The Yankees count 1,563 players who have donned the pinstripes over the years. Who among them has gained the most respect from fans? I nominate these three.
The Yankees, it is fair to say, that no Major League franchise boasts a more vibrant and more storied history. But it’s also fair to say though many have been called (1600 Yankees) few have been chosen.
Only four percent (64) of these Yankees have been inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame. Their plaques in Cooperstown speak mainly to each player’s accomplishments on the field.
And that’s the way it should be as baseball is a game of numbers.
But besides the numbers, there is another way of measuring the true greatness of a major league ballplayer.
Who are the Yankees who come to your mind when home runs, saves, W.A.R., wins, Cy Young’s, Silver Slugger awards, and the like are removed from the conversation?
Who then are the Yankees who command your respect because of the way they carried themselves on and off the field, and how they went about doing their job day to day – and year to year – with little or no emoting when they were “on stage.”
Following is what we’ll call a starter list of Yankees who have earned the respect of fans as well as their teammates for far more than the numbers they put up on the field. Please consider adding yours in the Comments Section below.
The Yankees “Lunchpail Man” – Don Mattingly
Crushed by chronic back pain, Don Mattingly was forced into retirement when he was only 34 in 1995. In his fourteen-year career, all with the Yankees, Mattingly never won that elusive title, missing the Yankees Run in the late 1990s by just one year.
But Don Mattingly carried his lunchpail to work every day as a New York Yankee, appearing in the Yankees lineup in 130 games or more nine times, despite the discomfort he felt almost every one of the 1,785 games he played.
Oh, the numbers were there.
Three finishes in the top five of the M.V.P. voting, including a win in 1984, a batting championship in the same year, six All-Star games, and nine Gold-Glove Awards all spell a player in the conversation but just short of the Hall Of Fame.
Still, he was always one of us…
There was a brief flurry of individualism by Don Mattingly when briefly engaged the Yankees in a protest when the team insisted that he remove all facial hair per still unwritten team policy.
Of interest, though, is that when Mattingly was appointed as manager of the Miami Marlins, he insisted on the same policy with his players. Ironically, it was Mattingly who later pulled the plug amidst wide-ranging protests.
Don Mattingly was always about the team comes first. And in that light, respect for him is gained when the man recognized his actions were hurting his Miami Marlins.
Many are called, but few are chosen – Don Mattingly did it, and is still doing it, the “right way.”
Yankees Put It In The Books Closer – Mariano Rivera
I submit that it is the respect for Mariano Rivera that put him over the top to become the first unanimous selection ever into the Baseball Hall Of Fame.
His gaudy numbers, especially in the postseason for the New York Yankees, made him an automatic inductee in 2019. But his story will always be about the man who was and still is Mariano Rivera.
Find a quote anywhere in which Rivera talks about himself and the five rings he garnered as the Yankees lights-out man in the bullpen – just one.
Mariano Rivera is a man of God, and we’ll let that go simply to state a fact. He does not, however, wear his religion on his sleeve as some are prone to do.
Instead, Rivera is awarded the highest one reserved for a civilian American – The Medal Of Freedom – presented in the White House last September.
Fittingly, Rivera, a Panamanian immigrant, seized that opportunity during the ceremony, to encourage other immigrants to learn English.
The cutter he threw broke the bats and hearts of many batters who faced him over the years, but – Mariano Rivera – transcends anything that ever happened on a baseball field.
It seemed like it was scripted to end this way…
Yankees Louisiana Good Ole Boy – Ron Guidry
To this day, Yankee’s lefty Ron Guidry is still a good ‘ole boy living and fishing in the Cajun country of Louisiana.
Fame and some fraction of fortune never changed him. It’s almost like he took a ride to pitch for the New York Yankees on a whim in the Big Apple – but his heart and, more importantly – his mind always remembered his roots.
Ron Guidry is a mainstay at the annual Yankees Old Timer’s Day, and the cheers are loud, but they usually fade quickly, just as Guidry seemed to sleepwalk his way through fourteen seasons with the Yankees.
Ron Guidry seemed to care about nothing except pitching a baseball, preferably in the major leagues.
The New York Yankees drafted him in the 3rd round of the 1971 MLB June Amateur Draft from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (Lafayette, LA).
As Bruce Springsteen would later write and sing, “He could throw that speedball by you and make you look a fool.” And that he did, with an accent in 1978 when Guidry went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA while tossing nine complete-game shutouts.
A picture is worth a thousand words…
What nobody knew about Ron Guidry, though, was something his teammates didn’t miss. Best expressed in this excerpt from sabr.org.
“I’ve always said Ron Guidry, pound for pound., was the fiercest competitor I ever played with. Nobody wanted to give him a chance when he came up. Too skinny, too small, they all thought. They couldn’t’ see what he had in the heart. He had a big one and a lot of determination.” — Willie Randolph1
An athlete whose D.N.A. is made from the lure of competition and the desire to win captures the very essence of what it means to be an American citizen.
Ron Guidry had that spirit, and that’s why he belongs in any list of Yankees earning a tag as “most respected”.