Greatest Yankees of All-Time Number 3:
Adam: Ladies and gentleman, we have reached the breakpoint in any all-time Yankees ranking list. Ruth at one and Gehrig at two are all but assumed. In the three hole, you tend to see DiMaggio or Mantle. But for me the choice is different. Many will say it is insanity but my number three greatest Yankee of all-time is Yogi Berra. It is not only about the numbers, while they do matter, sometimes it is about the other things. Either way, Berra was a force to be reckoned with.
Berra was a three-time MVP award winner (twice finishing above Mantle) and one of only two catchers (Roy Campanella) to accomplish that feat. Also, Berra was the battery mate of the pitching staff for 10 World Series championship teams. In case you missed that, it was 10 World Series championship teams. Factor in three more World Series championships as a coach and 21 total World Series appearances as a player, coach, or manager and you have a mark that will never be topped. That is excellence, plain and simple.
Berra was a 15-time All-Star. That mark places him in rare company with only 14 other players in baseball history but he would be the only catcher on that list. In his career, he managed a .289 average, 359 home runs, and 1.430 RBI. In six seasons, Berra had more home runs than strikeouts!
At his peak, which could be argued from 1950 until 1956, he played 144 games a year and slashed .295/.365/.502 leading the league in games caught every time. During that period, he struck out 166 times. By comparison, and I know it is a different era with different criteria, Aaron Judge struck out 208 times last year. Speaking of opposing hitters or by extension baserunners. Berra had a career 48.6 caught stealing percentage.
In my opinion, he was one of the two best catchers in the history of the game (Johnny Bench). Sure his quotes are funny but what isn’t funny is what a great player he was. He was a factor for nine innings every game. Having Berra at number three might shock some people but his leadership and value to the staff above and beyond numbers are unparalleled. It is those factors that place Berra at number three on my list of greatest Yankees of all-time.
Rich: This is where the discussion of greatest Yankees of all-time ever start to diverge – number three. Usually, people agree on who is number one and who is number two and in what order, but number three is where different players enter the discussion. The same seven players are normally in the top-seven, it’s just the order from three through seven that is different, and this time is no exception.
Joe DiMaggio is one of the greatest players in baseball and Yankees history. Being a right-handed hitter in Yankees Stadium killed some of his power numbers in comparison to the other hitters on this list. However, it was the overall package of Joe D the player that warrants him being the number three greatest Yankees in history.
DiMaggio played before Gold Gloves were awarded, but it has been said that he was one of the slickest fielders in the game. If you talk to someone who had the luxury of watching him play, they will tell you he made playing center field look effortless – there was never a ball he couldn’t get to and he never had to dive to make a catch; he just always seemed to be in the right position to begin with.
DiMaggio was not a fast runner, but his instincts on the base paths are legendary. He always seemed to make up for a lack of speed with knowing when it was best to take a gamble on stretching a single to a double or when he could score from first.
There is the legendary hit streak of 56 games. There are the 3 MVP awards. He was a career .325 hitter with an OPS+ of 155. But there is more. As I mentioned in my write up for Gehrig, there is the “what if?” regarding DiMaggio because he missed three full seasons due to military service during World War II during the years he would have been 28, 29, and 30 (a player’s peak years).
If you give DiMaggio an average of 34 HRs, 207 Hits, and 143 RBI for each year he missed (what his 162 game average for his career was), DiMaggio would have finished with 463 HRs, 2841 Hits, and 1966 RBI. If you believe because these would have been his peak years and thus the HRs and Hits would have been higher during those years (and RBI as well), he would have come close to 500 HRs and 3000 Hits, and would have far surpassed 2000 RBI. DiMaggio was an all-time great player before you factor in the “what if?”, those numbers vault him into the discussion of Greatest Player ever with Ruth, Mays, and others.
DiMaggio is in the discussion for greatest center fielder ever. He led the Yankees after Gehrig retired and was the leader of perhaps the greatest MLB team ever (the 1939 Yankees). Some knocks on him are that he was not as personable as Gehrig, and he demanded his privacy off the field and perfection on it – to me, those knocks do not affect his standing in Yankees history. There are many great players that should be in the discussion for the next greatest member of the Yankees behind Ruth and Gehrig, but I believe Joltin’ Joe gets the edge.