The New York Yankees are one of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) most storied and winningest franchises. Most fans simply can’t imagine a world without the Yankees playing in New York and competing for a World Series championship on a yearly basis. There have undoubtedly been some incredible Yankees players over the years, but who are the best Yankees players of all time? Before we dive into that, it’s important to understand just how beloved the Yankees are, not only in New York but around the world. Baseball fans either love the New York Yankees or despise them, there’s no real in-between.
And speaking of passionate fanbases, a recent study suggests that fans prefer ‘homegrown’ players as opposed to star players signed in free agency. Researchers at the University of Kansas surveyed 1,500 American sports fans and found that fans prefer championship teams that are built through drafting and cultivating talent as opposed to teams that simply pay for the best free agents. Fans feel the championships feel ‘bought’ as opposed to earned and the study found that an overwhelming majority of fans prefer a championship team that’s built from the ground up.
Of course, Yankees fans will always take championships and a winning team, regardless of how the team is constructed. However, for fans, winning is about more than bragging rights over your friends, and according to another study, some fans even enjoy a self-esteem boost in the days following a big win. A study by the Ohio State University found that fans experience a boost in self-esteem after watching their favorite team win a big game. The research team surveyed 174 students from Michigan State University and the Ohio State University in an effort to gauge their self-esteem, mood, and other issues just before a big college football game between the two schools. The study occurred in the days just before and after a big football game between the two schools on November 21, 2015, in which Michigan State won on a last-second field goal. The research team found that students on the winning side experienced a self-esteem boost for up to two full days following that big win over one of their rival schools. Just goes to show that watching sports can be a healthy outlet with lasting impacts. Of course, this is also great news for anyone who’s a fan of the Yankees and needs a little pick-me-up during the baseball season.
So, who are the legends that have run the bases at Yankee Stadium? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and baseball-oriented websites in an effort to bring you the consensus best Yankees players of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed Yankees players from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best Yankees Players of All Time, According to Baseball Experts
1. Babe Ruth (Yankees Player from 1920-1934)
Topping the lists of the best Yankees players of all time is none other than Babe Ruth. The ‘Sultan of Swat,’ Babe Ruth is widely regarded as one of the best MLB players of all time as well as one of the greatest Yankees players ever. The Boston Red Sox traded, or sold, Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $100K, and ‘The Babe’ went on to have one of the best careers of any Yankees player ever.
The 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning photo "Babe Ruth Bows Out" showing Babe Ruth during his final public appearance at a ceremony at Yankee Stadium to retire his number. Photographed by Nat Fein. pic.twitter.com/Jeqru2nQ9n
— Historic Vids (@historyinmemes) May 9, 2023
“Perhaps the most universally well-known baseball player of all time, the Great Bambino was sold to the Yankees by the Boston Red Sox ahead of the 1920 season, in a move that haunted Boston for several generations. In the Bronx, Ruth crushed 659 homers over 15 seasons and was just 22 RBI short of driving in 2,000 in pinstripes. It’s a little crazy to think just how different baseball history could have played out had Red Sox owner Harry Frazee agreed to pay Ruth his desired salary increase rather than sell him to his fiercest rival, but the Yankees are obviously thrilled he did. Ruth’s number three is currently retired in monument park at Yankee Stadium,” explains Yardbarker.
“Babe Ruth only won one MVP, but that’s because there was no award in 1920 or 1921, and there was a silly rule after that stating a player could not be voted for after winning once. Otherwise, he would have gotten a ton of hardware, because he hit at least 41 home runs in 11 of his first 13 seasons with the Yankees. In his first five seasons after Boston sold his rights to New York and he abandoned his pitching career, Ruth batted .370 and averaged 47 home runs and 131 RBI. His on-base plus slugging (OPS) during that half-decade was 1.288, which is nothing short of outrageous,” writes Bleacher Report.
Babe Ruth’s career numbers are absurd, and he’s clearly the deadliest power hitter of his generation. Babe Ruth hit over 700 home runs over the course of his career, but his ability to ‘call his shot’ before hitting a big home run is legendary. In fact, as one expert explains, only three other players in the history of MLB have similar home run numbers as the great Babe Ruth.
“A [man] of many nicknames, Ruth is arguably the greatest player in baseball history. Ruth is the all-time leader in slugging percentage (.690), OPS (1.164) and OPS+ (206). He’s one of four players in MLB history to hit over 700 home runs, along with Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Albert Pujols. In 15 seasons with the Yankees, Ruth won seven World Series titles, while leading the sport in just about every offensive category multiple times. Ruth was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936,” explains Audacy.
2. Lou Gehrig (Yankees Player from 1923-1939)
One of the best first basemen of all time, Lou Gehrig played his entire career with the New York Yankees, and he’s widely regarded as one of the best Yankees as well. Aside from his name being synonymous with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Lou Gehrig is one of the most revered players in the history of baseball, and his legacy as a Yankees player is never forgotten in New York.
“Long before becoming the namesake of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Lou Gehrig was an unstoppable force of nature. He played in 2,130 consecutive games and dominated most of them. From 1927-38, the Iron Horse had 12 straight seasons of at least 27 home runs and 114 RBI. In five of those years, he topped 40 home runs. He also had seven seasons with at least 150 RBI. Gehrig won the AL MVP in 1927 and 1936. He finished in the top five in six other occasions. And if World Series MVP honors had been awarded when he was playing, he certainly would have won it in 1928 and 1932. He batted .545 with four home runs and nine RBI in the former and .529 with three dingers and eight RBI in the latter. For his career, he hit .361 in the postseason, pacing the Yankees to six championships,” writes Bleacher Report.
Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio during spring training pic.twitter.com/KhInZWJpQa
— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) May 15, 2023
Gehrig was also part of a staggering seven World Series championship teams and he brought home two MVPs, which is one more than Babe Ruth. “The greatest first baseman in MLB history, Gehrig won two AL MVPs and seven World Series titles with the Yankees, the only team he played for during an incredible 17-year career. Gehrig finished his career with a 1.080 OPS, the third best mark in MLB history. The Yankees retired Gehrig’s No. 4 in 1939, the same year he walked away from the sport as he battled ALS. Gehrig was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939,” adds Audacy.
Gehrig and Ruth played together for over a decade in New York. Although many fans think of Babe Ruth as having ‘passed the torch’ in New York, both Ruth and Gehrig helped power the Yankees of the 1920s and early ’30s to championships. Lou Gehrig was also the most reliable Yankees player ever, as evidenced by his epic streak of consecutive games played.
“Lou Gehrig was almost always in the shadow of Babe Ruth. But that’s only because Ruth was truly one-of-a-kind. Gehrig was incredible in his own right though. He scored more than 100 runs and recorded at least 100 RBIs for 13 straight years. Gehrig led the AL in runs four times, in home runs three times, in RBIs five times, in on-base percentage five times. Gehrig also racked up eight 200-plus hit seasons. But what set him apart was his then-record of 2,130 consecutive games played. That mark would stand for more than a half-century until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it,” explains Clutch Points.
3. Mickey Mantle (Yankees Player from 1951-1968)
Next up on the list of the best Yankees players of all time is the legendary Mickey Mantle. Talk to anyone who grew up watching the Yankees play in the 1950s and ’60s and they’ll probably tell you that Mickey Mantle is one of their favorite MLB players. Mickey Mantle is regarded as one of the best center fielders in MLB history, and he’s one of the most beloved Yankees players to ever put on the pinstripes. Mantle won back-to-back MVPs in the mid-1950s and solidified his place as one of the game’s most dominant players.
Mickey Mantle launches his 500th home run, May 14, 1967. pic.twitter.com/T2UTcF1jOA
— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) May 14, 2023
“You can make an argument that his 1956 Triple Crown season is the greatest season ever. He hit .353/.464/.705, played a good center field, ran the bases and hit .444 with runners in scoring position. With 52 home runs, he hit 20 more than any other AL hitter, was one of six to drive in 100 runs (he drove in 130) and one of three to score 100 (132),” explains ESPN Sweetspot.
MIckey Mantle was also a switch-hitter, meaning he could hit both left-handed and right-handed. Mickey Mantle battled knee injuries throughout most of his career, and as a result, most baseball historians feel his career suffered. It’s fun to imagine what Mantle’s career would have looked like without some of those injuries.
“Mickey Mantle’s peak wasn’t quite as long as some of the all-time greats. For eight years, though, The Mick was something else. From 1955-62, Mantle batted .315 and averaged 40 home runs and 101 RBI per year. He finished top-five in the AL MVP race seven times during that stretch, including winning in 1956, 1957 and 1962. In both 1960 and 1961, he finished fewer than five votes behind teammate Roger Maris for the honor. He also finished in the top three in 1952 and 1964, so he did have some great years outside that eight-year window. 1956 was the unforgettable season. The greatest switch-hitter in the history of the game batted .353 with 52 home runs and 130 RBI, leading the American League in all three categories,” writes Bleacher Report.
Speaking of Mantle’s 1961 season, Mickey Mantle and teammate Roger Maris engaged in arguably the greatest home run chase ever in 1961. Although Roger Maris ultimately won that race by hitting a staggering 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth’s record of 60 in a season, Mickey Mantle hit 54 homers and further cemented his place as one of the greatest Yankees players ever. The legendary home run chase even inspired Billy Crystal to create a great baseball movie.
“Mickey Mantle was one of the shiniest, brightest stars to ever live. I’m not just talking about his smile either. Despite dealing with injuries throughout his career, he made the All-Star team 16 times in 17 years. During his first MVP season of 1956, he won the Triple Crown hitting .353 with 52 homers and 130 RBI’s. He followed that season up with another MVP campaign. He led the league in runs scored five teams, home runs four times, walks five times and OPS six times. Saying he’s one of the greatest players to ever live might not even tell the whole story,” adds Clutch Points.
4. Joe DiMaggio (Yankees Player from 1936-1951)
Sliding into the fourth spot on the list of the best Yankees players of all time is the legendary Joe DiMaggio. Joe DiMaggio is a three-time MVP, owns the MLB record for most consecutive games with a hit (56), and is one of the most iconic figures in baseball history. Like many of the MLB players of his era, Joe DiMaggio lost several years in the prime of his playing career to fighting in World War II.
On this day in 1941, Joe DiMaggio collected the first hit of his iconic 56-game hitting streak.
Is this the most unbreakable record in baseball? pic.twitter.com/hF6mW1B7qE
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) May 15, 2023
“World War II took Joe DiMaggio away from baseball for three years during his prime (ages 28-30), yet he still managed to become one of the best there ever was. As a rookie, DiMaggio batted .323 with 29 home runs and 125 RBI. And he was just getting warmed up. He proceeded to belt at least 30 HR with 125 or more RBI in each of the next five seasons. He inexplicably did not win the MVP in 1937 while batting .346 with 46 home runs, but he did win the vote in 1939, 1941 and 1947. DiMaggio was an All-Star in every season that he played, and he finished top-10 in the MVP vote 10 times. Despite only playing 13 years, DiMaggio was part of nine World Series champions,” explains Bleacher Report.
Just imagine what DiMaggio’s legacy and career would look like without losing three years in the prime of his career. Still, DiMaggio’s military service is part of what makes him a Yankees legend and an American icon.
“DiMaggio was widely regarded as a professional hitter and heralded for his defensive capabilities. He was granted three MVPs as well as 13 consecutive All-Star appearances. Mantle may have possessed raw power which DiMaggio was less privileged to, however, the Yankee Clipper showcased his abilities through the knack to get on base. He collected 2,214 knocks which had the potential to undermine Mantle’s 2,415 if his military duties didn’t impede his career,” writes Sportsnaut.
His military career aside, DiMaggio is one of the greatest hitters in history. However, as most of the experts will tell you, DiMaggio’s greatest feat is his 56-game hitting streak. In 1941, DiMaggio recorded a hit in a record 56 consecutive MLB games, and it still stands as an MLB record that will likely never be broken anytime soon.
“DiMaggio made the American League All-Star team every year he played. He won league MVP three times and was one of the most feared hitters who ever lived. But what truly separates DiMaggio from so many others was his record hitting streak. DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak still stands and is considered one of the most unbreakable records in the history of sports,” explains Clutch Points.
5. Derek Jeter (Yankees Player from 1995-2014)
Rounding out the list of the best Yankees players of all time is legendary shortstop, Derek Jeter. During his amazing 19-year career with the Yankees, Derek Jeter won a whopping five World Series titles including a staggering four in five years.
“In the 1990’s, the World Series began bleeding into November. There was no player from that era that dominated the postseason like Derek Jeter. He had an incredible knack for being in the right place at the right time. He was also incredibly clutch. The Captain won four World Series titles in five years and another a decade later. Jeter also led arguably the best team ever, the 1998 Yankees squad to a championship,” explains Clutch Points.
There’s no doubt that Derek Jeter was the face of the Yankees franchise during the late ’90s and early 2000s, but Jeter was more than that. His impact on the game of baseball is unmatched, and Jeter deserves his place as one of New York’s most beloved and iconic athletes of all time.
“For 20 years, Derek Jeter was Yankees baseball. Great players came and went, but No. 2 was a staple in the top third of the lineup, flashing his leather at shortstop on a daily basis. Beginning with his 1996 AL Rookie of the Year campaign, Jeter played in at least 148 games and registered at least 179 hits, 10 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 14 of 15 seasons. Were it not for a dislocated shoulder that sidelined him for six weeks at the start of the 2003 season, he easily would have hit those marks in all 15 years. In other words, he was consistently well above the league average for a decade-and-a-half. As a result, he finished his career in sixth place on the all-time hits list,” adds Bleacher Report.
Despite his stellar play and five championships, it’s hard to believe that Derek Jeter never won an MVP. Regardless of the individual accolades, Jeter finished his Yankees career with over 1,300 RBIs and 260 home runs. Jeter also played his entire 20-year career with the Yankees, and in the era of giant free-agent contracts, that’s saying something. The Yankees wasted little time honoring ‘The Captain’ as an all-time Yankees legend when the team retired Jeter’s number two jersey in 2017.
“One of the greatest shortstops in MLB history, Jeter racked up a staggering 3,465 hits during a 20-year career spent entirely with the Yankees. His fielding woes are well documented, but he hit .310 with a .377 on-base percentage over the course of a career that lasted two decades. He posted an .838 OPS in 158 career postseason games, helping lead the Yankees to five World Series titles. The Yankees retired Jeter’s No. 2 in 2017, and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020,” adds Audacy.
You might also be interested in:
- Bleacher Report
- ESPN Sweetspot
- Wolfgang Sport
- Clutch Points
- Rookie Road
- The Grueling Truth
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