Why the New York Yankees Are the Greatest: Part Nine

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IJanuary 8, 2009

Every baseball team needs players who are not Hall of Famers. 


This can be the guy who isn’t a power hitter, and who doesn’t have a great on base percentage, but plays a great defensive right field.


Or it could be the guy who can play three different infield positions and never opens his mouth when he is relegated to sitting on the bench five days out of seven.


The New York Yankees have had more great players than any other team in history, but they have also had gritty players, whose names are not automatically known to casual baseball fans.


The New York Yankees of late 1940s and 1950s had a number of players like this, who won’t come to the mind of any but the most avid baseball fans. Some of these players were even castoffs from other teams who found success with the Yankees.


Hank Bauer played outfield and first base for the Yankees of this post-war era. He was a clutch hitter and was also known for being tough. He would quickly get in the face of any young kid to the Yankees, telling him to shape up and not mess with his “paycheck.”


Other role players of that era including Andy Carey, third baseman on some of the World Series teams of that era; Gil McDougald, who played all infield positions; and Joe Collins at first base.


One of the players on those '50s teams who became much better known when he was the Yankee manager in the '70s was Billy Martin. 


Martin was tough and scrappy and much loved by Casey Stengel. 


Martin had a lifetime batting average of only .257, but he came through in the clutch and helped the Yanks win four World Series in his six years with the Yankees.


In the late '50s and extending into the early '60s, Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek came to the Yankees. They were regulars, but not perennial All Stars. They played great defense, did anything necessary to get on base, and were good teammates.


Also on the teams of the early '60s were Tom Tresh and Johnny Blanchard. Tresh might have been a star on other teams of that era and Blanchard was a talented catcher. 


But they were playing on teams that featured Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and Elston Howard. 


Despite being on a team that featured those stars, Tresh averaged more than 150 games from 1962 through 1967.   


Blanchard played in 93 games in both 1961 and 1962, despite the presence of Berra and Howard behind the plate. Blanchard played all three outfield positions and first base, in addition to catching.


When the Yankees returned to glory in the 1970s, they again had players who played key roles but were not perennial All Stars. 


Graig Nettles was a five time All Star with the Yanks, but not a Hall of Famer. He played extraordinary defense at third base, hit with some pop, but never hit more than .276 for the Yankees.


On those same World Series teams of the '70s, other players who are not household names but made key contributions included Mickey Rivers, Lou Piniella, Bucky Dent, and Roy White. 


White had been with the Yankees since 1966. He had once been featured on the cover of Sport Magazine, with the headline that the Yankees had a clean-up hitter who choked up.


In the dominant Yankee years of the late 1990s and through 2003, role players again were important to their success.


Scott Brosius played third base for the Yankees from 1998 through 2001. He played very good defense and was another clutch hitter who hit eight postseason home runs in four consecutive seasons from 1998-2001.


Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, and Tino Martinez were also key cogs in the Yankee teams of their most recent dynasty. None were Hall of Famers or perennial All Stars, but they were essential to the Yankees success.


The Yankees have not won a World Series in the past eight seasons and some have argued that their failure to do so is a result of having no players who grit it out, scrappy players such as those mentioned above.


It would be hard to argue that you would want to replace Alex Rodriguez with Scott Brosius or that it was better to have Lou Piniella in the batting order than Reggie Jackson. 


But the fact is that Yankee teams who have won have usually had a mixture of the truly great players and the truly gritty players.