Ranking All-Time Yankee Hitters

Jonah Keri recently providing his ranking of the top-10 all-time Yankee hitters. The list (with OPS+ added by me):

1 Babe Ruth (210 OPS+)
2 Mickey Mantle (172 OPS+)
3 Lou Gehrig (179 OPS+)
4 Joe DiMaggio (155 OPS+)
5 Yogi Berra (125 OPS+)
6 Derek Jeter (121 OPS+)
7 Bill Dickey (127 OPS+)
8 Jorge Posada (124 OPS+)
9 Bernie Williams (125 OPS+)
10 Earle Combs (126 OPS+)

Babe Ruth is the no-doubt #1 pick. Beyond that, there seems to be two clusters of potential candidates. Tier 2 contains Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Lou Gehrig. They have a 30 point gap in OPS+ versus the rest of the crew. Of the three, only Mantle played the majority of his career in the post-Robinson age, and faced a much tougher level of competition. He has significantly more playing time than either, and played a premium defensive position. I think that he is a sensible #2. Deference then goes to Gehrig’s Pujols-like hitting performance, even though DiMaggio was no slacker himself.

I think that the discussion gets more interesting in Tier 3. Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter, Billy Dickey, Tony Lazzeri (left off the list, OPS+ 121) all are or will be in the Hall of Fame, and all played premium defensive positions. Tony Lazzeri is probabyl the easy worst of all three, and Billy Dickey comes after him. But what about Jeter versus Berra? Berra helped win all those championships, but Jeter has had to play in the most challenging of basebal eras. I think that we have to defer to Berra’s three MVPs and four near-MVP awards in a seven-year span, which represents a string of dominance that just happened to coincide with 6 World Series appearances and 4 victories.

The fourth tier is pretty big. Keri’s list includes Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Earle Combs, and I’d like to add Don Mattingly (OPS+ 127), Bobby Murcer (OPS+ 129), Paul O’Neill (OPS+ 125) and Roy White (OPS+ 121) to the list. All had short careers with the Yankees and other teams, but defined themselves both as leaders and hitters.

So, my list:

1. Babe Ruth
2. Mickey Mantle
3. Lou Gehrig
4. Joe DiMaggio
5. Yogi Berra
6. Derek Jeter
7. Billy Dickey
8. Bernie Williams
9. Jorge Posada
10. Don Mattingly
11. Earle Combs
12. Bobby Murcer
13. Roy White
14. Paul O’Neill

Alex Rodriguez’s place in Yankee history will be the next major question to address on this list. Will A-Rod go down with the Mantle, Gehrig, and DiMaggio group? His OPS+ currently stands at 151, so we’ll have to see how gracefully he ages. At present, I’d project him to be between DiMaggio and Berra.

About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

6 thoughts on “Ranking All-Time Yankee Hitters

  1. If Arod can get his hip fully healthy after the “full surgery” he may have after the season than I see no reason he can’t be a .300 Avg 35 HR hitter again, he guess a little more than I would like but he does it often enough to hit and as long as he keeps his head clean of distractions his aging process shouldn’t be that bad especially with the DH keeping him strong through out seasons to come.

  2. I take Gehrig and DiMaggio over Mantle. Mantle was prolific, but he was also the all-time strikeout king (when he retired) and was always hurt. I’ll take Gehrig’s inhuman consistency and DiMaggio’s bat and glove over Mantle, myself. Although you point about Mantle playing a premium defensive position is a good one. Getting Mantle’s or Joe D’s numbers out of your CF is almost unheard of, wheras there have been lots of good hitting 1B over the years. But I still take Gehrig, because Mantle’s numbers and position do me no good when he’s on the DL.

    Mantle was one of the great 5 tool players when he was young, but injuries took their toll over time and he wasn’t the same by the middle of his career. Joe D was the total package when he came up as well, but he held up better and knew when to call it quits. Joe D was also hurt by playing in a Yankee stadium that was so cavernous by today’s standards it would seem unfair. 440 to right-center field, and he was a righty hitter. Mantle as a switch hitter got plenty of opportunities batting Lefty with the short porch in the old Yankee stadium. DiMaggio’s OPS+ of 155 impresses me more than Mantle’s 172.

    • Mantle was far and away the better player (over Joe D).
      People read stories about Joe D., but those are books made to have him look good because…he was damn good, maybe even great.
      I started watching the Yanks in 1948, in those days you could read about the players by reading Mel Allen’s colm, in the papers, things you have (more then likely), never heard. Also, hearing him on the radio also was news worthy.
      There were many stories of Joe D. In his last years, Joe D. was not the old “Yankee Clipper”, in fact Mickey got hurt the 1st time because of Joe D. (broken leg). He was told to go after everything he could reach…until, he heard Joe D. call for it. He was very fast and could cover alot of graound, at the last min., he heard Joe say I got it he stopped hard his spikes cought in a water drain…break #1, in short R-CF.

  3. I find it interesting that there are three catchers in the top ten — a position that usually emphasizes the defensive capacity of the player over the offense, particularly with the demands on a catcher over 162 games.
    Because of those demands, in some ways those three (Berra, Dickey and Posada) could even be ranked higher.