Welcome to the All-Franchise Starting Lineup, where we review each of the 30 current MLB franchises to determine the best players by position in franchise history. It’s been a few months since we last revealed a team, but we’re back this week with the most successful franchise in the history of organized sports, the New York Yankees.
The Ground Rules
- Each player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. We used two WAR calculations, one from Fangraphs (fWAR) and the other from Baseball-Reference (bWAR). When the WAR between players was similar, we considered other factors, such as stats and awards, to break the tie.
- We only considered statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player. For example, Albert Pujols wasn’t the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played with them for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period in their career.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively—especially for center field.
- Since we now have universal DH, we will assign one per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
- Three pitchers will be named—one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
The Yankees joined the American League in 1903 under their original name, “The Highlanders.” Many fans referred to the club as “The Americans” also, which eventually morphed into the “Yankees.” In 1913, the franchise officially changed its name.
The Highlanders had little success, failing to win a pennant in their ten years of existence. Several more years passed before the Yankees’ fortunes began to turn, which coincided with their acquisition of the slugging pitcher/outfielder Babe Ruth before the 1920 season. The Yanks played in their first World Series in 1921 but lost. However, they were just getting started.
The World Series became a rite of passage for the Bombers. From 1921-1964, New York represented the AL in 29 of the 44 October Classics. They won 20 of them, including four in a row from 1936-1939 and five in a row from 1949-53. From Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle, the Yankees always had a superstar on hand.
Following their series loss in 1964, the franchise encountered its first dry spell since the early years, not returning to the Fall Classic until 1976. The Big Red Machine swept them in the series, but they won back-to-back championships in 1977 and 1978. The franchise hit another dry spell after their 1981 loss to the Dodgers, whom they had tormented for years, not returning to the playoffs again until 1995. From 1996 through 2000, the Bombers won four more championships and added another in 2009 to bring their total to 27.
No other franchise comes close to the Yanks’ success. The Cardinals’ 11 championships are second all-time and miles behind New York. Their lineup below is mostly a who’s who of some of the greatest players ever to don an MLB uniform. In some ways, it was one of the easier lineups to build, even though several Hall of Famers failed to make the cut.
Catcher: Yogi Berra
Yankee fans have been spoiled by great catchers over the years, including Jorge Posada, Thurman Munson, Hall of Famer Bill Dickey, and the man who succeeded him behind the dish, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra. Many remember Yogi for his funny quotes such as “It ain’t over til it’s over,” but he was much more than a witty, likable character. Yogi was our fifth-ranked catcher of all time and one of the greatest hitters at his position ever. He was also blessed with tremendous team success as New York went to an amazing 14 World Series while Berra was with them, winning ten of them.
Berra didn’t miss an All-Star game from 1948 to 1962, and the fans elected him 18 times in total. In addition, the catcher notched three AL MVPs in 1951, 1954, and 1955. Berra rarely struck out, had tremendous power, and thrived on defense. He amassed 295 post-season plate appearances, slashing .274/.359/.452 with 41 runs, 12 HRs, and 39 RBI.
Upon retirement, Yogi was hired as the Yankees’ manager in 1964 but lasted just one season. He joined the Mets the following year as a player-coach but only got into four games that season before hanging up his cleats for good. Yogi Berra was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, and the Yankees retired his #8 the same year.
First Base: Lou Gehrig
Seeing Lou Gehrig as our first baseman is not a huge surprise to even the most casual baseball fan. “The Iron Horse” was one of baseball’s greatest players, regardless of position, and by our estimation, was the top first baseman of all time.
Gehrig broke in with the Yankees in 1923, but it wasn’t until 1925 that his incredible consecutive-game streak started. Incumbent first baseman Wally Pipp had to sit out a game due to a headache, and Gehrig took over. He would not miss another start until he retired in 1939. His 2,130 consecutive game streak lasted until 1995, when Cal Ripken Jr. finally surpassed it.
Lou Gehrig was so much more than an iron man, though. He was a seven-time All-Star, two-time MVP, batting title champion, and triple crown winner. The Yankees won six out of the seven World Series they played with Gehrig as their first baseman. His overall World Series stats include a .361 average with ten HRs and 35 RBI. Gehrig led the league in RBI and OBP five times, runs four times, HRs and OPS three times, doubles twice, and triples once. The man could flat-out rake.
Most know that Gehrig’s streak and life were cut short by ALS—more commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” He accomplished so much that it is easy to forget he still had plenty in the tank when he retired in 1939, six weeks before his 36th birthday. The Yankees announced the retirement of his #4 on the day of his official retirement, July 4, 1939. The Hall of Fame followed suit by holding a special election in 1939 to ensure enshrinement during his lifetime.
Second Base: Tony Lazzeri
Second base proved to be one of the tougher choices for our lineup. It came down to Willie Randolph vs. Tony Lazzeri. Randolph is the Yankees’ all-time stolen base leader, a six-time All-Star, and an excellent defensive shortstop who handled the keystone for the club from 1976 to 1988. His fWAR and bWAR are higher than Lazzeri’s, but Lazzeri was a better offensive player, won five rings, and made it into the Hall of Fame.
Lazzeri played for the “Murderer’s Row” Yanks from 1926-1937. In his first eight seasons, he slashed .303/.386/.486 and averaged 14 HRs, 29 doubles, 12 triples, 14 SBs, 85 runs, and 104 RBI. The highlight of his career came on May 24, 1936, when he clubbed a triple and three HRs (including two grand slams) and set an AL record with 11 RBI.
Lazerri’s Yankees were dominant, winning six pennants and five World Series in his 12 seasons with the club. His finest series came in his final season in New York when he hit .400/.526/.733 in the 1937 Fall Classic, which the Bombers won in five games over the Giants. After the season, he departed New York and played a few more years for the Cubs, Dodgers, and Giants. Lazzeri retired in 1939, and the Veteran’s Committee posthumously inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter
With respect to Phil Rizzuto, Derek Jeter was the obvious choice at shortstop. He was tenth on our list of the greatest shortstops of all time and would have ranked higher had that list been based solely on offense. Jeter’s 3,465 hits are the sixth most of any player in MLB history.
“The Captain” debuted in May 1995 as an injury replacement and returned as a September call-up. Despite limited playing time, he made enough of an impression to earn the starting job the following spring. It was a wise decision by the Yankees as Jeter won Rookie of the Year that season and New York won its first World Series since 1978.
Being a World Champion suited Jeter. During his tenure, the Yankees went to the Fall Classic often. By the time Jeter retired after the 2014 season, his teams had only missed the postseason three times, and he was a five-time champ. Jeter would play in 158 playoff games in his career—essentially an entire season’s worth. He acquitted himself nicely in October and November, batting .308 with 20 HRs, 111 runs, 61 RBI, and 18 SBs. In addition, he took home the World Series MVP in 2000.
As the leader of many great teams, Jeter was showered with honors over his career. He went to 14 All-Star games and won five Silver Sluggers and five Gold Gloves. Jeter never won the MVP, but he did finish in the top-five three times. In 2017, the Yankees retired Jeter’s jersey (#2), and in 2020, the BBWAA elected him into the Hall of Fame on his first attempt with nearly 100% of the vote.
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez
Higher up on our list of the best shortstops of all time was Alex Rodriguez, who checked in at #2. ARod played third base for the Yankees, though, so slotting him here is not a stretch. Rodriguez played 12 seasons in New York, more than anywhere else, yet few think of him as an all-time Yankee great. However, he leads all Yankee third basemen in plate appearances, hits, doubles, home runs, runs, and RBI.
The Rangers traded ARod to New York before the 2004 season, at which point he moved to third base due to Jeter. His tenure in the Big Apple was tumultuous, primarily due to his links to performance-enhancing drugs. In 2009 he admitted to taking steroids while in Texas after allegations were made against him. Five years later, he was suspended for 211 days for his link to Biogenesis and missed the entire 2014 season.
Despite this, ARod put up excellent numbers in his 12 years with the Yanks, attending seven All-Star games in pinstripes and winning MVPs in 2005 and 2007. Rodriguez’s 2007 season was one for the ages as he crushed 54 HRs, scored 143 runs, and drove in 156 while slashing .314/.422/.645. ARod’s Bombers played into October nine times but only made it to one World Series, which they won over Philadelphia in 2009.
Rodriguez played two more seasons after his 2014 suspension and remained productive in 2015 when he hit 33 HRs and drove in 86, primarily as the DH. The following season, injuries slowed him, and he called it quits in August. His final two seasons were redemptive for him to a certain extent as fans embraced the comeback. It may not get him into the Hall of Fame, however. ARod only garnered 34% of the vote in his first year of eligibility.
If we exclude ARod from consideration for the lineup due to his steroid use, Graig Nettles, the slick-fielding power-hitting third baseman who was with the club from 1973-1973, would be the next man up.
Left Field: Babe Ruth
The great George Herman “Babe” Ruth was our top right fielder of all time, but he played nearly as many games in left. Regardless of where you put the Bambino, he’s about the biggest no-brainer in the history of no-brainers. The Babe has the highest WAR in MLB history, and most consider him the GOAT. He changed the game, and his impact on the sport is immeasurable.
Most know that Ruth started his MLB career as a pitcher for the Red Sox in 1914. He was an excellent starter, too, winning an ERA title in 1916. It became apparent quickly that his bat was too valuable not to be in the lineup daily, so he began transitioning to the outfield in 1918. Following the 1919 season, in which Ruth led the league in most offensive categories, the Sox sold him to the Yankees for $100,000. Even though that was a lot of money in 1919, this turned out to be a bargain for the Yanks.
To say Ruth was dominant is an understatement. He led the league in OPS thirteen times, HRs twelve times, runs eight times, RBI five times, and batting average once. Among his career records were the 59 HRs he hit in 1921, which stood as the record until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961, and his 714 career HRs, held until Aaron broke it in 1974. Ruth also played in seven World Series with New York, winning four championships. He slugged 15 HRs for the Yanks in the Fall Classic and drove in 30 runs.
Above all, “The Sultan of Swat” was the first sports superstar, enhanced by his larger-than-life personality. After 22 seasons, the Babe retired in 1935, playing his final 28 games with the Boston Braves. While others surpassed many of his career marks, Ruth remains the all-time leader in ISO, SLG, wOBA, and wRC+. A year after his retirement, MLB created the Hall of Fame and Babe Ruth was one of the original six inductees. The Yankees retired Babe’s #3 in June 1948, just a few months before he passed away.
Center Field: Joe DiMaggio
Our next two outfielders played center, but DiMaggio gets the nod here as he was a better defender than Mickey Mantle. “Joltin’ Joe” checked in at #5 on our top ten list of the greatest center fielders ever, one slot behind “The Mick,” but he may have ranked higher had he not missed three seasons due to World War II.
Joe DiMaggio was an American icon at a time when the country needed it. He debuted with the Yankees in 1936 and was an All-Star immediately. DiMaggio was an All-Star every season of his 13-year career. He was a graceful fielder and a deadly hitter who led the league in batting average, HRs, RBI, and SLG twice during his career and won three MVPs. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment came in 1941 when Joltin’ Joe put together his famous 56-consecutive-games-hitting streak. This record still stands, and no one has come particularly close to breaking it. Yankee fans were fortunate to move from Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio.
In February 1943, DiMaggio enlisted in the Air Force and didn’t resume his career until 1946. He quickly picked up where he left off, winning his third MVP in 1947. The Bronx Bombers were juggernauts during DiMaggio’s time. Joe played in ten World Series in his 13 seasons, and the Yanks won nine championships. Injuries began to catch up with him starting in 1949, and DiMaggio retired after the 1951 season.
The Yankees didn’t wait long to retire his #5. They took it out of circulation on April 18, 1952, during their home opener the season after his retirement. In 1955, the “Yankee Clipper” joined the Hall of Fame, inducted by 88.8% of the BBWAA.
Right Field: Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle debuted during Joe DiMaggio’s final season in 1951 when he was 19. He was the Yankees’ right fielder out of spring training, but a midseason slump sent him back to the minors. After tearing it up on the farm, Mantle was back in August and played in the World Series. Unfortunately, he only amassed five at-bats after an injury knocked him out of the series in Game 2. Following DiMaggio’s retirement, Mantle moved to center field in 1952. The Mick was an All-Star that season and would represent the Yankees at the game 20 times in his career.
Like DiMaggio before him, Mantle could do it all at the plate. He led the league in OPS six times, runs/walks five times, HRs/SLG four times, OBP three times, and triples/RBI/batting once. The year he won the batting title, 1956, he also won the triple crown. That season The Mick batted .353 with 52 HRs and 130 RBI. Despite not being known as a great defender, at least by baseball historians, Mantle also won a Gold Glove in 1962.
The Yanks of Mantle’s era remained dominant, and Mickey played in 12 World Series, winning seven rings. Mantle put together legendary performances in the Fall Classic and is atop the series’ all-time leaderboard in home runs (18), walks (43), and RBI (40). Mickey retired in 1968 after 18 seasons in New York. The following year his #7 was retired by the club. In 1974, in his first year of eligibility, he was given his due at Cooperstown.
Designated Hitter: Bill Dickey
We could have gone in several directions at DH. Reggie Jackson had several iconic moments as a Yankee. Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season HR record in 1961. Bernie Williams was a mainstay on the teams of the 1990s, and Aaron Judge is the current face of the franchise. But we opted for Bill Dickey because he deserves it.
Yogi Berra edged Dickey at catcher, but Dickey was one of the all-time greats at the position, ranking seventh on our Top Ten list. His career started with a bang as the Yankees won the 1928 World Series during his rookie year. However, Dickey wasn’t really a part of that club, garnering all of 15 at-bats that season. However, by the time he retired in 1946, he was an eight-time world champion.
Dickey was a key but often overshadowed member of the legendary Yankees from this era. Playing with the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio will do that to you. His nickname, “The Man Nobody Knows,” reflects this, but it can’t detract from Dickey’s success on the field.
He wasn’t without accolades, though. Dickey played in 11 All-Star games despite the first one not being played until his sixth season. He made the team nearly every year once the game was established. Dickey finished second in the AL MVP voting to Jimmie Foxx after his monstrous 1938 season, in which he hit .313/.412/.568 with 27 HRs and 115 RBI. World War II caused him to miss the 1944 and 1945 seasons, but he returned for one final year in 1946. In 1954, he was duly recognized for his greatness when he joined the elite group of players in Cooperstown, and his #8, which he shared with Berra, was retired in 1972.
Left-Handed Starter: Whitey Ford
The Yankees have featured several great left-handed pitchers in their history. Andy Pettitte, Ron Guidry, and Left Gomez warrant consideration for our lineup, but Whitey Ford gets the call as he leads the franchise in innings, wins, and bWAR. Pettitte had a higher fWAR, but Ford’s career ERA is over a run lower. He’s also a Hall of Famer and won the Cy Young in 1961.
Ford broke in with the Yankees in 1950 and won his first World Series ring after winning game four of the sweep against the Phillies. He spent the next two seasons in the army but returned in 1953 to win another championship. The postseason became a regular occurrence for Ford and the Yankees. He went to 11 in all, winning six titles and earning the series MVP award in 1961. Whitey threw 146 innings in the Fall Classic over 22 starts. He won ten games with a 2.71 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Ford threw 33 and 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series for one stretch, a record not likely to be broken.
Whitey was no regular-season slouch, either. Over his 16-year career, he attended ten All-Star games, won two ERA titles, and led the league in wins three times. One of those years was 1961 when he took home the AL Cy Young after hurling 283 innings over 39 starts with 25 wins, a 3.21 ERA, and a 3.14 FIP. Ford’s lifetime .690 winning percentage remains one of the best of all time.
Circulatory problems in his left arm plagued him later in his career, and Ford retired a few months into the 1967 season. In 1974, the BBWAA punched Ford’s well-deserved ticket to Cooperstown, and the Yankees retired his #16.
Right-Handed Starter: Red Ruffing
Red Ruffing held many of the records that Whitey Ford broke, including innings pitched and wins. The duo’s careers were similar in many ways, punctuated by team and postseason success. Ruffing began his career in Boston, which traded him to the Yankees during the 1930 season. Red hadn’t been very successful with the Red Sox, twice leading the league in losses, but he turned things around in the Bronx.
During his 15 seasons in New York, Ruffing went to six All-Star games, won 20+ games four seasons in a row, and led the league in strikeouts in 1932. He also won six championships. Ruffing started ten World Series games and won seven, throwing eight complete games with a 2.52 ERA. Red could also hit. Over his career, Ruffing hit .270 with 34 HRs and 213 RBI.
Like many players of his generation, Red lost two years of his career to World War II. He was 37 when he joined the Army in 1943 and had lost four toes to an accident during his youth. Thus, he was assigned to non-combative duty. Ruffing returned in 1945, but age, the layoff, and injuries limited him to 19 starts over the following two seasons. The Yankees released him after the 1946 season, and he played nine more games for the White Sox in 1947. Ruffing didn’t have an easy time getting into the Hall of Fame but finally made it in 1967, his final year on the ballot.
Reliever: Mariano Rivera
With all due respect to Dave Righetti and “Goose” Gossage, nobody can compare to Mariano Rivera. Rivera is the greatest reliever of all time, and most concede there is no one else in the conversation. He has 51 more career saves than Trevor Hoffman, who is second on the all-time list. His 42 career postseason saves are more than double the runner-up, Kenley Jansen, who has 19. Mo’s 11 World Series saves nearly double Rollie Fingers’ six. As he spent his entire career in New York, he’s an obvious choice as our reliever.
Rivera debuted in May 1995 as a starter, but he wasn’t very effective. He started ten games that season and finished the year in the bullpen. In 1996, Mo developed into the set-up man for closer John Wetteland and allowed only one earned run over 14.1 innings in the playoffs that season, which culminated in a Yankees World Championship. Wetteland left that offseason, and “The Sandman” assumed the closer’s role, which he held for the next 17 seasons.
We already mentioned some of Rivera’s accomplishments, but here are a few more. He was an All-Star thirteen times, led the league in saves three times, was the World Series MVP in 1999, and the ALCS MVP in 2003. From 1997 through 2011, Rivera averaged 40 saves a season with an ERA of 2.01. He won five rings with the Yankees and pitched in seven World Series. Outside of his rookie year and 2012, which he missed almost entirely due to a torn ACL, Rivera never made fewer than 45 appearances in a season. Mo was the best, and he was an iron man.
“Super Mariano” finally retired just before his 44th birthday in 2013. His number 42 had already been retired by every MLB club due to Jackie Robinson, making Mariano the last player ever to wear the number. The Yanks threw a party for him before the end of the season, highlighted by the band Metallica playing his “Enter Sandman” live. Six years later, the BBWAA unanimously voted him into the Hall of Fame—the only time a player made it onto every ballot.
Next up will be the Philadelphia / Kansas City / Oakland / Las Vegas(?) Athletics. Keep an eye out for it sometime this summer. If you love baseball as much as we do, check out the We Love Baseball section for more great content!