Derek Jeter and the 25 Most-Beloved Players in New York Baseball History
In New York, baseball is not just a sport. Rather, it is something that fans live and die by, as well as bond over. Go to a New York Yankees game, and in the stands, you'll become friends with people you otherwise would never have talked to. The same can be said for attending a Mets game at Citifield.
As much as New York fans love their teams, they love the players even more. In most conversations amongst each other, fans will reminisce about both past and present players and how great they were during their time in New York. Being a Yankees fan, I find myself doing this quite a bit, either with friends or fellow Bleacher Creatures.
However, New York's baseball history goes back over 100 years and is more than just the Yankees. Let's not forget the crosstown rival New York Mets, as well as the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, who later departed for the west coast. That being said, let's honor the histories of all four teams by spotlighting some of their best players.
Here are the 25 most beloved players in New York baseball history.
No. 25: Johnny Podres, Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, 1953-1965
Johnny Podres is not a great pitcher by any means. He has very average career stats, posting a career record of 148-116 and a 3.68 ERA. With the Dodgers, he went 136-104 with a 3.67 ERA while always in the shadow of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and others.
However, Dodgers fans in Brooklyn recall Podres for one reason: Helping the team beat the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. In that game, Podres pitched a 2-0 shutout and scattered eight hits while striking out four. It was his second win of the series and second complete game.
After the game, Podres was named World Series MVP and earned a spot in both Dodgers and baseball history forever.
No. 24: Phil Rizzuto, New York Yankees, 1941-1942, 1946-1956
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Though he may best be known by today's fans as an exuberant broadcaster, "Scooter" Phil Rizzuto was actually the Yankees shortstop for 13 seasons. He wasn't exactly a great hitter, but his slick play in the field and lightning personality made him popular both in the clubhouse and with the fans.
In 1950, he was the American League MVP as he posted a .324 batting average with seven home runs and 66 RBI. After he retired, he was then a broadcaster for the team for 40 years, and his high-energy play calling earned him a spot in the hearts of fans.
When he died in 2007, it was truly a sad day in Yankeeland.
No. 23: Paul O'Neill, New York Yankees, 1993-2001
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I started following baseball in 1993, the same year that Paul O'Neill came to the Yankees in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds. That year, he batted .311 with 20 homers and 75 RBI. However, it was in the strike-shortened 1994 season that made O'Neill a New York favorite.
O'Neill was having a career year in 1994 before the players strike ended the season prematurely. In 103 games, he hit a league-leading .359 with 21 home runs and 83 RBI. In his nine seasons in pinstripes, the tall lefty outfielder batted .303 with 185 home runs and 858 RBI.
On top of that, O'Neill was a key member of the Yankees' squads that won four World Series championships. His gutsy play and fiery personality may have been a distraction in the clubhouse (he was known to destroy a water cooler or two after striking out), but the fans loved it. To this day, they look forward to his name being called at Old Timers' Day.
No. 22: Mike Piazza, New York Mets, 1998-2005
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Mike Piazza's road to the New York Mets was an interesting one. In 1998, the Los Angeles Dodgers traded him and Todd Zeile to the Florida Marlins for Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich and Manuel Barrios. After five games with the fish, he was traded to the Mets for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz.
Piazza then became an icon in Mets history. In just six seasons and change, he hit .289 with 220 home runs and 655 RBI. He was a key reason the team made the 2000 World Series, known as the "Subway Series," where the Mets lost in five games to the New York Yankees.
His decline may have started in New York, but there's no denying that in his time in Flushing, Mike Piazza gave Mets fans reason to believe again.
No. 21: David Cone
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David Cone's time in New York was certainly interesting. From 1987-1992, plus a failed comeback attempt in 2003, he was with the New York Mets. From 1995-2000, he was a dominant pitcher for the New York Yankees.
As much as the Mets fans love him, Cone is easily better remembered for his Yankees tenure. He won four World Series in the Bronx and even threw a perfect game in 1999. Today, he is a broadcaster for the YES Network.
The last stage of his career may have been marred by injuries and ineffectiveness, but there's no denying that David Cone is still one of the most beloved pitchers on both ends of the New York baseball spectrum.
No. 20: Gary Carter, New York Mets, 1985-1989
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Gary Carter only played five seasons in a Mets uniform. He batted just .249 over that span, but also hit 89 home runs with a remarkable 349 RBI. On top of that, the man they called "Kid" was instrumental in leading the team to a World Series championship in 1986.
Carter finished his career with a season each with the Giants, Dodgers and Expos, the last team being the one with whom he began his career. His career stats include 324 career homers and 1,225 RBI.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame as a member of the Montreal Expos in 2003, but there's no denying that Gary Carter will never be forgotten for his days as a New York Met.
No. 19: Mookie Wilson, New York Mets, 1980-1989
For much of his 11 season career, Mookie Wilson was a typical leadoff man. He could hit well for average and was good at getting on base. Most importantly, however, he was quite fast and could steal bases with the best of them. In a Mets uniform, he swiped 293 bags.
Yet, Wilson's career is defined by just one moment that occurred in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. After the Mets had rallied to tie the game 5-5, Wilson came up to bat against Red Sox reliever Bob Stanley, with Ray Knight standing on second base.
The rest, as they say, is history. Watch the video to view it!
No. 18: Keith Hernandez, New York Mets, 1983-1989
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In six and a half seasons with the Mets, Keith Hernandez hit .296. He was always good at hitting for average, so that's not surprising.
However, Hernandez was best known as an amazing fielder at first base. He won six of his 11 career Gold Glove Awards with the Mets and was the starting first baseman for the World Series-winning squad of 1986.
Today, he is a color commentator for SNY and entertains fans with stories of his playing days. Given how he is still connected to the franchise and the fans love him, he makes this list.
No. 17: John Franco, New York Mets, 1990-2004
For 15 years, Brooklyn native John Franco was an electrifying relief pitcher for the New York Mets. He never won a World Series with the team, though he was on the 2000 Subway Series squad. Yet, with his winning personality and love for both the city and its fans, John Franco was the team captain of the Mets.
To this day, he still has the most saves in Mets history with 276.
No. 16: Bernie Williams, New York Yankees, 1991-2006
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In his prime, Bernie Williams was one of the most popular Yankees of his generation. A staple in centerfield, he played his entire career in the Bronx and finished with a .297 career batting average, 287 home runs and 1,257 RBI. He played in six World Series, winning four. To this day, he is baseball's leader in postseason game appearances (121), RBI (80) and extra base hits (51).
Williams also won the AL batting title in 1998 with a .339 average. That season, he also won his second of four career Gold Gloves. Combine that with five All-Star selections, and Williams is probably the next Yankee to have his number retired.
Hopefully, Cooperstown will call him soon.
No.15: Darryl Strawberry
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Like his former teammate, David Cone, Darryl Strawberry was a star for both the New York Yankees and the New York Mets. He began his career with the latter team in 1983 and batted .257 with 26 home runs and 74 RBI, as well as 19 stolen bases. That season, he was named NL Rookie of the Year.
In the eight seasons he spent with the Mets, Strawberry hit .263 with 252 home runs and 733 RBI. He played in seven All-Star games before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
At that point, Strawberry had a well-documented drug problem, but overcame his demons and signed with the New York Yankees in 1995. He remained with the team until 1999, when his drug issues forced him out of the game. Still, he was a key performer in the playoffs and helped the team to World Series titles in 1996 and 1998, though he missed the latter series to undergo treatment for colon cancer.
Despite his demons, Darryl Strawberry is still a New York icon. Whether he's appearing at functions for the Mets or Yankees, fans roar for him.
No. 14: David Wright, New York Mets, 2004-Present
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Ever since being called up from the minors in 2004, David Wright has been a fan favorite in Queens. Going into this season, he has made five consecutive All-Star games and has won two Gold Gloves at third base. Thus far, he has posted a .302 career batting average, 175 home runs and 682 RBI. Keep in mind, he's only 28 years old.
Stats aside, Mets fans love David Wright because, given the team's horrible performance since 2007, he has been one of few consistent players on the team. He seems like a genuine individual and is involved in community outreach, and doesn't let negative comments from the press nor the man who signs his checks get him down.
He's currently on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his back, but look for him to return full-force once he's healthy again.
No. 13: Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees, 1995-2003, 2007-2010
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In his two stints with the Yankees, Andy Pettitte was someone the fans simply loved. He was a pitcher who didn't necessarily have electrifying stuff, but his reputation for coming through in big games was top notch. In 2009, he became just the second pitcher in history to win three series-clinching games (ALDS, ALCS, World Series) as the Bronx Bombers won their 27th World Series title and Pettitte got the win in Game 6.
Over his 16 season career with both the Yankees and Houston Astros, Pettitte went 240-168 with a 3.88 ERA and 2,251 career strikeouts. Yet, when it comes time to vote him into Cooperstown, voters should consider his postseason reputation.
In the playoffs, Pettitte went 19-10 with a 3.83 ERA and 173 strikeouts. To this day, he is the all-time leader in postseason wins as well as starts (42) and innings pitched (263). Those numbers alone are why he should be loved not only by the New York fans, but by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
No. 12: Thurman Munson
For the second half of the 1960s, the New York Yankees were one of baseball's worst teams. They had no top prospects and relied heavily on mediocre talent. Then, in 1970, the turnaround began.
Catcher Thurman Munson became a regular and batted .302 with six home runs and 53 RBI. He earned the AL Rookie of the Year award and became one of the primary reasons the Yankees were reborn in the 1970s. In 1976, he was the AL MVP, as he posted a .302 average with 17 homers and 105 RBI to help the Yankees reach their first World Series since 1964. That same year, he was named team captain.
Munson won two World Series rings with the Yankees in 1977 and 1978, but tragedy struck on August 2, 1979. In his hometown of Canton, Ohio, Munson crashed his Cessna Citation jet just short of the runway while practicing his flying. He died of the resulting smoke inhalation. Munson was just 32 years old.
He may not have been a great power hitter or overall amazing player, but Munson was enough of a presence in the Yankee clubhouse that his death was a major loss. I remember my uncle telling me how he went to the first game at Yankee Stadium following Munson's death, and how he and everyone in his section were wiping back tears. His No. 15 is retired in Monument Park today so every new generation of fans can learn about this beloved Yankee.
No. 11: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees, 1995-Present
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Honestly, what can be said about Mariano Rivera that hasn't already been said? The longtime Yankee closer is simply the best. Trevor Hoffman can have the most career saves, but he'll never hold a candle to the effectiveness of Rivera.
Even today at age 41, Rivera pitches with the confidence and electrifying stuff one would expect from a pitcher who's 21. He has 572 career saves and currently leads all of baseball with 13 this season. His ERA is a remarkable 1.80.
Naturally, Rivera is the Yankees career saves leader and given how his contract runs through next season, he should finish with well over 600 by the time it runs out. Surely, he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
No. 10: Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, 1951-1968
While he may be better known for his hard partying and alcoholism than his on the field talents, there's no denying that Mickey Mantle was the most beloved Yankee of his time. In 18 seasons, he batted .298 with 536 home runs and 1,509 RBI. He won three MVP awards, the most notable coming in 1956 when he won the Triple Crown (.353 average, 52 homers, 130 RBI).
Yet, despite his accomplishments and love from the fans, Mantle's personal life received more attention than what he did on the field. He attributed his alcoholism to the belief that since all the men in his family had died young, he would too. Years later, after his liver was basically destroyed from years of drink and ravaged by cancer, he gave one of his most famous lines.
"If I had known I was going to live this long," Mantle said. "I would have taken better care of myself."
Given how he is the most beloved Yankee of his era as well as in my parents' house, Mantle kicks off the Top 10 of this list.
No. 9: Sandy Koufax, Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, 1955-1966
Sandy Koufax only played three years for the Brooklyn Dodgers before they moved west. He was only a reliever and occasional starter at that point, but fans loved his electrifying stuff. Had arthritis not forced him to retire at age 30, he easily would have been the greatest pitcher of all time.
Over his 12 season career, Koufax posted a 165-87 record with a 2.76 ERA and 2,396 strikeouts. Over the last four seasons of his career, his ERA was an astounding 1.86. On top of that, he threw four no-hitters, one of which was a perfect game.
Throw in four World Series rings, and Koufax is easily the best pitcher in Dodger history.
No. 8: Tom Seaver, New York Mets, 1967-1977, 1983
Tom Seaver wasn't called "Tom Terrific" for nothing. In his first stint with the Mets, he won three NL Cy Young Awards and helped the 1969 "Miracle" team win its first World Series against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles. He also helped the team reach a World Series in 1973, where they lost to the Oakland Athletics.
He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1977 and did well there, but returned to the Mets in 1983. He posted a 9-14 record with a 3.55 ERA. He then finished his career with the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox.
Still, despite stops with other teams, Tom Seaver will always be the one and only "Mr. Met" in the eyes of this writer. Ironically, I think most Mets fans would agree with me.
No. 7: Yogi Berra, New York Yankees, 1946-1963
Though he's probably best remembered for his amusing anecdotes and quirky quotes, Yogi Berra is one of the most beloved Yankees in team history. In 18 seasons with the team, he hit .285 with 2,148 hits, 358 home runs and 1,430 RBI. Upon his initial retirement in 1963, he served as the team's manager for the following season and led them to the World Series, where they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
He attempted a comeback with the New York Mets in 1965, but only went 2-for-9 in four games. Still, he became the team's manager from 1972-1975 and led them on a miraculous run to the World Series in 1973, where they lost to the Oakland Athletics. He then returned to the Yankees and was a coach there for years, even managing from 1984-1985.
Be it for the Mets or Yankees, Yogi Berra still is and always will be beloved by the New York fans, both young and old.
No. 6: Willie Mays
Willie Mays may be best remembered for his years with the New York/San Francisco Giants, and it's not surprising that he is. He won his first MVP award with the New York Giants in 1954, hitting an NL-leading .345 with 41 homers and 110 RBI. Those numbers were instrumental in the Giants winning the World Series that year.
In 20 seasons and change with the Giants, the "Say Hey Kid" blasted 646 homers to go with 3,178 hits, 1,856 RBI and a .305 lifetime batting average. In 1971, he was traded to the New York Mets and finished his career where it all began.
He may have played most of his career on the west coast, but there's no denying that Willie Mays earned his first fans in the Empire State.
No. 5: Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1947-1956
Jackie Robinson is significant for multiple reasons. He was the first African-American player of the modern era and set the bar for African-American players in the major leagues. On top of that, he was one of the most popular players to ever play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In his rookie year of 1947, he hit .297 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI, and he also led the NL in steals with 29. He was of course named Rookie of the Year. Just two years later, he hit a league-leading .342 with 16 home runs and 124 RBI and he again led the NL with 37 steals. That season garnered him the NL MVP award.
Robinson retired at age 37 after the 1956 season. In his brief 10-year career, he posted a .311 career average with 137 career home runs. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.
He may not have played very long or put up amazing numbers year after year, but Jackie Robinson was easily the most popular of the Brooklyn Dodgers in his tenure with the team.
No. 4: Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees, 1923-1939
Known as "The Iron Horse," Lou Gehrig is perhaps best known for his string of 2,130 consecutive games played from 1925-1939. That record stood until 1995, when Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles broke it.
Yet, Gehrig was also one of the greatest hitters of his generation. As Babe Ruth's protection in the batting order, he was a key member of the Murderers' Row team of 1927. That season, he hit .373 with 47 homers and 175 RBI. For his career, he hit .340 with 493 home runs and 1,995 RBI.
Sadly, Gehrig's career was cut short by ALS, which later became known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. He was forced to retire in 1939 and died just two years later in 1941. He was 37 years old.
Not only did baseball lose a legend, but fans lost one of their favorites.
No. 3: Joe DiMaggio, New York Yankees, 1936-1942, 1946-1951
When he first came up in 1936, DiMaggio was expected to be the heir apparent to Babe Ruth. He wasn't a great power hitter like his predecessor, but still answered the bell. In his rookie season, he batted .323 with 29 home runs and 125 RBI.
The man they called "Joltin' Joe" went on to have a great career that lasted just 13 seasons, primarily due to his spending three years in the military during World War II. In those 13 years, he hit .325 with 361 career home runs and 1,537 RBI. Even more amazing, he struck out just 369 times.
However, besides the great numbers and nine World Series rings, DiMaggio is also known for his 56-game hitting streak in 1941. That record still stands today, though some hitters have come close. Either way, the fans loved watching him and he is recalled today as one of the true legends.
No. 2: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees, 1995-Present
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Today, despite his recent slumps, Derek Jeter is the most popular player on the New York Yankees. He has been the team captain since 2003 and has led the Yankees to five World Series championships. On top of that, he is an 11-time All Star.
As of yesterday, Jeter has a .313 lifetime batting average, 236 home runs and 1,150 RBI. Most impressive, he has 2,975 career hits. In just a few short weeks, barring a major injury, he will become the first New York Yankee to reach 3,000 hits.
The fans love him and he loves his team, so Jeter makes the No. 2 spot on this list. He finishes second to this man...
No. 1: Babe Ruth, New York Yankees, 1920-1934
Forget Barry Bonds. Babe Ruth is the true home run king. Before he came to the Yankees, the team was mediocre and living in the shadow of the New York Giants. Once Ruth came to town, history began.
In his tenure with the team, Ruth batted .349 with 659 home runs and 1,971 RBI. In 1923, he led the team to the first of its 27 World Series titles. Overall, he won four rings with the Yankees.
People can say what they want about how Ruth isn't deserving of the top spot on this list. You may think that DiMaggio, Mantle or even Jeter is more deserving, but one thing cannot be denied.
Without Ruth, this list probably wouldn't even be written and the Yankees would not be where they are today.