For this week’s staff roundtable we decided to go back to the rivalry well, but in a different direction. Today, I wanted us to think about the players we liked from the Yankees. In fact, that was the question in full. Simply, who was or is your favorite Yankee player of all time? The only stipulation I put on it was that you couldn’t pick a former Red Sox, which was mostly for me so I couldn’t pick Jacoby Ellsbury.
This is sort of like asking me what my favorite trip to the dentist was or to rank my favorite broken bones, but since Matt wants us to do this unholy exercise, here I go. The easy choice is Mariano Rivera who seemed like an all-around good guy and seemed to embrace the fact that the Red Sox got to him on more than one occasion. However, I’m going in a different direction. I always respected the hell out of Hideki Matsui, AKA Godzilla. Matsui came to the Yankees at age 29 after dominating the Japan Central League for ten years. The year before he made the jump to the Yankees he hit 50 home runs and enjoyed four years straight of OPS marks over 1.000. He found immediate success with the Yankees driving in over 100 RBI in each of his first four healthy seasons while batting close to .300 with strong on base and slugging percentages. He always seemed to hit good pitching and shined the postseason improving his slash line in each round of the playoffs .261/.365/.443 in the ALDS, .333/.389/.556 in ALCS, and finally .389/.463/.750 in the World Series. This stellar line propelled him to the 2009 World Series MVP award. I always wanted to see him in a Red Sox uniform, but it’s hard to deny he was meant to be a Yankee.
My favorite Yankee is Aaron Judge. This would be true even if we were allowed to choose ex-Sox (sorry Jacoby Ellsbury).
Aaron Judge is one of those forces of nature you cannot help but be excited to see play. In person he is also a monster. And if I rooted against him, he would probably eat me.
He is the one player on that team I would desperately want on the Red Sox. His power, size, and personality make him a force to be reckoned with. He has added personality to the Yankees, which is just absurd.
My favorite Yankee player ever has to be all-time great Mariano Rivera. To be a reliever and to be such a consistent player for an almost 20-year career is unheard of. He is without a doubt the best relief pitcher of all time, and his performances in the playoffs is nothing short of outrageous. He pitched over 140 innings in the postseason, to the tune of a 0.70 (!!) ERA. That is a statistic that will almost certainly never be replicated. While it was frustrating for him to be on my most-hated team, you couldn’t help but respect him. The intimidation factor of knowing he was coming in the ninth, and hearing the classic “Enter Sandman” in the background is something I’m glad I no longer have to deal with.
My favorite Yankees player ever was CC Sabathia. He spent 11 years of his 19 year career in the Bronx. During that time, he had a 3.81 ERA and 1,700 strikeouts in 1,918 innings. Whenever he pitched against the Red Sox, he always seem to be so dominant. He suffered from a bunch of injuries, especially to his knee, that slowed him in his last couple of season but CC was always a gamer and stood up for his teammates. In 2018, he finished two innings short of 155 innings, which he would have received a $500,000 performance bonus. Why did he miss the mark, you ask? He plunked Jesus Sucre after Andrew Kittredge came up and in on Austin Romine in the prior inning. After he was ejected, he was asked about the incident. He said he had no regrets in the move and he was just standing up for his teammates. He also has an amazing podcast called R2C2, where he talks to current players about the game and their life. Great stuff and great guy.
While there are actually a few Yankees that were funny- Kenny Lofton, Jason Giambi - they were known entities before putting on pinstripes. Or everyone’s favorite amphibious pitcher, but Pat Venditte didn’t make his debut until after joining the Oakland A’s.
But my guy was Scott Proctor, also known as Joe Torre’s punching bag. Torre ran him out of the bullpen (83 appearances in 2006) so often it seemed like a cruel joke. And then when Proctor went to the Dodgers to escape, who was his manager? Joe Torre. I almost felt sorry for the guy. In the mid-2000s Proctor abuse was a minor thing on the internet. Before twitter and the memes we’ve come to know. Where is the Pitching Ninja tribute to Scott Proctor I ask.
My favorite Yankee player? I am offended. To even insinuate that I have one makes me question why I even write for this site. I have no favorite Yankee player… well except for Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki, but I feel like I’m cheating by picking Ichiro since he was only there for parts of three seasons toward the back half of his career.
Back to Soriano. He did two things I like a lot. He stole a lot of bases (130 in seven years with New York) and hit a lot of doubles, including 51 in 2002. He also threw in more than a few home runs (121 while with the Yankees). His swing was a wonder as well, especially how he flicked the bat at the end of it. When he was traded to the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez deal in 2004, I could finally admit to myself, my family and my friends that he was great. 2004. What a time to be alive.
Well, it’s a pretty short list here but I’m going to go with Mariano Rivera. I recognize the game, and he was the best closer there ever was. I also found it fascinating that he was so successful with one pitch. It certainly helps that he had some big let down moments vs the Sox but he was really fun to watch. I also remember how he took it in stride on opening day 2005 when the two teams were being introduced on opening day at Fenway and Sox fans gave him a standing ovation for blowing the 2004 ALCS and tipped his cap. The fact he could have fun in the rivalry actually made him more likable to me.
When I first got into this I was pretty big into the rivalries. Like I mentioned in last week’s roundtable, the fight between Jason Varitek and A-Rod was the first moment when the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry resonated with me. But as I started learning about the game and grew into someone who was snobishly “post-rivalry”, I came to enjoy A-Rod. Sure. He’s a steroid cheat and kind of a worm but he might be the greatest baseball player ever. It doesn’t help that he was the best player in baseball when I first got into all of this in 2007. He was setting records every time I turned my TV on. I’m pretty sure he set the record for most home runs in April in 2007, became the youngest to hit 500 home runs that year, and ran away with the AL MVP. I just can’t argue with that. I must respect it.
I want to say I’m ashamed to admit it but I’m doing so right here so I guess I’m not that ashamed after all: I cheered when A-Rod homered off Ryan Dempster in 2013 after he had thrown at A-Rod. It was wrong and Ryan had it coming to him!
Perhaps the best part of the 21st century is that the Yankees have decided to stop winning World Series titles by the bucket. Every silver lining has its cloud, though: they have been (extremely relatively) unsuccessful while fielding rosters of likable players, which stinks for us, and they’ve been doing it for awhile. Aaron Judge is cool as hell! Giancarlo Stanton hits balls into the Monster seats from Yankee Stadium! Curtis Granderson was basically the platonic idea of Baseball Player! And yet among these guys, CC Sabathia stands out for being the coolest guy and easily my favorite dude, whether he was forgoing $500,000 to hit a dude with a pitch or shutting down the Sox with late-career junk. I have nothing bad to say about CC, and never will.
My favorite Yankee actually just left the Yankees, which is great because I can root for him without rooting against his team (sometimes) again. I absolutely adore Didi Gregorius. He might be my favorite player in all of baseball who has never played for the Red Sox. I love his swing, I love the way he took advantage of the short porch, I love his defense, and I just love his attitude. There is nothing better to me than a player who just seems like they are having the time of their life every time they are on the field, and that’s Gregorius in a nutshell. The Yankees didn’t deserve Didi, and thank Aceves he is gone.