The best stat to determine a player’s worth is WAR–wins above replacement–an analytical metric that was not available until relatively recently. The formula for WAR differs for position players and pitchers, and I’ll lay it out in layman’s terms. WAR uses every aspect of the game– batting, baserunning, and fielding, factors in position and ballpark and determines how many wins better than a league average player an individual player might be. Using WAR to help us rank them, let’s look at the top 24 players in the history of the New York Yankees.
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The tale of Babe Ruth has been well documented. 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.
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Lou Gehrig was Ruth’s teammate for most of his tenure in the pinstripes, and together they won four World Series championships in New York. Known as the Iron Horse, Gehrig was a staple at first base in the Bronx for most of two decades, and in 17 seasons, he finished with a lifetime .340 batting average to go along with 493 homers and 1995 RBI. Gehrig was unfortunately forced to retire early at the age of 36 because of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a rare neuromuscular disease that today is known as ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease.’ The disease tragically took his life two years later. Gehrig was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in a special election in December of 1939, as the sport’s leaders knew he did not have much time and wanted to make sure he could see himself inducted.
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Few baseball players finished their career with a more accomplished resume than longtime Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle. Mantle won the American League MVP award three times, made the all-star team TWENTY times, won the Triple Crown in 1956, earned seven World Series rings, and won a Gold Glove. He led the AL in homers on four separate occasions and led the league in runs scored five times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974, and his number seven was deservedly retired by New York.
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Joe DiMaggio 1936-1942, 1946-1951 (79.2 WAR)
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While Mantle’s resume speaks for itself, the guy that he replaced in center field in New York was not an easy act to follow. Joe DiMaggio helped the Yankees win nine World Series championships and was a three-time MVP and 13-time all-star. He was a two-time batting champ, led the league in RBI twice, and finished his career with 361 homers and 1537 RBI despite missing three full seasons while he was serving in the military.
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While the Yankees have a richer history than every other Major League team, very few fans today were able to see guys like Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle play, so for Yankees fans of a particular generation–or two–Derek Jeter was their guy. New York selected him 6th overall in the ’92 draft and they could never have dreamed he’d go on to have the career he did. In over 2700 games as a Yankee Jeter slashed .310/.377/.440 while being an absolute rock for them at shortstop for twenty years. He won AL Rookie of the Year in ’96, was selected to 14 all-star teams, won five Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers, and most importantly, helped bring five World Series rings to the Bronx.
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Yogi Berra spent the majority of his career behind the plate, which makes some of the offensive numbers he was able to put up for the Yankees even more impressive. In 18 seasons in the Bronx, Berra slashed .285/.348/.483 with 358 home runs and 1430 RBI. He was the MVP of the American League on three separate occasions, made the all-star team 13 times, and his ten World Series rings are more than any player in history. Berra later managed the Yankees in 1964 and then again in ’84 and ’85.
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Like Joe DiMaggio, left-hander Whitey Ford is another all-time Yankees’ great whose career was interrupted by a brief stint in the military. Missing two seasons did not prevent Ford from picking up right where he left off, however, as he quickly established himself as one of the best pitchers in the American League. Ford led the league in wins three times, ERA twice, complete games once, and innings twice. He won the AL Cy Young award in 1961, made the all-star team 10 times, and helped the Yankees win six World Series titles. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.
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Red Ruffing 1930-1942, 1945-1946 (56.9 WAR)
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Red Ruffing is perhaps lesser known now than some of the other pitchers of his time, but there was a time when he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. The right-hander began his career in Boston before shifting to the Bronx in 1930, and he went on to become one of the driving forces behind six World Series-winning Yankees teams. Ruffing never won a Cy Young award, but he made six all-star teams and accumulated 273 wins in the Major Leagues. Had he not missed two full seasons while in the military, he very likely would have threatened the magical number of 300.
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Bill Dickey 1928-1943, 1946 (56.4 WAR)
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Catcher Bill Dickey spent his entire career with the Yankees and was quietly one of the best players in the team’s history. In fact, the guy’s nickname was ‘The Man Nobody Knows.’ While he didn’t garner much national attention, Dickey was steady and dependable behind the plate in the Bronx and helped New York to eight World Series titles. He was an 11-time all-star whose number eight –even after Yogi Berra had gotten to wear it too–was retired by the organization.
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There are no two ways about it. Mariano Rivera is simply the best closer in baseball history. The righty came up as a starter in ’95 but was quickly shifted to the bullpen, where he soon blossomed into a dominant late-inning force. Rivera led the Majors in saves three times and finished his career as the all-time saves leader with 652. He was elected to the all-star team 13 times, won five World Series rings, was a World Series MVP, an ALCS MVP, and was the Rolaids Reliever of the Year on five separate occasions. Rivera unprecedently received 100% of the vote and was elected into the Hall of Fame on his first year on the ballot in 2019.
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Willie Randolph is one of the most respected baseball lifers, first as a player in the big leagues for 18 years and later as a manager and coach. The majority of the second baseman’s playing career came in the Bronx, where he suited up for the Yankees for parts of 13 seasons. Randolph was a part of New York’s 1977 World Champion team and finished his Yankees’ tenure with an impressive. 275/.374/.357 slash line to go along with 54 home runs. He made five all-star teams in the Bronx and earned one Silver Slugger, and when he was career was over, he was a coach on Joe Torre’s Yankees’ staff for 11 years.
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Alex Rodriguez 2004-2013, 2015-2016 (54.0 WAR)
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There may not be a more polarizing player in baseball history than A-Rod, who burst onto the scene as an immediate star in Seattle, was the best player in the game for a long time, had his reputation tarnished by a steroid suspension, but somehow rallied to be a dynamic player again afterward. Rodriguez was the league’s golden child while he was a Mariner and later a Ranger, but drama found him from the instant he arrived in New York. For starters, the presence of Jeter forced him to shift to third base, though he quickly adapted to the new position. In parts of 12 seasons in the Bronx, Rodriguez hit .283 with 351 of the 696 homers he finished his career with. He was an all-star for the Yankees seven times, and was a huge piece of their 2009 championship team. A-Rod was the American League MVP three different times, two of which came in pinstripes. His Hall of Fame candidacy is complicated because of his 2014 suspension, but there is no debating that at his peak Alex Rodriguez was one of the best players this sport has ever seen.
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Andy Pettitte 1995-2003, 2007-2010, 2012-2013 (51.1 WAR)
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Along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada, left-hander Andy Pettitte spent most of his career as the 4th member of New York’s famed “Core Four” that helped lead their dynasty in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Save for a short three-year stint in Houston, Pettitte spent his entire career in pinstripes and is quite obviously one of the most decorated hurlers in this franchise’s history. In 447 games as a Yankee, Pettitte earned 219 victories with a 3.94 ERA. Only Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing won more games and pitched more innings for New York, and no Yankees’ pitcher struck out more than the 2020 punchouts Pettitte racked up. He was a three-time all-star and five-time World Series champion, and the southpaw will always be beloved by this team’s fanbase.
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Center Fielder Bernie Williams played for the Bombers alongside the earlier mentioned Core Four. While he wasn’t quite included in that moniker, fans later started a ‘Fab Five’ movement to give him some deserved recognition. The Puerto Rico native was a tremendously productive switch-hitter for the Yankees for 16 years, finishing his career with a .297/.381/.477 slash line to go along with 287 homers and 1257 RBI. He accumulated 449 doubles, 55 triples, 147 steals, and 2336 hits. Williams was an all-star five times, a World Series winner four times, won a Silver Slugger, a batting title, and four Gold Glove awards.
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Ron Guidry 1975-1988 (47.8 WAR)
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Eccentric lefty Ron Guidry–known as Louisiana Lightning–is yet another player on this list who spent his entire career with the Yankees and racked up a plethora of awards and accolades in the process. Guidry earned trips to four all-star games during his career and helped the Yankees win two championships, and for a while, in the late 1970’s he was likely the best pitcher in baseball. The southpaw was never better than he was in ’78 when he went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA en route to winning the American League Cy Young award. The following season he won his second consecutive ERA title, but a number that really jumps off the page looking at his career numbers is the 21 complete games he hurled in 1983. That is simply incomprehensible in today’s game.
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Roy White 1965-1979 (46.8 WAR)
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Outfielder Roy White was never really a star in the big leagues per se, but what he was was a steady and reliable everyday player on some very good Yankees teams for 15 years. The switch-hitter played in all 162 games on two different occasions, and his ability to take the field day in and day out helped him lead the league in plate appearances twice and at-bats once. White retired with a .271 lifetime batting average and 160 big league home runs. He was an all-star twice and earned himself World Series rings in ’77 and ’78.
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Tony Lazzeri 1926-1937 (46.4 WAR)
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Infielder Tony Lazzeri debuted for the Yankees nearly 100 years ago. While some of his offensive numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, you have to remember the era he played in. Lazzeri never hit more than 18 homers in a season but the name of the game is scoring runs, and on seven different occasions, he drove in over 100. Lazzeri made the all-star team only once, but was a member of five different World Series championship teams. The veteran’s committee voted him into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
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Thurman Munson 1969-1979 (46.1 WAR)
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Catcher Thurman Munson played only 10 full seasons in the big leagues, but he sure left an impact on the game. New York’s mustached backstop hit .292 in just over 5900 Major League at-bats, with 113 homers and 701 RBI. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1970, was elected to seven all-star teams, earned three Gold Glove awards, and was the 1976 AL MVP–the same year he was named captain of the Bronx Bombers. Munson was a member of two World Series championship teams. He tragically lost his life at the far too young age of 32 in a small plane crash.
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Earle Combs 1924-1935 (44.7 WAR)
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Earle Combs patrolled center field at Yankee Stadium long before anyone reading this was born, but the speedy Kentucky native was a key component of three Yankees’ World Series winners. Combs lifetime .325/.397/.462 slash line really jumps off the page, and he led the league in triples three times. He was never much of a home run threat, as he tallied only 58 long balls across 12 seasons, but at the time, power was also not as big a part of the game as it is today. The veteran’s committee selected him for the Hall of Fame in 1970.
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When second baseman Robinson Cano was in his prime with the Yankees, there likely was no better pure hitter in the sport. In nine seasons in the Bronx, the sweet-swinging left-handed hitter slashed .309/.355/.504 with 204 homers and 822 RBI. He represented New York in five all-star games, won five Silver Sluggers in pinstripes, and was the 2011 home run derby champion. Cano helped lead the Bombers to their most recent World Series title back in ’09 and twice won Gold Glove awards in the Bronx. His legacy was severely tainted by a pair of PED suspensions that came while he was a member of other teams, but fans should not forget just how dynamic an offensive force Robinson Cano was early in his career.
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Graig Nettles 1973-1983 (44.4 WAR)
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Third baseman Graig Nettles played for six different big league teams, but the majority of his career was spent in New York, where he starred for the Yankees for 11 seasons. In the Bronx, Nettles crushed 250 homers, racked up 202 doubles and 20 triples, and drove in 834 runs. He earned two Gold Glove awards and helped the Yankees win two World Series titles and reach two others, and was even the ALCS MVP in 1981.
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While some players on this list starred for the Yankees nearly a century ago, that is certainly not the case with longtime outfielder Brett Gardner who was an active player in the Bronx as recently as last season. Gardner was never a star in the Bronx, but he was a scrappy, gritty player who was a fan favorite for a long time. He finished his career with a .256/342./398 slash line and 139 home runs. He accumulated 251 doubles, 73 triples, and 274 stolen bases–49 of which came in 2011 when he led the league. Gardner was a member of the Yankees 2009 championship team and was an all-star in 2015. He earned his only Gold Glove award the following season in ’16.
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Bob Shawkey 1915-1927 (43.6 WAR)
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Bob Shawkey began his career with the Philadelphia Athletics before coming to the Yankees in 1915, where he blossomed into one of the more reliable right-handed starters in the game. In 415 games with New York Shawkey earned 168 victories and pitched to a 3.12 ERA while winning the ERA title in 1920 and helping the Bombers claim three World Series victories.
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Mel Stottlemyre 1964-1974 (43.1 WAR)
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During the Yankees’ most recent dynasty Mel Stottlemyre was the most well-known pitching coach in baseball as he helped guide the Yankees to four World Series championships in five seasons as manager Joe Torre’s right-hand man. But long before that, the righty was quite the pitcher for New York in his own right. In 360 big league games for the Yankees, Stottlemyre pitched to a 2.97 ERA in 2661.1 innings while earning 164 victories and earning a trip to five all-star games. He led the league in complete games in both 1965 and 1969. Though his tenure in pinstripes ended somewhat bitterly when he resigned as the team’s pitching coach in 2005 following a disagreement with owner George Steinbrenner, this is someone who will always be royalty in the Bronx.