ESPNNY names its 50 Greatest Yankees

Updated: March 31, 2011, 8:51 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

While Babe Ruth is the unanimous choice as the greatest New York Yankees player of all time, Mariano Rivera is considered the best pinstriped pitcher ever -- and the top Bomber of the past four decades, a panel of ESPNNewYork.com columnists, reporters, editors and radio hosts announced Wednesday.

Only one other modern-day Yankees star cracked the top 10: Derek Jeter, who came in at No. 7, two spots below Mo.

In the top five, Ruth is followed by Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Rivera. Hall of Famer Yogi Berra squeaked ahead of The Captain to finish at No. 6.

Jeter was followed by the top starting pitcher on the list, Whitey Ford, at No. 8, while the 1930s battery of Red Ruffing and Bill Dickey rounded out the top 10.

"The hardest thing for me, after the obvious choices of Ruth and Gehrig at the top, was ranking the rest of the top 10," said Wallace Matthews, the Yankees beat writer for ESPNNewYork.com. "I knew who I wanted in there: Mantle, DiMaggio, Jeter, Berra, Ford, Rivera, Dickey and finally settled on Ruffing for No. 10.

"But where to put each of them, and which of the current Yankees, Jeter or Mo, deserved to be higher … I ultimately decided to name Mo the third greatest Yankee of all time, my toughest choice and one I'm sure will cause plenty of arguments and name-calling, but that's what lists are all about."

The balloting was more excruciating than fun for most of the panelists. 1050 ESPN New York host and television voice of the Yankees, Michael Kay, described it as "difficult, agonizing almost."

Tim Kurkjian, an ESPN baseball analyst who also participated, had a similar experience. After Ruth and Gehrig, he went back and forth and still can't believe Moose Skowron, five times an All-Star as a Yankee, didn't make his top 50.

[+] EnlargeMariano Rivera
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe greatest Yankees pitcher ever? Tip your cap, Mariano Rivera.

"It was the hardest task I've ever had," Kurkjian said. "I hated it, but I loved it. I did the list five different times."

Compared to the top 10, the second 10 contains a much more modern look, with Don Mattingly coming in at No. 11, beating out Hall of Famers like Lefty Gomez, who spent 13 of his 14 years with the Yankees. Gomez finished 14th on the list, trailing No. 12 Thurman Munson and No. 13 Alex Rodriguez.

Ranking Rodriguez and Reggie Jackson became one of the hardest tasks for voters, because of their transient careers. Jackson played just five of his 21 seasons with the Yankees. But they were memorable enough for him to rank 15th on the list.

"I found it a bit difficult to place Reggie Jackson and Alex Rodriguez, as their time in New York was/has been relatively short, though dramatic," ESPN New York columnist Ian O'Connor said. "A-Rod's place is also complicated by his PED use."

Jackson was followed by a pair of left-handers: No. 16 Andy Pettitte and No. 17 Ron Guidry. Tony Lazzeri, Bernie Williams and Phil Rizzuto rounded out the top 20.

The essence of the debate was trying to find an equal playing field when judging standouts from different eras. The other difficult task was trying to determine reality from myth.

"I found it particularly challenging separating the 'legend of Reggie Jackson' from the actual player and, ultimately, putting his Yankee career in the proper historical context," said Brandon Tierney, a host on 1050 ESPN Radio. "Was Jackson truly a better Yankee than, say, Tony Lazzeri or Bernie Williams? Was he more important to the franchise than Lefty Gomez? Those three players combined for 42 seasons in Yankee pinstripes, while Reggie played just five seasons with the Yankees."

Since the debate heats up as you get higher on the list, a special emphasis was placed on admittance into the elite of the elite.

"Ranking someone among the five greatest Yankees of all time is really saying something," said ESPNNewYork.com editor Matt Marrone, who oversaw the project and certified the ballots. "So I wanted top-five votes to have true weight behind them. A first-place vote got you 100 points -- or, I should say, got Babe Ruth 100 points, as he was No. 1 on every single ballot (and rightfully so). A No. 2 nod got you 90, a No. 3 80, a No. 4 70 and a No. 5 60. I wasn't a math major, so I kept it simple after that. Fifty points for No. 6, 49 for No. 7 … and so on."

Marrone joined Matthews, O'Connor, Kurkjian, David Schoenfield and Andrew Marchand as voters from ESPNNewYork.com and ESPN.com, while Kay and Tierney were joined by their 1050 partners Don La Greca and Jody McDonald, as well as 1050 mid-morning co-hosts Ryan Ruocco and Robin Lundberg.

The voters found themselves faced with matchups pitting one player against another or were forced to omit someone they felt should have made the cut. It is no surprise that Ruth is No. 1, but Rivera being two spots above Jeter will surely strike some debate.

"I struggled most in deciding whether to rank Jeter ahead of Rivera, or vice versa," O'Connor said. "In the end, when measuring the greatest closer of all time against one of the greatest shortstops of all time, I went with the guy [Jeter] who plays in 80-90 more games per season than the other guy [Rivera]."

O'Connor was in the minority, because while Ruth is the undisputed champion as the greatest Yankee who has ever lived, Rivera is the greatest Yankee of the past four decades, according to ESPN New York's panel.

Click here to see the full list of the 50 Greatest Yankees

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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