in Homestead, Iowa, back in 1978. And news clippings and photos around the restaurant paid tribute to Zuber’s Yankee career. Yeah, he wasn’t a much of a major leaguer, and he might not make the top 200, 300 or even 400 Yankee pitchers (I won’t bother to rank them that deep). But he pitched in the big leagues, for the Yankees even. And that’s worth bragging about on the walls of your restaurant for the rest of your life.

Too soon to say

I like what I’ve seen of Nathan Eovaldi, Michael PinedaIvan Nova and Luis Severino (ranging in age from 21 to 28), but I hope their best days as Yankees lie ahead. Maybe I’ll update sometime (perhaps this October) with more on one or all of them.

I wouldn’t mind if they develop, along with Tanaka and/or CC Sabathia, if he has anything left, into the best Yankee rotation ever. But they’re not there yet.

Who else?

I’ve written about dozens of Yankees in this series. Did I miss anyone you consider notable? Do you have memories or tidbits to add about any of the pitchers I’ve discussed here?

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.





Nicknames of Yankee starting pitchers: Catfish, Babe, Gator, Whitey …

16 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

The Yankees’ starting pitchers through the years have had some fun nicknames.

I’m mostly going to concentrate on nicknames here. I’ve linked to other posts, where you can read of the accomplishments of most of these pitchers. But I summarize the career briefly if a pitcher didn’t merit mention elsewhere.

Sorry, nicknames based in your given name don’t count. For instance, if I could pitch and had pitched for the Yankees (if only …), I’d need something better than Steve or Stevie (given name Stephen) to make this list. I’m pretty sure fans and/or teammates could have found a nickname playing with my last name. Especially the way I no doubt would have pitched.

Here, in the order I like the monikers, are my favorite nicknames of Yankee starting pitchers:

Catfish


Have to start here, of course. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the story of Charlie Finley giving Catfish Hunter his nickname, but it’s a good story. Given name was Jim. I covered his Yankee career in a post on Hall of Famers.

Babe, Bambino

Babe Ruth started only four games as a pitcher for the Yankees, but the Babe had one of the best nicknames in the history of baseball (with an Italian sub-nickname that got attached to a curse), so I gotta include him here. Real name: George Herman Ruth. 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 »





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.





All-time Yankees’ World Series team

1 11 2009

Here’s my all-time Yankees World Series team (based solely on World Series performance for the Yankees):

Catcher: Yogi Berra, all-time World Series leader in at-bats (259), hits (71) and doubles (10, tied with Frankie Frisch), third in homers with 12, second in RBI with 39. Won nine World Series, played in 14, managed in terrific seven-game series lost to Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and a great Cardinals team. His great numbers weren’t just from longevity. He had great Series performances, most notably three homers and 10 RBI and catching Don Larson’s perfect game in 1956. I have two balls with Berra’s signature, one as Yogi and one, when he was younger, as “Larry Berra.”berra Read the rest of this entry »