Babe, the Iron Horse, the Mick, Yogi, Jeter, Mo....An elite list of candidates
Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history with their "Franchise Four." We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
New York Yankees Mt. Rushmore
This is the team that started the entire Mt. Rushmore discussion. Now that I’ve waded through the likes of Brandon Webb, Aaron Cook, Jeff Conine and Randy Jones as faces on teams’ Mt. Rushmores, it’s time to attempt to cull the illustrious history of the New York Yankees down to four men. Four. From Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter. Perhaps we should allow an organization with 27 World Series titles eight faces on its Mt. Rushmore — or at least six. But we’re sticking to the rule of only four faces on Mt. Rushmore, even with the Yankees. And for a team that boasts 17 retired numbers (with Jeter’s No. 2 to follow), there are numerous candidates. But we’ll have to identify the four guys who have risen above all others. I’m sure the arguments will be aplenty. Here goes:
The Sultan of Swat was larger than life. He transformed his career from one of the game’s best pitchers to, perhaps, the game’s greatest hitter of all-time, not just his era. The Babe was a household name for generations nationwide. Ruth ushered in the Live Ball Era making the home run something to behold. As a pitcher, Ruth won an ERA title and led the AL in shutouts with nine in 1916. That season he became one of five pitchers to toss more than 320 innings without giving up a long ball. He was 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA in three World Series starts. But for, oh about 714 reasons, Babe gave up pitching for right field. He then proceeded to win 12 home run titles, a batting title and six RBI crowns on his way to establishing the standard for home runs hit during a season and career. From 1918-29 Ruth hit more than 10 percent of the home runs in the American League. He outhomered half (or more) of the teams in the league during eight of those 12 seasons, outswatting all seven rivals in both 1920 and 1927.
Ruth’s partner in offensive assaults was the Iron Horse. Gehrig spent most of his career batting cleanup behind Ruth and set the all-time mark with 23 grand slams (since surpassed by Alex Rodriguez). But much like Ruth, Gehrig was much bigger than stats, or the game itself. After Wally Pipp’s famous injury in June of 1925, Gehrig quickly became the Iron Horse, establishing a mark once thought to be unbreakable of 2,130 consecutive games. Without a doubt, Gehrig’s proclamation upon his retirement precipitated by ALS — now known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease — that he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” rings loudly still in the hearts of baseball fans. As it turns out, the two MVPs, the Triple Crown, the 2,721 hits, 493 home runs and 1,995 RBIs were just icing on the cake.
Few players can ever replace a legend. But in 1952, a 20-year-old from Oklahoma was handed the keys to center field in Yankee Stadium, patrolled by Joe DiMaggio just the year before. Mantle never disappointed. On his way to 536 home runs, three MVPs and three runner-up finishes, the Commerce Comet was third in MVP voting in ’52, finishing behind two pitchers. Mantle hit 18 home runs in World Series play covering 65 games and 12 Series. From the 1950s until his death in 1995, Mantle was the most beloved Yankee.
Okay. Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Well, maybe more than a little. Why not DiMaggio, Jeter, or even Yogi? As beloved as those three icons are, none dominated his position like Rivera. The premier closer of all-time conquered enemy hitters for 19 seasons. Pitching in an offensive era, Rivera’s WHIP is an even 1.000 and his ERA is 2.21. He owns the all-time record with 652 saves and converted saves at an 89 percent rate. In the postseason, Rivera was even better. In 141 innings, Rivera has 42 saves, a 0.70 ERA and 0.759 WHIP.
The fact that he played in New York, had a 56-game hitting steak and was married to Marilyn Monroe for almost a year — not to mention a little shout-out from Simon and Garfunkel — has put Joe DiMaggio on a higher pedestal than he deserves. And he deserves a pretty high pedestal.
The only player to get 3,000 hits in pinstripes is Derek Jeter, the most celebrated shortstop in team history. The Captain was the heart and soul of the most recent dynasty of the late 1990s. DiMaggio and jeter would certainly be on any other team's mountain, and it's painful to omit them here.
Few fans talk about Yogi Berra anymore, probably because he’s so talked about.
George Steinbrenner bought a struggling franchise in 1973 and turned it into the Evil Empire — and made no apologies for his efforts or success.