The top 10 greatest players for the absolute greatest sports franchise of all time was not an easy list to put together. There are so many players that were worthy, but ultimately, it came down to dominance, both statistically and as a proven winner. Of course, baseball is a team sport. Unlike some other sports out there, you cannot just bank on one dominant player to get you to the promised land. But when you’re a part of a dynasty and winning multiple rings, it’s safe to say you had something to do with it. Rings aren’t the only name of the game though as consistency and statistics were a big factor as well. Donning the pinstripes is the ultimate privilege in baseball and these players were the best to do it.
10- Phil Rizzuto SS
Holy cow! “The Scooter” was quite possibly the best “small ball” player not just for his time, but of all time. Widely considered the greatest bunter to ever do it, Phil Rizzuto was a keystone in the Yankees lineup for 13 seasons. During that span, he won seven world championships, which means he won the World Series more often than he didn’t … incredible. From 1943 to 1945, he left the Yankees to serve in the U.S. Navy, where he played for the Navy baseball team alongside cross-town rival Pee Wee Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rizzuto won the AL MVP award in 1950, a season after being the runner up to Ted Williams the year prior, hitting .324, amassing 200 hits and scoring 125 runs. In that same season, he broke the record for most consecutive games (58) without an error for a shortstop. In his career, he hit .273, totaled 1,588 hits, went to the All-Star game five times and finally was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994. He is honored by the Yankees in Monument Park, and they have retired his number 10.
After playing his entire career with the Yankees, he quickly become a fan-favorite broadcaster for them, enjoying a 40-year career in the booth. His most significant call:
“Here’s the windup, fastball, hit deep to right, this could be it! Way back there! Holy cow, he did it! Sixty-one for Maris! And look at the fight for that ball out there! Holy cow, what a shot! Another standing ovation for Maris, and they’re still fighting for that ball out there, climbing over each other’s backs. One of the greatest sights I’ve ever seen here at Yankee Stadium!”
9- Whitey Ford SP
“The Chairman of the Board” spent his entire 16-year career in pinstripes and is without a doubt the greatest Yankee starter in team history. Ford won 236 games (a franchise record) with a 2.75 ERA and struck out 1,956 batters in his career, which was good enough to get him inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974. He was known for remaining calm no matter the situation, and that demeaner helped the Yankees to six World Series championships during his tenure with the team. Whitey Ford won the Cy Young Award along with the World Series MVP in 1961 (the same year Maris hit 61 homeruns) and was voted to the All-Star game 10 times. Whitey Ford also served in the Army in 1951 and 1952. He is honored by the Yankees in Monument Park, and they have retired his number 16.
8- Thurman Munson C
Though his career was brief, Thurman Munson made a huge impact on the game of baseball. The “heart and soul” of the New York Yankees for 11 years, Munson was known for his exquisite fielding abilities and was named captain in 1976 before tragically dying three years later in an airplane crash in which he suffered a broken neck. He immediately was honored by the Yankees in Monument Park and they retired his number 15. He was recognized early in his career as an excellent player, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1970. Munson was an animal behind the plate winning three Gold Gloves and was as consistent as could be on offense with a career .292 batting average. He helped lead the team to two World Series championships and won the AL MVP in 1976. Thurman Munson also was voted to the All-Star game seven times in his career and to this day is one of the most popular and iconic Yankees of all time for his gritty play. His famous feud with Carlton Fisk helped fan the flames of a long-standing rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox. He managed to hit nine singles in a World Series, which to this day is still a record.
7- Yogi Berra C
Yogi Berra had a long and memorable 19-year career, 18 of which were for the New York Yankees. Known for his leadership, quotable moments and ability to hit a pitch nowhere near the strike zone, Berra permanently is inked to the forefront of Yankees history. He was an 18 time All-Star and won 10 World Series in pinstripes, more than any other team player in MLB history. With a career .285 batting average, 2,150 hits and 358 home runs, Yogi is not only the greatest Yankees catcher, but one of the greatest all-time catchers in baseball history. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972 and is one of only six players in MLB history to win the AL MVP award three times. After signing with the Yankees in 1943, Berra served his country in the U.S. Navy during WWII, earning himself a Purple Heart. His real name is Lawrence Peter Berra but earned the nickname “Yogi” from his friend Jack Maguire. He is honored by the Yankees in Monument Park, and they have retired his number 8.
Berra also immediately took over as the Yankees manager after winning the 1963 World Series as a player coach. He was fired after losing the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964, however, as the Yankees didn’t feel he was ready to take on the role of manager. He was scooped up by the Mets right after as a coach.
Perhaps what Berra is most known for are his hilarious “Yogi-isms.” My personal favorite:
“It’s déjà vu all over again.” He said this after constantly watching Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit back-to-back homeruns.
6- Mariano Rivera RP
Without a doubt the greatest closer of all time, “Mo” made it known that when you heard Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” the game was as good as over. Rivera has the most saves of all-time with 652 and a sparkling 2.21 ERA to go with it. He was a 13-time All-Star and won the World Series with the Yankees as a part of the greatest dynasty in sports history five times, winning the World Series MVP in 1999. The last player to don the number 42 before it was retired all across baseball for Jackie Robinson, Rivera is honored by the Yankees in Monument Park and his number is retired anyway by the Yankees. After an unfortunate injury, Mo was able to win the AL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2013. He was the first-ever unanimous Hall of Fame inductee in 2019. Rivera was known for his almost unhittable, bat-breaking cutter. He was as good as it gets in the playoffs and is considered a large part of the Yankees’ success in the late ’90s and 2000s.
5- Joe DiMaggio CF
“Joltin’ Joe” had numbers that were the epitome of consistency, but perhaps the most impressive number was 56. In 1941, Joe DiMaggio had a 56 -game hitting streak, a record that likely never ever will be broken. Rarely is a player even close. Numbers like a .325 batting average, 2,214 hits to go along with 361 homeruns aren’t half bad either. “The Yankee Clipper” was also very well known for his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and eventually came back to baseball in 1946. DiMaggio was a nine-time World Series champion, second most of all-time behind only Yogi Berra, and he also won the AL MVP three times, like Yogi. He was a 13-time All-Star and twice led the AL in each of the following categories: batting average, home runs and runs batted in. He is honored by the Yankees in Monument Park, and they have retired his number 5. DiMaggio was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.
4- Mickey Mantle CF
“The Mick” had mammoth power from both sides of the plate and is widely regarded as the greatest switch hitter of all time, which likely helped him on his way to hitting 536 career home runs. He wasn’t just a slugger though as he also had a lifetime .298 batting average, and while he was mostly a center fielder, played right field and first base as well throughout his playing years. Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956 when he hit .343 with 52 home runs and 130 runs batted in. His most notable home run was his 565-foot shot that left the entire ballpark at Tigers Stadium in 1960. The fabled home run was originally listed at 643 feet but was later recalculated. Despite the power prowess, Mantle was also one of the best bunters in the majors at the time and also was considered the fastest to first base, proving how complete his entire offensive game was. He also won a Gold Glove, so he was also a superior defensive player. Mickey went to 20 All-Star games, won seven World Series championships with the New York Yankees, and holds all-time World Series records with 18 home runs, 42 runs, and 40 runs batted in. He is honored by the Yankees in Monument Park, and they have retired his number 7. Mantle was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1974.
3- Lou Gehrig 1B
“The Iron Horse” was the exact embodiment of what it meant to be a Yankee. Despite his fatal diagnosis toward the end of his playing career, he felt like “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” because he got to wear the pinstripes. Known for his tenacity, Lou Gehrig set many records in his career, including most grand slams with 23 (eventually broken by Alex Rodriguez as a Yankee) and most consecutive games played with 2,130, which was perceived to be unbreakable until Cal Ripken Jr. finally broke it in 1995. Gehrig gave it his absolute all until his play was hampered by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable neuromuscular illness, which now commonly is referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” He had a .340 batting average, 2,721 hits, 493 home runs and 1,995 runs batted in. In 1932, he became the first player to hit four home runs in a single game. His across-the-board dominant offensive numbers earned him a triple crown in 1934. He led the league in home runs three times and runs batted in five times. Lou was a seven-time All-Star and a two-time AL MVP Award winner. Lou also won six World Series championships with the Yankees in a 17-year career. He was immediately inducted into the Hall of Fame after his retirement in 1939. The captain of the Yankees from 1935 to 1939 is honored in Monument Park, and they have retired his number 4.
2- Babe Ruth RF
George Herman Ruth Jr., the “Babe,” is one of the most well-known baseball players ever. Even people who have never watched a game in their life likely know a good deal about Babe Ruth. “The Bambino” is known as the most prolific power hitter of all time, despite the fact that his home run record has been broken. He originally came into the league as a pitcher with the Red Sox, but when they foolishly traded him to the Yankees for $25,000 in 1919, the Yankees switched him to right field so they can get his powerful bat in the lineup on an everyday basis. While Ruth was an excellent pitcher, this was a good decision as “The Sultan of Swat” went on to establish many MLB batting records, including career home runs (714), runs batted in (2,213), walks (2,062), slugging percentage (.690) and on-base plus slugging (1.164), the last two of which still stand today. Probably the greatest and most iconic sports hero of all time, Ruth was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1936 as one of the “first five” players ever to receive the accolade. Ruth totaled 2,873 hits, proving he wasn’t just a power hitter, as he had a .342 batting average. He won four World Series rings with the Yankees and seven in total. Babe Ruth was also the 1923 MVP and will be forever remembered as one of the first and foremost greatest baseball players. My personal favorite Babe Ruth story is the classic moment when he called his shot and crushed a home run right where he pointed the bat out into the stands. He is honored by the Yankees in Monument Park, and they have retired his number 3.
1- Derek Jeter SS
Number 2 was the best player of his era. While everyone around him gained an unfair advantage taking steroids, he was one of very few stars who is perceived to have played his entire career clean. During this era, Jeter recorded 3,465 hits, becoming the first Yankee ever to reach the 3,000-hit milestone, which went along with a .310 career batting average. Jeter knew as a child that he wanted to play shortstop for the New York Yankees as he said it to his family members constantly. Though he came up in 1995, his official rookie season was in 1996. He won Rookie of the Year and helped start a Yankees dynasty considered to be the best in all of sports. From then on, Derek Jeter received critical acclaim for being a clutch player eventually leading him to the role of captain from 2003 to 2014. After building moment upon moment, “Captain Clutch” was everyone’s favorite player, especially Yankees fans. Even fans of other teams couldn’t help but to respect him as he was known for his calm demeanor on and off the field, despite a hyper-competitive mindset. “Mr. November” was a 14-time All-Star, dominating his position despite the fact that there were many solid shortstops coming up around the same time. Jeter won five World Series championships with the Yankees, plus the 2000 World Series MVP. He was excellent both offensively and defensively winning five Silver Sluggers and five Gold Glove Awards. He’s known for his clutch post-season moments, like the jump-pass, the flip-play, the November home run against the Diamondbacks (giving him the nickname “Mr. November) and many more. The flip-play was in my opinion the epitome of his career as he may not have been the biggest or most physically gifted, but he always knew how to put his team in the best possible position to win. He is honored by the Yankees in Monument Park, and they have retired his number 2. Derek just recently was inducted into the Hall of Fame with 99.75% of the vote, the second highest percentage in MLB history behind Mariano Rivera. With his clutch and consistent play, Derek Jeter has forever etched his name into Yankee history.
Honorable Mentions: Roger Maris, Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neil, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia
Personal Favorites: Tino Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher
Up and Coming Greats: Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge