New York Yankees: The 15 Greatest Defensive Players in Team History

Shaun McPartlinCorrespondent IIIFebruary 10, 2011

New York Yankees: The 15 Greatest Defensive Players in Team History

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    The New York Yankees franchise has boasted some of the greatest players of all time. Players like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Thurman Munson have been clad in pinstripes and left their mark on our nation's pastime.

    Creating a list of the top defensive studs who called the Bronx their home is far from an easy task. This team has such a rich history that the list could incorporate over 100 players, and that might not even be enough. 

    Strong defense sometimes is overlooked, as offensive numbers rule the league, but these players deserve recognition for their work with the leather on the diamond.

No. 15: Derek Jeter, SS

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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 20:  Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees turns a successful double play over a sliding Michael Young #10 of the Texas Rangers on a ball hit by Josh Hamilton #32 in the top of the fifth inning of Game Five of the ALCS during the 2010
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    Say what you must, but Derek Jeter belongs on this list. Sure, some people say he is overrated, has lost some of his lateral quickness and won his five Gold Gloves because of his sheer popularity. I beg to differ.

    Jeter makes the plays he is supposed to make even at 36. He is a student of the game and has reduced his errors each of the last three years, only making six in 2010. Robinson Cano and Jeter turn the sweetest double play in the American League, if not the majors.

    Jeter still makes fantastic back-handed stabs in the hole and shows off his cannon of an arm, throwing out even the quickest of players.

    Jeter gets the job done and can still make the flashy catches running into center field and cover the hole with the best of them. When he hangs up his spikes, he will go down as the greatest shortstop in Yankee history.

No. 14: Paul O'Neill, RF

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    SEATTLE - OCTOBER 17 Oct 2001: Paul O'Neill #21 of the New York Yankees hits a home run off of Aaron Sele #30 of the Seattle Mariners during game one of the American League Championship Series playoffs on October 17, 2001 at SafeCo Field in Seattle, Washi
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Paul O'Neill came over to the Yankees from the Reds in 1993. O'Neill was known more for his "cry baby" attitude rather than his on-field abilities. The Yanks took a chance and it paid off.

    For nine seasons, O'Neill called the short porch in right field his home. His strong arm was perfect for the corner outfield position as was his range. His fielding percentage was always above the league average for his position and his outfield assists were always near the top of the league.

    Yankee fans will always have a spot in their heart for O'Neill, as he was loved in the clubhouse and amongst Yankee faithful. He was the heart and soul of the last Yankee dynasty.

No. 13: Bobby Richardson, 2B

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    Bobby Richardson was a five-time Gold Glove second baseman for the New York Yankees. Richardson and shortstop Tony Kubek orchestrated one of the smoothest double plays of all time.

    Richardson was never known for his bat, but made up for it with his stellar play in the field. His .979 fielding percentage is more than enough evidence.

    Richardson was one of the premier second basemen of his day and is deserving of No. 13 on this list.

No. 12: Robinson Cano, 2B

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    BOSTON - OCTOBER 2:  Robinson Cano #24 of the New York Yankees leaves the field after teammate Ivan Nova allowed a hit to Eric Petterson #3 of the Boston Red Sox in the tenth inning, which knocked in the winning run, in the second game of a doubleheader a
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Robinson Cano is one of, if not the, smoothest second basemen in the league today. He makes plays look easy that others would find nearly impossible. His ability to range behind second base and make a strong throw across his body is unparalleled. 

    Cano committed only three errors in 2010, which earned him his first Gold Glove. I am sure this will be the first of many.

    This blossoming star is as sure-handed as they come. If the ball is hit toward the right side of the field, it is a fact that Cano will make a play on it.

    Cano is the real deal with the bat and the leather. He has a bright future in pinstripes.

No. 11: Mark Teixeira, 1B

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    ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 15:  Mark Teixeira #25 of the New York Yankees celebrates after the Yankees recorded the final out of the game in their 6-5 win against the Texas Rangers in Game One of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Rangers Ballpark in A
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Ever since Don Mattingly retired, first base has been rather of a weak spot in the Yankee infield. Cue in Mark Teixeira, and problem solved.

    Ever since joining the Yankees in 2009, Tex has made Yankee fans forget about the dreadful years of Jason Giambi.

    Since entering the majors in 2003, Teixeira has already accumulated four Gold Gloves. Pretty amazing accomplishment since he has only been in the league for eight seasons.

    No one scoops short hops quite like Tex does. He has the rare ability to make the players around him even better since they have confidence that he will make the plays even if their throws are less than perfect.

No. 10: Ron Guidry, P

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    Ron Guidry will always be remembered for his 25-win season in 1978, but his glove is sometimes overlooked.

    Guidry accumulated five consecutive Gold Gloves from 1982 to 1986. His fielding percentage was head and shoulders above the league average, amassing a perfect fielding percentage in seven seasons.

    Guidry's slider was his bread and butter pitch, with helped cement himself amongst the elite pitchers to ever grace the rubber.

    Ron Guidry could do it all. Most pitchers do not have the grace to make plays with the glove, since following through and fielding a ball is no easy task. To Guidry, it was second nature.

No. 9: Paul Blair, OF

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    Paul Blair is better known for his time with the Orioles, but he still left his mark on the Yankee outfield. Blair was famously substituted for Reggie Jackson by Billy Martin, which led to uproar amongst fans and Reggie, but he was far superior in the field.

    After Blair took a fastball to the face, he was never the same hitter, but his fielding ability was still top-notch. In his 17-year career, he earned eight Gold Gloves and his speed allowed him to make Mays-like catches and play a shallow center field, taunting players to hit it over his head.

    "Motormouth" might have had a short stint with the Yankees, but he still deserves acknowledgment for his masterful work in the outfield.

No. 8: Willie Randolph, 2B

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    Willie Randolph might be known today for his managerial stint with the Mets, which sadly overshadows his playing career. A defensive stud, Randolph was known for his knack to turn a beautiful double play.

    The sure-handed second baseman kept his errors at a minimum, but was never awarded a Gold Glove. Louie Whitaker and Frank White always seemed to beat him out by a few votes.

    Randolph's managerial career might have been tumultuous, but it was always smooth sailing for Willie on the diamond.

No. 7: Phil Rizzuto, SS

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    Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto is the best shortstop in Yankee history. Jeter will surpass him when he calls it quits, but for now, Rizzuto still holds the title.

    "Scooter" finished his career with an unmatched .968 fielding percentage and turned an incredible 1,217 double plays. Rizzuto might not have been much of a threat at the plate, but he more than made up for it with his plays on the field. In 1950, he finished with a .982 fielding percentage, which remained a Yankee record up until 1976.

    Rizzuto finished his career ranked eighth in American League history with 3,219 putouts and ninth in assists with 4,666.

No. 6: Mickey Mantle, CF

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    Mickey Mantle is known as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, switch hitter of all time. His ability in the field was second to none as well. In 1962 he won his only Gold Glove award, but could have won plenty more if his knees didn't get the best of him.

    Playing in the shadow of another Yankee great, Joe DiMaggio, never slowed this young man down. In his prime, Mantle had gap-to-gap speed, tracking down any ball hit in his direction.

    Though his hitting abilities will always overshadow his work with the leather, this Triple Crown Winner could play the field with the best.

No. 5: Dave Winfield, RF

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    Dave Winfield spent 22 seasons in the majors and won a total of seven Gold Gloves. While it was his feud with owner George Steinbrenner that put a cloud over his stellar play, Winfield still was one of the best right fielders in Yankee history.

    The man had a cannon of an arm, and he once killed a seagull before the fifth inning of a game at Toronto on August 4, 1983. Even though Winfield started his career with the Padres, he had made a name for himself in pinstripes. In fact, five of his seven Gold Gloves came with the Bronx Bombers.

    Dave Winfield was one of the greatest power hitting outfielders, but his rocket arm and phenomenal outfield play make him one of the best all-around players of all time.

No. 4: Graig Nettles, 3B

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    Graig Nettles was a phenomenal third baseman for the Yanks and a two-time Gold Glove recipient. Nettles will always be remember for his exceptional play against the Los Angeles Dodgers, helping lead the Bronx Bombers to a 1978 World Series Championship.

    His mastery of the "hot corner" cements his status amongst the greats to ever grace the position. Playing third base at the level Nettles did requires spectacular athleticism, and he had plenty of that. His .964 fielding percentage garners his elite status.

No. 3: Bill Dickey, C

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    A 11-time All-Star and 14-time World Champion, Bill Dickey knew how to win. He played hard day-in and day-out and even broke the jaw of an opposing player. Talk about tenacity.

    Dickey knew how to handle his pitchers and had one of the strongest throwing arms to this day. His masterful play behind the plate puts him in the same breath as some of the greatest Yankee catchers.

    He shined with the bat as well, hitting .362 in 1936, which stood as the highest batting average for a catcher up until 2009, when Joe Mauer hit .365.

    Dickey possessed an unmatched love for the game, which came out in his play behind the plate.

No. 2: Don Mattingly, 1B

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    "Donnie Baseball" was one of the most loved Yankees of all time. He was a gifted fielder with soft hands and a strong throwing arm. Mattingly won nine Gold Gloves during his illustrious career and boasted one of the greatest fielding percentages of all time at .996.

    It is a shame that Mattingly was never able to showcase his abilities in the postseason until his final year in pinstripes, when the Yankees lost to Seattle in the 1995 ALDS.

    In remarkable fashion, Mattingly won five of his Gold Gloves in consecutive years from 1985-1989. If not for back problems, "Donnie Baseball" probably would have kept his streak going for even longer. He was just that good.

No. 1. Joe DiMaggio, CF

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    Ah "Joltin' Joe", "The Yankee Clipper". The greatest center fielder of all time. Joe DiMaggio was the epitome of today's five-tool player. He could hit and cover more ground in center than anyone to this day.

    His defensive capabilities were summed up by Yankee announcer Arch McDonald when he compared DiMaggio's speed and range with the likes of the Pan American airliner. Just imagine how incredible the Yankees outfield could have been with Mantle and DiMaggio in their prime?

    He will always be remembered for his hitting capabilities—his 56-game hitting streak will most likely never be broken—but he was no slouch in the field either.

    Joe DiMaggio is and forever will be the greatest center fielder to ever play the game.

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