Who’s Been the Most Important Yankee of this Era?

It’s scary to think about, but the end of an era is upon us. The Yankees are transitioning from one era to another. More so than ever it is obviously that the end is near.

As far as I’m concerned we are still in the era that has lasted since 1994 in my opinion. While no one remains from any further back than that, it is time to start reflecting upon what the era meant and who meant what to it.

Sadly Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera are the last strings that hold this together. It’s unlikely that’ll they all retire at the same time, and that means we’ll eventually be left with one. Until that day comes that they are all gone, than I am still considering us barely in the past era.

Today I’d like to look at who has been important to this Yankee era, and explain who exactly is most important to it.

Other Honorable Mentions: David Wells, Orlando Hernandez, Hideki Matsui

Honorable Mention: Robinson Cano 

Sweetest Swing in Baseball

You may ask why I have Robinson Cano here, the answer is simple, he is the future. If there is one Yankee who can and will define the next generation it is him. Cano did his part to put a stamp on the team the last few years, including a World Championship, but for the Yankees to continue success in the next decade he must be the leader. Cano has the potential to do amazing things in his career, and while he is not still “young”, he is getting towards the prime of his career now. If Cano can play like he has over the next 8-10 years for the Yankees, than he is bound to have a tremendous career, perhaps a Hall of Fame one. When he first came up I said he’d win a batting title one day and I still believe that. Meanwhile he can hit 30-35 HR’s and get you over 100 RBI’s.

Honorable Mention: Joe Girardi

Girardi is the one person who will make the most impact on each of the two generations of Yankee players. Joe did his part to help the Yankees to World Championships as a player and now a coach. While he only played four seasons for the Yanks, he was an huge part of developing young players on the team like Pettitte, Jeter and most of all Posada. Now, he is charged with even more responsibility. While I often wonder what he is doing some games, he does know how to win. Girardi is in a tough position now because the Yankees are not in the best shape. They have old players with big contracts (none worse than ARod, who will be haunting the Yanks until 2018 or so), and a pitching staff that is like patchwork. The good news is, if Girardi can somehow make it through this season, and perhaps next, the Yanks have some young players poised to make a big impact. Guys like Manny Banuelos, Delin Betances, and Jesus Montero could all be starters next year, and eventually good to great players. For now Joe must try to make this patch work rotation and team blend and make the playoffs again.

10. Mike Mussina

Probably one the most under-appreciated players of the era, Mussina’s legacy falls due to the fact he fit squarely between Championships. Maybe he was cursed, or maybe the Yanks just weren’t that good in the meantime. Either way Mike was a true player of the game, and a great guy who helped the Yanks win so many games. The best part of his tale was how it ended. Mike had a borderline Hall of Fame career, but had never won 20 games (winning 19 many times). That was until his final year when he pitched awesome and eventually won his 20th game of the season, in the final start of his career. At the time I was happy to see Mike go out on top, and the only thing that would have made it better, was getting him a ring.

9. David Cone

Don’t you forget about Coney. This guy was a gamer, and while he didn’t play for the Yanks long, he made a huge impact. Putting together a string of 4 great seasons, he helped the Yanks win championships above anything else. We all will probably remember his legacy most for some big performances in the playoffs, as well as his perfect game. At age 37, the guy put it together and had some of the nastiest stuff I’d ever seen. Like Mike Mussina he was a pitcher, not some guy who threw the ball hard at the strike zone. He strategized and threw anything and everything he could come up with. I love pitchers like that and that’s one of the reasons why he is so beloved by Yankee fans.

8. Scott Brosius

Maybe I’ll get some flack for this one, but Scotty Brosius was an impact guy just like Cone. In a short time Brosius helped the Yankees to the World Series in each of his four seasons, winning three of them. He was clutch and a terrific fielder. While his career stats are anything but spectacular, he was the kind of player you did to win. He was a gel guy and an awesome teammate. Without him on the team from 98-01, the Yanks would probably not achieved nearly what they did because of his presence.

7. Tino Martinez

Like Brosius, Martinez was a guy no one knew well and came in without the love he would garner. Today Tino has become one of the most beloved Yankees of the era, and its not only because of his tremendous achievements on the field, but because he was a great guy. The most important part about him might have been his glove, which saved many errant throws and stabbed most balls in his vicinity. The biggest crime is his lack of a gold glove, which was never more evident when Rafael “Juiced-Up” Palmeiro beat him out when only playing about 30 games at first all year. Tino was great and had two epic home runs in the World Series, in 98 and 01. Any we must not forget the oviation he got when he returned with the Cardinals and eventually returned to the Yanks in a platoon role.

6. Paul O’Neill

Boy it feels weird putting Pauly this low on the list, but lets be honest its hard to argue against any of these remaining guys. Paul O’Neill, the Warrior. Paul played the game with a passion no one else did. He cared about every little thing he did and the team did. No one will forget his fights with the Gatorade Coolers, but that was a fond memory that reminded us of how much he cared. Tino Martinez said in a recent Yankeeography that Paul was never happy as a player. If he went 0-4 he thought he’d never get a hit again, and if he went 4-4 he’d still think it because who does it again. Today Paul is a part time announcer on the YES Network and my favorite. He tells awesome stories, eats great food in the booth, and of course makes fun of Michael Kay all the time. Lets not forget his shinning moments as a player though, and of course the 9th inning of game 5 in the 2001 World Series, when the Yankee fans chanted his name the entire inning in one of the most emotional and loving displays of fandom I’ve ever seen.

5. Jorge Posada

Its hard for me to drop Jorge this low as well considering he is longer tenured than the next two players. While Jorge struggles now late in his career, there were so many moment when he shinned. He played under the radar as a solid catcher most of his career, but most importantly as one of the best hitting catchers of his time. We’ve counted on Jorge to give the Yanks 25-30 HR’s, and around 100 RBI’s more most of his career and he’s delivered time and time again. While not hitting for a high average most of his career, he found a way to get on base just as much as anyone via the walk. If there is one moment that sticks out to me in his career, its probably his hit in the 8th inning of the 2003 ALCS Game 7 off Pedro. It was probably one of the few moments in my life where I was in the state of shock, and it was because of Jorge. I’ll never forget the emotion of him pumping his fists on second base. With his retirement growing near, we should appreciate everything he has done, and the Yankee fans showed that just a few days ago when he received a standing ovation when he pinch hit and walked after the conflict last weekend.

4. Bernie Williams

I’ve raved about great personalities in players on this list already but there are a few that compete with Bernie Williams. He was everything that is right with the game and gave the Yankees an unbelievable career. While not a Hall of Famer, Bernie was everything you could ask for up to that. He played a great Centerfield, winning four gold gloves, and swung the bat like a champ. He was never a huge power hitter, but routinely would put up 20-30 homers. His best characteristic was his ability to hit for a high average, winning a batting title along the way. Bernie was a Yankee through and through and played for them his entire career before ending it slightly slighted. I didn’t approve of the way the Yanks handled him at the end of his career, he still got what I wanted most, a heroes goodbye. After not returning to Yankee Stadium for a couple of years, Bernie came back for the closing of the Park in 2008 and was part of a moment I’ll never forget.

3 (Tied). Andy Pettitte

If you could sum up Andy Pettitte’s career in one word, it’d be clutch. Pettitte is not a Hall of Famer as well, but for every day start he had and for every mediocre season he had, he made up for it in the postseason. Andy pitched into and out of trouble more than any other pitcher I’ve ever seen. Like David Cone and Mike Mussina, Pettitte relied on deception and accuracy to win games. He battled night in and night out. There are so many games where he came up huge when the Yankees needed him the most. For years he threw game two of every series in the playoffs, and after a game one loss, he’d always come back and win game two. Best of all was his late career performance in the 2009 playoffs when he won the deciding game of every postseason series, the ALDS, ALCS, and then the World Series. Andy left New York for a few years in the middle but was always a Yankee. He returned to New York over the last few years and gave the Yankees everything they could ask for again. Like Mussina, Pettitte went out with a great last season of his career, but we’re still waiting for his triumphant return so he can be honored like so many in the past have.

3. (Tied) Joe Torre

I almost forgot, I’m sure you almost forgot, but lets be honest Joe deserves to be right here. A man of great class and leadership, Torre came to New York with most people doubting him. It only took one season for everyone to love Torre, but his legacy lives on. More so than any other person, I want and need Joe Torre back in Yankee Stadium to be honored. One day, hopefully in the near future it will happen. While Joe kind of came back and made amends last September to honor George Steinbrenner, it wasn’t about him and he didn’t really get a moment to shine. Reports are he will return for Old Timer’s Day this year, and that should be awesome. What really needs to happen though, is him getting his number retired out in Centerfield.

2. Derek Jeter

Oh boy, did I really put Derek Jeter 2nd? Yes folks, its true he is second, but that doesn’t mean he was overrated like so many idiots like to say. Like Pettitte, Jeter’s career has been defined by coming through in the clutch. Even better has been his ability to hit for so many years. His career average is 3teens and has had so many big years. His ability to field has always been a widely debated topic, but I don’t understand why. He’s always been great in the field, making few errors and earning gold gloves along the way. He might have less range than before, but I’d still rather have him at short than so many other guys who boot routine groundballs, or throw it over the first baseman’s head. Derek Jeter is not done yet and he will have his Indian Summer before its all set and done. Best of all he is head to received the regard he deserves in the retirement of his number as well as, a place in the Hall of Fame. Soon he will get to 3000 hits and it should be a really exciting moment.

1. Mariano Rivera

Maybe the whole point of this article was to tell you why Mariano Rivera is the most important player of the era. The fact is, he is, and that’s not even debatable in my mind. Mariano Rivera is a once in a generation, maybe lifetime, kind of player. He gets no where near enough credit and deserves so much more than anyone else Obviously he is the greatest closer of all time, but he’s also the best pitcher of this era of baseball, and deserves to in same class as the all time greats.

People who don’t get to watch Rivera on a day to day basis usually don’t appreciate how good he is. He is the most accurate pitcher I’ve ever seen. He throws the ball to the catchers glove over and over and over again. Next, he is the only guy who throws one pitch. Yes, one pitch. The Mariano Rivera Cutter is so good, that after seeing it for the last 16 years, no one has yet to figure out how to hit it. If you took the best pitch of any other pitcher in baseball and told him to throw it every time, he’d get shelled. Yet, Mariano doesn’t. Soon he will become the all-time saves leader, and has had so many years with sub 2.00 ERA’s, its hard to remember. While he certainly isn’t the pitcher he was ten years ago, and only throw the ball in the low 90’s now, he still gets guys out, and of course has a sub 2.00 ERA this year.

Perhaps his best trait is his ability to pitch when it counts the most. In the postseason, in 140 innings (equivalent to 2 seasons) he has a 0.71 ERA. That’s just absurd. Sure he’s blown a few saves in his career, but if you watch the majority of them they are not because he gave up these huge hits, but because the player hit the ball so badly it fell in as a blop over the infielders heads, with of course a broken bat. I guarantee you all of the hits he’s given up in his career, 902 to be exact, much more than half of them were incredibly cheap hits like a bloop or a broken bat infield hit. Its just craziness.

Most of all, the Yankees could never ever ever have done what they have without him, and he will be missed above all other guys. There will never be a closer as good as Rivera again, and maybe there has never been a pitcher as good as him, ever.

RETIRED NUMBERS???

Finally I’d like to address one more debatable topic. Who should have there number retired?

Duh?- Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Joe Torre

Maybe?- Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte

This is where it gets tough, I’d definitely put the three on top in, but the next group gets complicated. Its hard to put one in and not another. Also where do you draw the line for retired numbers. The Yanks have a lot, but also they have had a lot of great players over the years. What do you think?

All I know is it won’t be long before no Yankee wears a single digit number ever again!

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