New York Yankees: The Most Underrated Player at Each Position in Team History
Everyone knows the story of the New York Yankees. How they have won an unprecedented 27 World Series championships and 40 American League pennants. How anything less than another title every season is considered an absolute failure. How only the best players are even considered worthy of donning the famed pinstripes.
When you have such a storied franchise, you are bound to have players that carve their names into the record books, and fans will never forget them.
Players like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and of course Babe Ruth are remembered to this day, even by fans whose fathers and grandfathers weren't born during the days of those amazing players' careers.
But when you have a franchise with so many superstars, there is bound to be a plethora of great players who don't get nearly the amount of credit that they deserve. That's what this list consists of: those players who, at each of their respective positions, were greatly underrated. Players who were integral parts of some of the greatest Yankees eras or who were unfortunate enough to have excellent careers during one of the few spans of "title-less" years.
This list will construct a team of these underrated players: five starting pitchers, three relief pitchers, a catcher, a first baseman, a second baseman, a third basemen, a shortstop, a left fielder, a center fielder and a right fielder.
Ace of the Staff: RHP Mel Stottlemyre (1964-74)
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Mel Stottlemyre spent his entire career with the Yankees, but it was from 1964-1974 during what is, to this day, the second longest stretch without a Yankees World Series victory, from 1963-1976.
However, during that dark stretch, Stottlemyre was a bright spot, posting a career 164-139 record with an amazing 2.97 ERA and 1,257 strikeouts.
Stottlemyre was a five-time All-Star, and although he doesn't get enough credit for his playing years, he also doesn't get enough credit for his tenure as Yankees pitching coach from 1996-2005, mentoring all of the Yankees' different rotation combinations that led them to four World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Second Starter: RHP Mike Mussina (2001-08)
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During his career, Mike Mussina earned himself the title of "Mr. Almost." He almost pitched a perfect game...twice. He almost won a World Series in 2001. And he almost went down as one of the most beloved Yankee pitchers of all time.
But when you almost do something special, people usually don't remember the effort, and that's why Mussina is the perfect choice for a spot in the rotation of this "underrated team."
With a record of 123-72, a 3.88 ERA and 1,278 strikeouts during his eight-year tenure with the Yankees from 2001-2008, Mussina will go down as one of the best Yankee pitchers to never win a World Series.
Third Starter: LHP Jimmy Key (1993-96)
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Jimmy Key had a pretty successful career in pinstripes, considering he was a consolation prize after the Yankees missed out on signing Greg Maddux in the 1992 offseason.
Maddux had decided that, despite their lesser offer, the Braves provided a better chance for him to win a World Series. He would regret this decision, as after his sole title with the Braves in 1995, the Yankees won four titles in five years from 1996 to 2000.
The ironic part was that it was Jimmy Key who out-dueled Greg Maddux in the deciding Game 6 of the 1996 World Series to clinch the Yankees' first championship since 1978.
During his four-year tenure in the Bronx (interrupted by the 1994 players' strike and an injury-plagued 1995), Key posted a 48-23 record with a 3.68 ERA and 400 strikeouts. Great numbers for a guy that nobody ever talks about when referencing the late '90s dynasty.
Fourth Starter: RHP Ralph Terry (1956-64)
Ralph Terry pitched for the Yankees from 1956-57 and again from 1959-64, contributing to five consecutive American League pennants from 1960-1964, with back-to-back World Series titles in 1961 and 1962.
During that span, he posted a 78-59 record with a 3.44 ERA and 615 strikeouts in the regular season and 2-4 with a 2.94 ERA in the World Series.
He served as the second starter in a rotation that boasted the best starting pitcher in New York Yankees history, Whitey Ford, which led to him getting pushed into Ford's giant shadow during his career with the Yankees—the reason that he made this list.
Fifth Starter: RHP Tom Sturdivant (1955-59)
(left to right) Hank Bauer, Tom Sturdivant, and Mickey Mantle
Tom Sturdivant began his career with the Yankees in 1955 and remained in New York until 1959, when he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics for Hector Lopez and the man that appeared before him on this list, Ralph Terry.
During his tenure in the Bronx, Sturdivant helped the Yankees to the 1956 World Series title, winning his only start in that Fall Classic.
During the regular season, Sturdivant posted a 36-25 record with a 3.19 ERA and 333 strikeouts. However, just like the man he was traded for, he was lost in the great Whitey Ford's shadow, leading to his inclusion on this list.
Reliever (1 of 3): LHP Mike Stanton (1997-2002)
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Mike Stanton joined the Yankees in 1997, when they were fresh off a World Series title in 1996. He quickly became the primary setup man for the Yankees' new closer, a man named Mariano Rivera.
Stanton pitched beautifully for the Yankees from 1997-2002, posting a 31-14 record with a 3.77 ERA and 407 strikeouts over 448.1 innings of work.
He became a mainstay in a bullpen that won three consecutive World Series championships from 1998-2000, but since he was the setup man for Rivera, who would eventually establish himself as the greatest closer of all time, he tends to be overlooked.
Reliever (2 of 3): RHP Jeff Nelson (1996-2000, 2003)
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Jeff Nelson, like Mike Stanton, served as part of the bridge to the young Mariano Rivera. Nelson pitched for the Yankees during their late '90s dynasty from 1996-2000, helping them to four World Series titles, and then returned to New York after a two-year hiatus to try to help them win another title in 2003 (ultimately losing to the Florida Marlins).
During his years in pinstripes, Nelson went 23-19 with a 3.47 ERA and 334 strikeouts in 311 innings of work. In postseason play, Nelson compiled a 2-3 mark with a 2.65 ERA and 62 strikeouts, but just like Stanton, he mostly stayed in the shadow of Rivera, leading to his inclusion on this list.
Reliever (3 of 3): RHP Ron Davis (1978-81)
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Yeah, I know—this is Ike Davis, not Ron Davis. But since I couldn't find a good picture of Ron Davis, I figured I would just go with a picture of his son.
Anyway, Ike's dad Ron was a relief pitcher for the Yankees from 1978-1981 and did a pretty decent job for them during those years. He posted a 27-10 record with a 2.93 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 291.2 innings of work. He helped anchor the Yankees bullpen during the 1979-1981 seasons, not playing a major part in the Yankees' 1978 championship season.
During his tenure with the Yankees, Davis served as the setup man to Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage, becoming one of the first full-time setup men in major league history. Together, Davis and Gossage made an excellent late-inning tandem, similar to what the 2011 Yankees hope Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera can become.
Setting up for a legend like Goose surely hurt his reputation and led to Davis being underrated enough to make this list.
Catcher: Jorge Posada (1995-Present)
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Jorge Posada is the one familiar face on this list, as the 39-year-old catcher is the only player on here who will still be wearing the pinstripes in 2011 (excluding Old-Timers' Day).
However, 2011 will mark the end of an era, as even though Posada's presence will still be felt in the Yankees' lineup, it will not be felt behind the plate, with Jorge converting to a full-time role as the designated hitter in 2011.
Posada made his debut with the Yankees in 1995, and despite becoming one of the best offensive catchers of all time during his career in New York, he is greatly underrated due to the constantly superstar-laden lineup of the Yankees.
So far, over 16 seasons in the Bronx, Posada has hit .275 with 261 homers and 1,021 RBI, but with a DH role in his immediate future, I fully expect all of those numbers to increase, even his average, despite a rather subpar 2010 season. Jorge doesn't receive nearly enough credit for what may wind up being a Hall of Fame career some day.
First Baseman: Moose Skowron (1954-62)
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Moose Skowron played for the Yankees from 1954-1962, and during that time he put up some impressive numbers.
As a Yankee, Skowron hit .294 with 165 homers and 672 RBI over nine seasons. He was a five-time All-Star from 1957-1962 (seven time counting 1959 and 1960, when he made two All-Star teams) and helped lead the Yankees to World Series titles in 1956, 1958, 1961 and 1962.
He was greatly overshadowed by the presence of such players as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Bobby Richardson during his Yankee career, making him the perfect first baseman for this "underrated team."
Second Baseman: Gil McDougald (1951-60)
Gil McDougald broke onto the scene in 1951, batting .306 with 14 home runs and 63 RBI, earning him American League Rookie of the Year honors for the 1951 season.
During his career, he helped lead the Yankees to five World Series titles, winning in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956 and 1958. During the regular season, McDougald batted .276 with 112 home runs and 576 RBI from 1951-1960.
As with a few of the other players on this list, McDougald played during one of the greatest Yankee eras in the 1950s and was greatly underrated with the presences of some all-time Yankee greats in the person of future Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra.
Third Baseman: Clete Boyer (1959-66)
Clete Boyer wore the pinstripes from 1959-1966, and despite not possessing the lethal bat that is now taken for granted by the Yankees in the person of Alex Rodriguez, he was a defensive commodity for the Bombers during that span.
Over his entire career, Boyer recorded a .965 fielding percentage at third base, and in case you need a reference as to how good that is, the all-time leader among third basemen is the recently retired Mike Lowell, who had a career .974 fielding percentage.
His hitting statistics weren't spectacular at .241/95/393, but whatever he did for the Yankees at the plate, his defensive abilities were where his true value was. Unfortunately, in baseball, if you aren't a good hitter, it doesn't matter what you do on the field, which is why Clete Boyer is the Yankees' most underrated third baseman of all time.
Shortstop: Tony Kubek (1957-65)
Much like Boyer, who was a teammate of his for most of his career, Tony Kubek was primarily a defensive shortstop, although his hitting skills were marginally better than Boyer's.
Kubek won the 1957 American League Rookie of the Year for the Yankees after batting .297, but his real value turned out to be his ability in the field. Over his nine-year career as a shortstop, Kubek posted a .967 fielding percentage, which was pretty much what was expected from a shortstop back then, as the position was not nearly as potent hitting-wise as it is today.
Still, Kubek batted .266 with 57 home runs and 373 RBI, establishing himself as a decent-hitting shortstop. He helped the Yankees to World Series titles in 1958, 1961 and 1962, again being overshadowed by the same all-time Yankee greats as Boyer, McDougald and Skowron.
Left Fielder: Roy White (1965-79)
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Roy White was the Yankees' left fielder from 1965-1979, and for the greater portion of his career, his contributions were not as appreciated as they should have been. This was mostly due to the fact that, for the majority of his career, the Yankees were none too successful in adding to their trophy case.
It took White until the last three years of his career to reach the summit of the baseball world, as he eventually helped the Yankees end their drought and win back-to-back World Series titles in 1977 and 1978.
During his career, White batted .271 with 160 homers and 758 RBI in the regular season and hit .278 with a .387 OBP in the playoffs. However, even in those two championship seasons, White didn't receive any of the glory, as the Yankees' superstar right fielder, Reggie Jackson, stole the show and earned himself the nickname of "Mr. October."
Center Fielder: Mickey Rivers (1976-79)
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Roy White wasn't the only Yankee outfielder who had his thunder stolen by Reggie Jackson during the 1977 and 1978 title runs.
Mickey Rivers was the center fielder for the Yankees from 1976-1979, and during that span he hit .299 with 34 home runs and 209 RBI, while also providing a viable threat on the basepaths, stealing 93 bases.
Rivers also played well when it counted, batting .308 in six postseason series for the Yankees, but alas, it was not enough to compete with "Mr. October."
Right Fielder: Hank Bauer (1948-59)
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Hank Bauer was the Yankees' right fielder from 1948-1959, but what he is better known as is the man who came before one of the best Yankee outfielders in franchise history, the great Roger Maris.
However, Maris wasn't the one who helped the Yankees win seven different World Series titles in 10 years, including the major league-record five consecutive championships from 1949-1953.
Over his 12-year career in pinstripes, Bauer batted .277 with 158 homers and 654 RBI in the regular season. However, when the man who replaces you breaks the single-season home run record two seasons after your departure, you are unfortunately easily forgotten.