You Gotta Know These New York Yankees
- George Herman “Babe” Ruth (1895–1948; pitcher and outfield), the rough son of a saloon keeper, grew up on the Baltimore waterfront and in the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. Released after signing a baseball contract with the minor-league Baltimore Orioles, he was bought by the Boston Red Sox and played with them for six seasons, winning 89 games and three World Series, and, in 1919, setting a new single-season home-run record: 29. Already famous as a player, eater, and carouser, Boston sold him to New York for the 1920 season, where his fame became legend. Moved from the pitcher’s mound to the outfield, he won nine home-run titles and four World Series from 1920 to 1934. In 1927 he hit 60 home runs and led the “Murderers’ Row” Yankee lineup to a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. He hit his controversial “Called Shot” homer against the Cubs during the third game of the 1932 World Series after allegedly gesturing towards the centerfield stands. Since his retirement from baseball in 1935, many of his most famous pitching and batting records have been surpassed, but power hitting as a legitimate approach towards playing baseball continues. Before Ruth, the homer was a rare occurrence.
- Lou Gehrig (1903–1941; first base) was born in Manhattan to German immigrants. A football and baseball player at Columbia University, he signed with the Yankees in 1923. He became a regular in 1925, replacing Wally Pipp at first base and beginning his streak of 2130 consecutive games played (since broken by Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995) that earned him the nickname “The Iron Horse.” His batting feats include 184 RBI in 1931 (the AL record), 23 career grand slams (the ML record for many decades, since broken by Alex Rodriguez), a triple crown in 1934, and a .340 career batting average. When it was discovered that he was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—now commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—he delivered his famous “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth” speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. In deference to Lou, no Yankee was appointed captain until Thurman Munson in 1976.
- Joe DiMaggio (1914–1999; center field) left the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League and joined New York for the 1936 season, where he helped Lou Gehrig drive the Yankees to their fifth championship and the first of nine that he would win with the Bombers. “The Yankee Clipper” won three Most Valuable Player awards (1939, 1941, 1947), two batting titles (1939, 1940), and two homer titles (1937, 1948). In 1941 “Joltin’ Joe” hit safely in 56 consecutive games, a record that has never been challenged (he once hit in 61 straight for the Seals in 1933). His career totals are abbreviated because of his military service (1943–1945) and because of the distance to Yankee Stadium’s left-field power alley, in those days known as Death Valley. He married Marilyn Monroe in 1954, but they divorced after nine months.
- Mickey Mantle (1931–1995; center field) was born to play baseball—his father named him for Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane—but his left leg wasn’t. In high school it was nearly amputated because of osteomyelitis, the first of his many leg problems. Known as the “Commerce Comet” because of his speed and because he grew up in Commerce, Oklahoma, he became the Yankee center fielder following DiMaggio’s retirement in 1951. Mantle played on twelve pennant winners and seven World Championship clubs. He holds World Series records for home runs (18), RBI (40), runs (42), walks (43), extra-base hits (26), and total bases (123). During the regular season, his switch-hitting powered 536 homeruns and won him four homer titles (1955, 1956, 1958, 1960), three MVP awards (1956, 1957, 1962), and a triple crown (1956). In 1961 he and teammate Roger Maris both had a chance of passing Ruth’s 1927 mark (60), but injuries forced him out of the race (Maris hit 61). He was elected to the Hall of Fame alongside Whitey Ford in 1974.
- Yogi Berra (1925–2015; catcher) was notorious for swinging at bad pitches, but his bat collided with them often enough to hit a catcher’s record 306 homeruns that lasted for more than 30 years (since passed by Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Mike Piazza). His hitting, fielding, and ability to lead the Yankee pitching staff earned him three MVP awards (1951, 1954, 1955). He also starred in the World Series, collecting 71 hits while playing on 10 championship teams, both records. Hired as Yankee manager in 1964, he lead the Yanks to the pennant but was fired following their Series loss to the Cardinals. His 1973 pennant with the Mets made him the only manager besides Joe McCarthy to take home the flag in both leagues. Like Casey Stengel, he was famous for his quotes, including “It aint’ over ’til it’s over,” “It’s deja vu all over again,” and “Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”
- Whitey Ford (1926–present; pitcher) was called “The Chairman of the Board” because of the cool, corporate-like efficiency of his pitching style. His 236 wins against 106 defeats yields a .690 winning percentage, third best, and first for a pitcher with 200 or more victories. In the 1960, 1961, and 1962 World Series, he pitched 33 consecutive scoreless innings, breaking Babe Ruth’s World Series record of 29 ⅔ innings of shutout ball. His other World Series records include wins (10), losses (8), innings pitched (146), hits (132), bases on balls (34), and strikeouts (94). Under Casey Stengel he was commonly rested against poor teams so that he could be used against contenders (or in relief), making his 2.75 career ERA even more impressive. He won the Cy Young award in 1961.
- Casey Stengel (1889–1975; manager) He managed the Yankees to ten pennants and seven championships, including a record five in a row from 1949 to 1953. The “Old Perfessor” did not use a set lineup or pitching rotation, instead using a bewildering number of platoon arrangements. Somehow this did not undermine his defense, as Stengel’s Yankees lead the league in double plays six times. Remembered as a player for his two game-winning homeruns, one an inside-the-parker, against the Yankees in the 1923 World Series, off the field his vaudevillian personality involved him in many famous incidents. When in 1958 he was called in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly to testify on why baseball should be exempt from antitrust regulation, he testified with an hour’s worth of classic “Stengelese.” When the baffled politicians let Stengel go and called on Mickey Mantle to answer their questions, he replied, “My views are about the same as Casey’s.”
- Billy Martin (1928–1989; second base and manager). The alert, combative second baseman for the Yankees from 1950 to 1957, he made a famous catch in the seventh game of the 1952 World Series when Jackie Robinson lifted a bases-loaded pop-up near the pitcher’s mound. In 1953 he was named World Series MVP after batting .500 and winning the final game with a single in the bottom of the ninth. As Yankee manager, he won two pennants and one World Series (1977). Strung extremely tight—he almost came to blows with Reggie Jackson during a nationally televised game—his barroom brawls and arguments with the Yankee front office repeatedly got him fired (and re-hired). His five terms managing one club is tied for the major league record.
- Reggie Jackson (1946–present; right field) Known as “Mr. October” because of his World Series slugging, in the sixth game of the 1977 World Series he hit three homeruns off three different pitchers on three consecutive swings of his bat. He and Babe Ruth, who did it twice, are the only players to homer three times in one World Series game. His .755 slugging average is the highest in World Series history. Soon after joining the Yankees in 1977 he created a sensation by proclaiming himself “the straw that stirs the drink.” The wild atmosphere surrounding Jackson and the Yankees was captured by a teammate in a book called The Bronx Zoo. Jackson won four home run titles (1973, 1975, 1980, 1983), hit 563 home runs, and set a major-league record for strikeouts (2,597).
- Don Mattingly (1961–present; first base) was the best first baseman in baseball for most of the 1980’s. He holds the major league record for most grand slams in a season (6 in 1987, tied by Travis Hafner in 2006). He twice led the league in hits (1984 and 1985), won the league batting title by edging out teammate Dave Winfield on the final day of the 1984 season, and drove in the most runs in 1985 to win the MVP award. “Donnie Baseball” also won nine Gold Gloves, but World Series glory eluded “the Hitman.” His Yankees never played in the Fall Classic. He managed the Dodgers from 2011 to 2015, and as of 2016 is the manager of the Marlins.
- Derek Jeter (1974–present; shortstop) became the starting shortstop for the Yanks in 1996, winning the Rookie of the Year Award and helping New York capture its first championship since 1978. More post-season highlights followed, including three more titles (1998, 1999, 2000), the 2000 World Series MVP award, and a controversial homer against the Baltimore Orioles in Game One of the 1996 ALCS when a twelve-year-old fan turned his fly ball into a homerun by reaching over the right-field wall to catch it. Jeter’s junior-high yearbook dubbed him “most likely to play shortstop for the New York Yankees.”
- Joe McCarthy (1887–1978; manager) began managing the Yankees in 1931. They finished second, beginning a nine-year run of second or better. From 1936 to 1939 his Yankees won four World Series in a row; from 1936 to 1943, seven pennants and six World Series. His .615 winning percentage (2125–1333) is tops for a big league skipper, and he is tied with Casey Stengel for most world championship teams managed (7). Besides winning—McCarthy never had a losing season in the majors—his teams are best remembered for their offense. The 1931 Yankees scored 1,067 runs, the most of any team since 1900, while his 1936 club scored the second most, with 1,065.
This article was contributed by former NAQT writer John Gorman.