Why The New York Yankees Are the Greatest: Part 12

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IJanuary 14, 2009

The New York Yankees are best known through the years for their hitters.

From Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle, Don Mattingly and Alex Rodriguez, when one thinks of the Yankees, they first think of hitters. Yet, through the years, the Yankees have also been blessed with really great pitchers.  No team could have accomplished as much as they have without pitching.

Beginning in the 1920s, the Yankees had a number of stellar hurlers. Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Bob Shawkey and Red Ruffing headed the list of great Yankee pitchers in the decade when they first rose to prominence.

Pennock had a career record of 240 wins and 162 losses, had four years in a row in which he won at least nineteen games and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1948. Hoyt had a career record of 237 wins and 182 losses.  He was chosen for the Hall of Fame in 1969.

Shawkey has not been admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but four times he won 20 games or more and finished with a career record of 196 wins and 150 losses with a career ERA of 3.09.Ruffing also had four twenty win seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1967.

In the 1930s, the Yankees continued their success and Ruffing was joined on the mound by another eventual hall of famer, Lefty Gomez. Gomez compiled a lifetime record of 189 wins and only 102 losses.  He had four superb seasons in which he went 21-9; 24-7; 26-5 and 21-11.

In the 1940s, Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat led the Yankees on the mound. Raschi had a lifetime record of 132 wins and only 66 losses. From 1948 to 1952, He had successive seasons when he had 19, 21, 21, 21 and 16 wins.

Reynolds won 182 games in his career while only losing 107.  From 1947 through 1952, the “Big Chief” won at least 16 games every year. His career ERA was 3.30.

Lopat was a little lefty who can best be described as crafty. From 1948 through 1953, including the stretch from ’49-’53 when the Yankees won five World Series rings in a row, Lopat was dependable. His win totals for that period were 17, 15, 18, 21, 10 and 16.

Joe Page, a Yankee in the 1940s and 1950s, may have been the first pitcher who could be compared to the relief pitchers in games played today. During an era in which starting pitchers were expected to go the distance, Page compiled saves like you couldn’t imagine.  In one year, he had 14 wins and 17 saves.

Of course, joining the Yankees of that era was another Hall of Fame southpaw, Whitey Ford. Ford would compile statistics that cause most to consider him the best Yankee pitcher of all time.

Over his 16-year career with the Yank from 1950-1967, Whitey would win 236 games and lose only 106.  His lifetime ERA was a minuscule 2.75. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974. But during his 11-year career, pitching exclusively for the Bombers, Mel was the best pitcher the Yankees had.

In 1965 when the Yankees missed the World Series for the first time in six years, Stottlemyre had a record of 20-9 on the sixth place team. The next year, he would lose 20. Nonetheless, he went onto win 164 games with some of the worst Yankee teams in history. He also had twenty win seasons in 1968 and 1969 on teams that barely won 80 games total. He finished his career with an ERA of 2.97.

Jim “Catfish” Hunter was the first free agent the Yankees ever signed.  After great years in Oakland, a dispute over his contract led the commissioner to declare him a free agent and the Yankees pounced. Hunter was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987 primarily because of his performances as a member of the Athletics. In his years with the Yankees, they returned to prominence and Catfish was a big reason.

Joining Hunter on those great Yankee teams of the 1970s was a reed-thin lefty whose speed earned him the nickname of “Louisiana Lightning.” Ron Guidry would win 170 games and lose only 91 before injuries shortened his career.

Along the way, he would put up some of the best years in the history of the game. In 1978, Guidry would go 25-3 with an ERA of 1.74. That year, he would also get the win in the one-game playoff in Boston that propelled the Yankees to their third straight World Series.

Guidry went 18-8 with a 2.78 ERA in 1979 and won seventeen games in 1980.  In 1983, he had a 21-9 record and in 1985 he was even better when he went 22-6.

At the same time that Gator was starting for the Yankees, they had great help from the bullpen.

Sparky Lyle had come over from the rival Red Sox and pitched in the Bronx from 1972 through 1978.  He was a gritty determined reliever who was at his best in clutch games. Also, Rich “Goose” Gossage, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008, provided relief at a time when the “closer” was not expected to get just three or four outs. Goose would often come into the game in the sixth or seventh inning and finish it.

Dave Righetti was another relief pitcher for the Yankees, but he didn’t begin his career in the pen. After several successful seasons as a starter, Rags was converted to the bullpen and he put up spectacular numbers in relief.
Righetti is probably best known for a game he started on July 4, 1983. The strikeout specialist took the mound that day and entered the history books when he pitched a no-hitter.

When the Yankees created their latest dynasty from 1996 through 2003, a homegrown Yankee, Andy Pettitte, led them on the mound. The big lefty was a rookie in 1995 when he went 12-9.  The next year Pettitte would compile a 21-8 record and lead the Yankees to a world championship.  Pettitte had another 21-win season in 2003 when the Bombers returned to the World Series but lost to the Marlins.

In World Series games, he compiled a record of four wins and no losses and his record for all postseason appearances as a Yankee is 9-0.

The Yankees also benefited from having Roger Clemens for most of the dynastic run from the late ‘90s into the new century. Clemens became a Yankee in 1999 and pitched in four World Series for New York.  His best season as a Yank was in 2001 when he went 20-3 and won one of his seven Cy Young awards.

It remains to be seen whether Clemens will be elected to the Hall of Fame. There is no question that his career marks would put him there, but his questionable involvement with performance-enhancing drugs may keep him out.

Another pitcher who has never been under such a cloud came to the Yankees during Clemens’ best year in pinstripes is Mike Mussina.

Mussina joined the Yanks in 2001 and stayed for eight seasons, retiring after 2008.
While not winning 20 games in any one year until his final season in 2008, Mussina was almost always consistently good. His 270 wins and 153 losses over 18 seasons places him among the best at winning percentage in baseball history.

A pitcher who had a shorter career for the Yankees but often pitched brilliantly for them in tough games was David “Boomer” Wells. Wells joined New York in 1997 and went 16-10 in the only year they did not make the World Series from ’96-’01. In 1998, Wells was even better with a mark of 18-4 as New York won the World Series. After that brilliant season, he was traded to Toronto for Clemens.

In 2002, Wells came back to the Yankees and won 19 games.  He finished his career in New York with 15 wins in 2003.

One more pitcher has already had a career that will undoubtedly earn him a trip to Cooperstown—probably on the first ballot—and he is not finished yet.

Mariano Rivera came up through the Yankee farm system as a starter. But he made his mark, beginning in 1995 in the bullpen. Many have called Rivera the best closer in the history of baseball.  He has 482 saves in his 13 years as a closer and has an ERA of 2.29. He also has eight seasons in which his ERA has been under 2.00.

But that does not tell the whole story.  In the pressure filled situations of the postseason, Rivera has been even better.

On this biggest of stages, he has 15 saves, nine of them in World Series games.  He has an overall post season ERA of 0.77 and a World Series ERA of 1.16 in six different World Series games.

The only pitcher to ever hurl a perfect game in the World Series cannot even be considered one of the best Yankee pitchers.  Don Larsen achieved immortality when he threw his gem in the fifth game of the 1956 World Series. Larsen had a career record of only 81 wins and 91 losses.  After his perfect game, he had exactly the same number of wins as losses.

Indeed, the Yankees have been blessed to have many great pitchers on their teams through the years, including seven Hall of Famers and three more who may have plaques there some day.

Perhaps the greatest pitcher the Yankees ever signed only pitched five games for them. He won all five.

He had been signed by the Yankees after the 1919 season. He had an overall pitching record of 94 wins and 46 losses and an ERA of 2.28.

He’s in the Hall of Fame, but not for his pitching feats.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame with the first class in 1936. As great as he was as a pitcher, he also hit 714 career home runs.  

Babe Ruth may have been the greatest pitcher the Yankees ever signed.

Pitchers are just one of the reasons the Yankees are the greatest team in the history of baseball.


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