ESPN.com is currently running a poll that asks, "Who is the greatest Yankee in history after Babe Ruth?"[i]
It's not a question that would hold any interest for the late George Steinbrenner, who once quipped: "Second place is really first loser." But we baseball fans are suckers for rankings, so rankings shall commence.
Respondents to the poll are asked to choose among some of the usual suspects, presented here in alphabetical order: Berra, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Jeter, Mantle and Rivera. I think it's pretty clear, even to the most die-hard Mariana Rivera supporter (and really, who among us isn't a Mariano Rivera supporter?), that the reliever doesn't belong in this company.
Next to suffer the capricious whims of this baseball blogger is Yogi Berra, who can take solace in the fact that he's one of the three or four best to ever man his position.
As a hitter, Derek Jeter is second only to Honus Wagner among shortstops; as a defender, Jeter is second to literally every player to ever man the position (at least according to WAR, which says Jeter cost his teams more runs with his glove than any other player—at any position—in history).
Joe D., of course, is a wonderful player. So overrated he may well be underrated.
The third-greatest Yankee, at least according to this list, is Lou Gehrig, who is probably-but-not-definitely (but probably) the greatest first-baseman of all-time, certainly among the greatest handful of hitters in history.
Which leaves The Mick.
In rating Mantle the most valuable player of the 1950s, "Baseball's Most Baffling MVP Ballots" had this to say (and it's as good a description as any):
"Mickey Mantle may have been the most athletically gifted man to ever play the sport – and no one had such gifts taken from them at such a young age.
As a teenager, Mantle was the fastest player in the game and the most powerful. In 1951, Casey Stengel, describing his rookie outfielder, said, “He has more speed than any slugger I’ve ever seen, and more slug than any other speedster – and nobody has ever had more of both of ’em together. This kid ain’t logical.”[ii]
Mantle would play the first of his 65 career World Series games October 4th, 1951. He was 19 years old, and it was the last pain-free game he would enjoy in his career. The next day, in game two of the Series, Mantle caught his spikes on a drain cover in the outfield, ravaging his right knee.[iii] He was carried off the field on a stretcher, and he would never again play a major league game at anything close to full capacity. Osteomyelitis eventually finished his other leg. Dodgers outfielder Kirk Gibson is a folk hero for hitting a World Series home run on one leg; Mantle hit 18 of them (as well as 536 in the regular season)."[iv]
[i] We should note that the uncredited poll begins with this gem: "Babe Ruth is in the conversation as one of the greatest players of all time, and he is generally regarded as the greatest New York Yankees player ever." In the conversation as one of the greatest players ever? Uh, yeah. You could say that. Generally regarded as the greatest Yankees player? Well, generally speaking… maybe find someone who's heard of Babe Ruth to write the lede for a poll about Babe Ruth.
[ii] How many times in baseball history has the game’s most powerful hitter also been its fastest runner? Mickey Mantle and Bo Jackson are the only two that come to mind. Despite being a much larger man, Jackson was even faster than the Mick.
[iii] There’s more to the story, of course: Mantle had been sprinting after a long fly, only to pull up at the last possible instant to avoid colliding with Joe DiMaggio, who had camped under the ball. As he came to an abrupt stop, Mantle caught his spikes on a drain covering and collapsed in agony. That fly ball was hit by … Willie Mays.
[iv] Mantle’s Yankees played in seven World Series during the 50s, winning five of them. Mantle contributed 10 HR.