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Okay, so it's true, the fairy dust has been sprinkled, the hot place below has been covered in frost, swine are airborne ... the Boston Red Sox are the defending World Series champions.

Gosh, that's still hard to believe, even going on five months later, as I write the phrase. But you know something the Red Sox aren't? They aren't the defending American League East champions.

In fact, they're back to see if they can finish in second place in their own division for an eighth consecutive year. If you throw in the fourth and third-place finishes that preceded the string of seconds, you have to go back a full decade -- since the 1995 Sox won the AL East under Kevin Kennedy, of all people -- since the Bostons grabbed a division crown.

Nobody in Boston cares about this fact, of course. The Red Sox have their rings, so who cares if they haven't won a division since the first Clinton Administration? Or that their arch-rival Yankees have actually won the last seven AL East crowns, and nine of the last 11, dating back to the ugliness of 1994, a streak interrupted only by -- do you even remember this? -- the 1997 Orioles and Kennedy's '95 Sox.

And here's where the Boston and New York fans actually agree on something in principle -- where a team finishes in the division doesn't really matter any more, thanks to the advent of the Wild Card; all that matters is winning the ultimate title.

In Boston, nobody cares that the Red Sox haven't won a division in 10 years because they just won their first World Series since Ned Williamson was the all-time single-season home run leader (with 27); in New York, nobody gives a bronx cheer that the Yanks have won "n" consecutive division titles, because it has been an interminable four years watching the Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins and freaking Red Sox win championships.

That's the way it is in New York; when you preview a Yankees team before any given season, you don't just measure them against their division rivals, or even against the other big-budget, high-payroll teams; you measure them against the Ruth and Gehrig 1927 squad, against the Joes' (McCarthy and DiMaggio) 1939 team, against Casey's teams in the '50s that won 10 pennants and seven titles in a 12-year span; you measure them against the Mantle/Maris '61 team, against the Billy and Reggie and Thurman teams of the 1970s and early 1980s, and even against the more recent Torre teams that produced 114 wins in 1998 amidst a stretch of three straight titles and four in five years.

Yes, in Boston, winning is a miracle. In New York, it's an expectation, a birthright, a reflection of 26 championships, more than any other two teams in the sport's history combined.

So let's break down the 2005 Yankees, position-by-position, comparing them not only to their divisional rivals (just as we did in the 2004 NYY Preview -- which, incidentally, projected NYY to win 101 games, which is precisely what they did) and, with an assist from and a big shout-out to the fabulous index in Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups, also comparing each position to where the franchise currently stands in relation to its historical precedents and benchmarks.

Note: Players are ranked based on their performance with the Yankees, not overall career.

In one of his first "Hall Watch" features, Mike Green projected that Jorge Posada would, indeed, make the Hall of Fame, but he didn't sound extremely enthusiastic about it. And while it's true that his BBRef Comparables list calls up a few Hall of Famers (Campanella, Hartnett, Fisk), the top of the list is littered with guys (Charles Johnson, Mike Lieberthal, Chris Hoiles) who are only going to make it to Cooperstown by driving through upstate New York.

Why does this matter? Because the Yankees always have tended to have great catchers. Excepting the Butch Wynegar/Don Slaught/Matt Nokes "era," the tradition of great catchers dates back to before the team was even the Yankees, as Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan caught for the pre-Highlander 1901 Baltimore Orioles. Then after the more-than-adequate likes of Muddy Ruel and Wally Schang caught for a bit, the roll call started. Bill Dickey. Yogi Berra. Elston Howard. Thurman Munson. And now Posada, of whom it can be said, is at least one of the top five Yankee catchers of all time.

Right now, Posada is probably the best backstop in the American League not nicknamed "Pudge." Go ahead, Red Sox fans, howl in protest about the greatness of Jason Varitek, but JV's slight edge defensively doesn't make up for Posada's clear edge in offensive ability (Varitek OPS+: 121 in 2004, 104 career; Posada: 133/123). And yes, there's Javy Lopez, but Green covered the Posada/Lopez comparison pretty well, and his conclusion -- tepid though it was -- had Posada in the Hall and Lopez on the outside looking in.

So how does Posada stack up?
Catchers in NYY History: (1) Berra (2) Dickey (3) Posada (4) Munson (5) Howard. Notes: It would be easy to flip Berra and Dickey -- in fact, I have done so three times -- who caught almost precisely the same number of games for NYY, and Dickey even had the higher career OPS+, but Berra is generally considered the best and we'll cede to conventional wisdom. Howard caught fewer games than Munson, and his statistical offensive superiority would likely have widened if Munson had lived longer and played later into his career. Again, we'll cede to the Captain's reputation here.
2005 AL East Catchers: (1) Posada (2) Lopez (3) Varitek (4) Toby Hall (5) Zaun/Myers/Quiroz. Notes: If Quiroz gets called back up and is given a shot at playing full time, he could well pass Hall, but nobody with "Jays" or "Rays" on his chest is getting into the top three any time soon.

In 2002, Jason Giambi replaced Tino Martinez as the NYY 1B. Can the Bam-Tino return the favor this year? It seems unlikely; though Martinez has had a nice little run with the Cardinals and Devil Rays the past three years, he's never been as good as he was during the six year stretch in which he manned the first base bag in pinstripes from 1996-2001. In all fairness, Tino had 147 homers, 689 RBI and won four World Series rings during that time, so not many first basemen have been that good since that time; and besides, he's 37 now.

Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Giambi needs to get back to the form he flashed in his back-to-back 41-homer Yankee freshman and sophomore years, and needs to do so with an, uh, appreciably different body frame. One of Giambi's "most similar" hitters through age 33 is ... Tino Martinez, so the younger version gets the nod in the Bronx, unless a Senate committee hearing determines otherwise.

Now, neither of these guys is ever going to be the best Yankee ever to play 1B for the team; a certain "Iron Horse" has that spot nailed down probably for all eternity. But the history of Yankees first sackers is a bright one, and it's possible that neither Giambi nor Martinez even belongs in the top five NYY 1B all-time. Who do you bump?

Let's start with Hal Chase, who may not have an unsullied reputation (Mr. Giambi? There's a call on line one for you), but had 2158 career hits and was known as one of the best-fielding first basemen of the time, especially during his years with thr 1905-13 Highlanders and Yankees.

After Chase left the club, the job was soon in the hands of a fella most people know only for the day he decided to rest a bit -- Wally Pipp. But Pipp played more than 1250 games at 1B for the Yankees, consistently hit near or better than .300 and had four straight seasons between 90 and 114 RBI.

Then, of course, the kid from Columbia, Gehrig, showed up and sent the number 4 into permanent retirement for future Yankees. But it's not like the string of All-Star first basemen stopped with Larrupin' Lou. Babe Dahlgren succeeded Gehrig and immediately made the All-Star team; then Nick Etten was a WWII-era hero, who eventually gave way to Tommy Henrich and Joe Collins.

Two more All-Stars got the Yankees from crewcuts to blowdryers, in Moose Skowron and Joe Pepitone, then three guys better known as outfielders -- a bum-kneed Mickey Mantle, Felipe Alou and Danny Cater -- kept the bag warm until Chris Chambliss arrived from Cleveland. Bob Watson and John Mayberry didn't do much as Yankees, but did bridge the gap from Chambliss to Donnie Baseball. And of course, Mattingly's premature retirement prompted the 1995-96 offseason trade for Martinez.

First Basemen in NYY History: (1) Gehrig (2) Mattingly (3) Skowron (4) Chambliss (5) Martinez. Notes: Even with Tino cracking the top five -- and barely at that, with Chase, Pepitone and Pipp all having good cases -- the Yankees would clearly prefer to see Giambi out there every day, working his way into that top five on his own. Martinez is still the better glove man, but may DH more than Giambi; the Yankees have shown a willingness to keep Big G happy by letting him play the field with a superior defensive 1B slotted at DH (see Johnson, Nick; and Lee, Travis of recent vintage).
2005 AL East First Basemen: (1) Millar/Ortiz (2) Giambi/Martinez (3) Palmeiro/Gibbons (4) Hinske etc. (5) Lee. Notes: Nobody should be surprised if ranking Giambi and Martinez behind Millar and Ortiz ends up looking like the dumbest evaluation of Yankee talent since Jay Buhner was traded for Ken Phelps. But until Giambi shows he can fight through the 'roids issue or Tino demonstrates that he's found a way to turn the clock back to 1997, that's the order we'll stick with.

Now, the problem with this All-Time Yankee approach is that once you get off of first base, the infield doesn't exactly offer a plethora of pantheon-type players. Frankly, there have been a lot of Pat Kellys, Gene Michaels and Mike Pagliarulos who have held down the 2B, SS and 3B jobs, respectively, for years at a time. In fact, an argument can be made -- it'd be wrong, but it can be made -- that the best NYY players of all time at two of those positions will be manning the left side of the Bronx infield in 2005. The other position -- uh, not so much. Let's prepare to hold our noses and get through that one right now ...

There's really no question that Tony is the greatest Womack ever to play the game. That's with apologies to Dooley, the relief pitcher of Ball Four fame, a former Yankee himself, once traded for Jim Bouton; and Sid, who caught one game (and went 0-for-3) for the 1926 Boston Braves. But that may be the nicest thing you can say about having Tony Womack as your 2B and presumptive leadoff hitter. The second-nicest might be "Yuck." Look, it's not the .319 career OBP or the career OPS+ of {{shudder}} 75, or even that last season's career-best (for more than 30 at-bats) OPS+ of 93 might have been an aberration ... oh, hell. Yes. Yes, it is. It's all those things.

It's true that the Yankees have never had a Joe Morgan or a Ryne Sandberg, certainly not a Rogers Hornsby, maybe not even a Lou Whitaker, manning the pivot. But there have been two guys who separated themselves from the rest of the pack in team history -- "Poosh 'Em Up" Tony Lazzeri and Willie Randolph, now daring to don New York pinstripes of a different hue.

Just a hair behind those two is the original Flash Gordon, a 2B named Joe, not a RHRP named Tom who was in the title of a bad Steven King novel. Gordon won the '42 MVP and finished in the top 10 four other times; he ranks third only because he played less than 1000 games at 2B for the Yankees -- still a lot, but Lazzeri made it into more than 1400, while Randolph played in more than 1600 at the pivot.

You'll know some of the other names. There's Billy Martin, of course, but even though he achieved "All-Star" status, he was a .257 career hitter with little power and no speed, a far better manager than a player. Then came Gil McDougald, another All-Star, but he moved around to third and short nearly as much as he played second. Bobby Richardson is still reviled in the Bay area for daring to catch McCovey's line drive to end the '62 World Series.

Then launched the dark days of The Horace Clarke Era; nothing against Horace, who was an okay player with career comparables like Jery Remy, Harold Reynolds and Sandy Alomar Sr., but there were brief spurts of time in the late '60s and early '70s you could make the argument he was the best position player on the Yankees, and that was a Bad Thing. Because Clarke played for the Yankees during such a low point in the franchise history, he never made an All-Star team -- unlike all three guys mentioned as career comparables, and unlike Martin, McDougald, Richardson and Randolph.

The bridge from Clarke to Randolph, ironically enough, was the senior Alomar, while after Willie retired, the big names were Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch. At least nobody sitting behind the first base dugout died.

Presumably, Womack is just around as the bridge to ... oh, wait. There aren't any prospects left in the Yankees farm system! (Sorry, Robinson Cano -- nobody is buying that "second baseman of the future" hoo-ha.) And Womack is just 34, relatively young for a man in pinstripes, so he could be around for a while.

Nobody in the division, not even Tampa Bay after Robbie Alomar's retirment, need take a back seat to the Yankees where 2B (or not 2B, that is the question) is concerned. Honestly, the Yankees should probably just hand the job to Andy Phillips to see if he actually can be a full-time player before he turns 30 (he turns 28 in a couple of weeks and has all of eight big-league at-bats). Won't happen.

Second Basemen in NYY History: (1) Lazzeri (2) Randolph (3) Gordon (4) Richardson (5) McDougald. Notes: Jimmy Williams (1901-07) could also make a case for being on this list. Williams, who you'll note spelled his first name with two "M"s, played the position for seven years for the nascent Oriole/Highlander franchise, and in five of those seasons, cracked the AL top 10 in homers, with a high of ... eight. He also topped .310 and led the league in triples in both 1901 and 1902. Sorry, Horace.

2005 AL East Second Basemen: (1) Orlando Hudson (2) Brian Roberts (3) Mark Bellhorn (4) Jorge Cantu (5) Womack. Notes: Jorge Cant-who? He hit .301 in '04, with an OPS+ of 111, which seem lofty goals for Mr. Womack to aspire to. Bellhorn seems likely to slide a bit and Roberts, with Jerry Hairston off to Chicago, will continue to get better. Hudson, of course, has a chance to make this a one-horse race for a long, long time.

Let's imagine for a moment that you're a major league baseball GM, and your third baseman was coming off a year in which he played 155 games, smacked 36 homers, knocked in 106 runs, and hit .286 with a seasonal OPS+ of 133. He even stole 28 bases, while quashing any fears you had about his defensive ability to play 3B for the first time. Would you be disappointed?

Well, if you're Brian Cashman (and more to the point, George Steinbrenner), you not only would be, you are disappointed -- because you paid Alex Rodriguez $22 million last year to at least duplicate the 2001-03 numbers he posted in Texas, averaging .305 with 52 homers and 135 RBI.

The enduring images of A-Rod, circa 2004, are him getting hit in the face by Jason Varitek, him bitch-slapping Doug Mientkiewicz's glove while running to first base during the ALCS, and the post-World-Series stories pointing out how the Yankees won the A-Rod battle, but after 86 years, the Red Sox won the World Series war. The phrase "greatest collapse in team sports history" is prominently featured on A-Rod's current Yankee resumé.

And if you think any General Manager in the game wouldn't swap third basemen with Cashman in a heartbeat (if not for that pesky salary detail), you're just flat out wrong. The only third baseman in the game today who might bear keeping over the man who was on his way to being the greatest shortstop ever to play the game before moving 1,595 miles northeast and 10 feet to his right, is Scott Rolen.

As for Yankee history, well, third base has had some fine players -- Frank "Home Run" Baker spent the final six seasons of his 13-year Hall of Fame career there; Joe Sewell preceded A-Rod as a Hall of Fame shortsop moving to 3B for the Yankees. Jumping Joe Dugan spent half a dozen years across the diamond from Lou Gehrig.

Red Rolfe was another All-Star, who played the hot corner in the Bronx for the better part of nine years; he gave way to another All-Star in Billy Johnson. (Never heard of Johnson? Think Roy Howell, hitting right-handed.) Dr. Bobby Brown split some time with McDougald, who we met earlier in the 2B conversation, in the '50s, before Andy Carey (a Billy Johnson type, according to his BBRef comparables) and the slick-fielding Clete Boyer showed up. Boyer never made an All-Star team and never won an AL Gold Glove, but Brooks Robinson's reputation aside, he may have deserved at least a couple of the latter.

Before the World Series heroics of Wade Boggs and then Scott Brosius in the '90s, the likes of Toby Harrah, Pagliarulo and Randy Velarde did their best to man the hot corner, but none could live up to the 11 solid years put in during the '70s and early '80s by the greatest Yankee third baseman to date, Graig "yes, it's really spelled that way" Nettles. As one of the leaders of the Bronx Zoo, Nettles won a home run title, two Gold Gloves, an ALCS MVP and even got mentioned at the end of a Bruce Springsteen video. Top that, Joe Dugan! Oh, and by the way, he also won two World Series rings in four trips to the Fall Classic.

Yankee fans (and management) will be slightly mollified if Rodriguez can duplicate the "ALCS MVP" and "two rings" part -- as long as he does it no later than by 2006. Meanwhile, there are a host of really fine third basemen in the AL East right now; Corey Koskie, Bill Mueller, Melvin Mora -- would it shock anyone if any one of those guys ends up on the 2005 AL All-Star team? And if Aubrey Huff were to return to 3B in Tampa -- he won't, Julio Lugo seems more likely to get the bulk of the playing time there -- it would make the hot corner unquestionabaly the strongest position in the AL East. Even then, A-Rod is still The Guy.

Third Basemen in NYY History: (1) Nettles (2) A-Rod (3) Boyer (4) Rolfe (5) Dugan. Notes: Rodriguez is, almost without argument, the most talented player the Yankees have ever trotted out to third base, but Nettles' longevity -- 1500 games at 3B for the Yanks -- and his near-legendary postseason defensive heroics mean Alex needs a few more years in The City to take the title. Frankly, it also rankles a bit that he's the best shortstop on the team but doesn't get to play there.

2005 AL East Third Basemen: (1) A-Rod (2) Mora (3) Koskie (4) Mueller (5) Lugo. Notes: Throw Mora, Koskie and Mueller in a hat and draw out their names for the order in which they follow A-Rod and precede Lugo.

Listen up, Jeter-haters. Go ahead and complain about the Gold Glove; he didn't deserve it. Laugh at the idea of "Mr. Clutch." Pronounce, as I have already done here earlier, that he's not even the best option to play shortstop on his own team. Tell the old joke: "What do you call a ground ball six feet to Derek Jeter's left? Base hit up the middle."

Then suck it up, because like it or not, Jeter's not going anywhere -- except Cooperstown around 2018 -- and he is, for all reasonable intents and purposes, the best shortstop in the long, proud, championship-strewn history of the Yankees.

Yes, yes, he should move over to second for A-Rod, or better yet, out to CF to become the Next One after Joe D., Mickey, Bobby and Bernie. Ain't happening. He's the best in the history of the franchise, he's the Captain.

But you know something Derek Sanderson Jeter has never been? He's never been the best shortstop in the American League East. The rook Jeter in 1996 had to take a back seat to an aging but still great Cal Ripken Jr.; from 1997-2003, up the road a ways in Fenway, Nomah was The Man; and now, the Orioles have Miggy Tejada as a worthy heir to Ripken's royal 6-hole.

The historical roster of Yankee shortstops has a lot of familiar names on it, but mostly as supporting actors to the Babes and Mickeys who led the championship casts. Just one Yankee shortstop is in the Hall of Fame -- and he's often raised as the cardinal example of cronyism getting undeserving players enshrined. Make no mistake, Phil Rizzuto was a fine ballplayer, but as a Hall of Famer, he probably only deserved consideration for the broadcaster's wing.

One of the Scooter's most comparable players is Kid Elberfeld, who was more or less the first regular Yankee shortstop of the 20th century; his specialty was getting hit by a pitched ball, and he still ranks 13th all-time in that category, which should tell you what you need to know about his career.

With apologies to Scooter and his fellow Yankee shortstop-turned-broadcaster Tony Kubek, maybe the best Yankee shortstop before Jeter was Roger Peckinpaugh, who held the position from 1913-1921. The highlight of Peckinpaugh's career came after he left the Bronx, when he inexplicably edged out Hall of Famers Al Simmons, Joe Sewell and Harry Heilmann for the 1925 AL MVP award.

Sewell, as mentioned previously, later played 3B for the Yankees, primarily playing next to Frankie Crosetti, who held down shortstop for the better part of a dozen years until Rizzuto arrived full-time. Crosetti managed nearly 6300 at-bats in his career, despite a batting average of just .245 and cracking a seasonal OPS+ of 100 just three times in his 17-year career. "Cro" went on to be a base coach for the Yankees for nine hundred years after retiring as a player.

Also seeing time at short for the Yankees have been luminaries such as Leo Durocher, Mark Koenig, Billy Hunter and Ruben Amaro Sr.

Tom Tresh, who spent most of his time in the OF but isn't going to get historical mention in any of those later slots, played almost a third of his career games at SS, including 111 in 1962 when he was an AL All-Star and had the first of what would be four 20-homer seasons.

By about 1970, the New York press had determined that shortstop had become for the Yankees what third base would become for the Mets and Cubs over the next decade -- an unfillable void.

So the team brought in player after player to audition, some even holding the job for a few years -- Gene Michael for five years, Jim Mason and Fred Stanley for a shared three, The Great Bucky Dent Experiment for another five years, then Roy Smalley and a guy Moffatt has torched in his Pirates preview, Bobby Meacham. After a revolving door for a decade shuttled in Wayne Tollesen, Rafael Santana, Alvaro Espinoza, Andy Stankiewicz, Spike Owen and Mike Gallego, one year of Tony Fernandez finally led to Jeter.

Shortstops in NYY History: (1) Jeter (2) Peckinpaugh (3) Crosetti (4) Elberfeld (5) Kubek. Notes: Given the relatively weak history of the franchise at the position, I expected Dent, who was really a fine player for several years in the Bronx, to make this list. But Kubek played nearly 400 more games than Bucky, not including the 37 World Series games he started, compared to Dent's 12. It's hard not to give Bucky extra credit for his postseason heroics, of which "The Homer" was just one of several.

2005 AL East Shortstops: (1) Tejada (2) Jeter (3) Edgar Renteria (4) BJ Upton/Alex Gonzalez (5) Russ Adams. Notes: No knock on Adams -- the AL East is loaded at short for the foreseeable future. We'll take Upton's upside -- he won't be in the minor leagues for long -- to edge out the young Jay; and yes, a good argument can be made to place Renteria, who has a World Series MVP to his name, over Jeter. But Tejada is clearly the class of the division.

What can you say about Hideki Matsui? Well, for starters, The Boss is definintely now hitting .500 in signing Japanese superstars named Hideki, and the lithe (6'2", 210) Matsui is definitely no "fat, pussy toad" like Steinbrenner decided that Irabu fellow was. And you can say he's durable -- he's played 325 games as a Yankee so far, or an average of just over 162 for each of the two seasons he's been in Gotham. He's hit .292 with 214 RBI in those two years, and got significantly better in 2004, bumping his season totals from 2003 in OBP from .353 to .390 and in SLG from .435 to .522. He's been an All-Star both of his major league seasons, and oh by the way, he's probably the best defensive outfielder the Yankees have on their roster.

Not bad. If an enlightened electorate considers the Japan portion of his career that earned him his "Godzilla" nickname, he may well be carving out a path to Cooperstown. Not many Yankee left fielders have been able to follow that path.

Before we start the roll call, let's clear up the "role" call -- plenty of great players have been on the Yankees all at once, meaning one or more played out of position briefly. Joe DiMaggio, for instance, spent his rookie season of 1936 in LF out of deference to somebody named Jake Powell in CF; but DiMaggio, for the purposes of this discussion, will clearly be considered a CF.

Same with Mickey Mantle, who bounced around briefly while waiting for Joe D. to retire. Guy named Ruth played LF for the Yankees in 1920 and 1921, then spent a dozen years in RF. Same deal. Like Mantle, Yogi Berra and Tom Tresh spent some time as the Yankees "regular" LF but aren't best known for playing that position.

That said, there have been some pretty big names patrolling LF for the Yankees, especially in the 1980s, when a future Hall of Famer named Winfield fought through that bit of "Mr. May" unpleasantness to spend eight-plus years posting, well, Hall of Fame numbers in pinstripes.

In one of the worst trades in franchise history, Winfield was dealt to the Angels for Mike Witt, who went 8-9 in parts of three years for New York and retired at 32. Winfield, meanwhile, still had left in him 800+ hits, 125+ homers and a date with destiny, as Toronto baseball fans may recall, with something he never sniffed as a Yankee -- a World Series ring.

But the first great or near-great LF for the franchise was the one who bumped Ruth to RF, Long Bob Meusel. Oddly, these days, it would probably be Meusel, who had a Barfield-esque throwing arm, moving over to RF. Regardless, he played 10 years for that Murderer's Row lineup, even leading the AL in homers in 1925 with 33, eight more than teammate Ruth's 25 and well ahead of the fifth-place Gehrig, who hit 20.

After Meusel, a parade of left fielders like Earle Combs, Ben Chapman, George Selkirk and Charlie Keller took the franchise into the WWII era. Combs was the best of these, but only played one year in LF, following the opposite career arc DiMaggio did, moving there from CF after Meusel left to finish his career in Cincinnati.

Charlie "King Kong" Keller (what's with having Kong and Godzilla play the same position, anyway?) had 176 homers by the end of his age 30 season, but hit just 13 after that, and eventually Gene Woodling came along to hold down the job for the first five years of the Casey Stengel regime. A nice player and an All-Star, Woodling was eventually a centerpiece, if there can be such a thing, in the 15-player trade with Baltimore that netted the Yankees Bob Turley and Don Larsen, among others.

From 1968 through 1980, the Yankee LF job was held down by Roy White, Lou Piniella or both. White, a career Yankee, spent 15 years in the bigs, all of them in pinstripes, and retired with a batting average of .271 and more than 1800 hits. Piniella spent 11 of his 18 big league campaigns with the Yankees, and retired with about 100 fewer hits than White, but a career batting average of .291. Piniella was a better hitter; White was a better Yankee.

NOTE: Roy White is never to be confused with the R. White who was the Yankees' starting LF in 2002; Ron-DL was one and done in the Apple.

After White and Piniella, the parade of left fielders included Ken Griffey Sr., the starburst of Dan Pasqua, Gary Ward, Mel Hall, Roberto Kelly (who at least was flipped for Paul O'Neill), Dion James, Luis Polonia and Chad Curtis. David Justice was the best of the past few years before Matsui came along.

If you're wondering about a man some consider the best LF of all-time, while Rickey Henderson played five seasons in New York, according to Neyer, Rickey spent most of that time in pinstripes being Rickey in CF.

Unfortunately for Matsui, he falls short of being the best LF in the AL East right now because arguably the best natural hitter of our lifetime is sort of playing LF for the Red Sox these days. And even with the wide, wide defensive edge, Godzilla doesn't match up to a Manny among boys.

Left Fielders in NYY History: (1) Winfield (2) White (3) Meusel (4) Matsui (5) Keller. Notes: Kong just edges out Piniella for the last spot on this list. If Matsui has three more good years, along the scope of what he's done his first two seasons, he passes Meusel and White; if he plays at or near that level until he's 38 or so, he passes Winfield, not on the all-time LF list overall, but on the NYY LF list.

2005 AL East Left Fielders: (1) Manny Ramirez (2) Matsui (3) Larry Bigbie (4) Reed Johnson/Frank Catalanotto (5) Danny Bautista. Notes: A Hall of Famer, an All-Star and several other guys who, when healthy and "on" can be more than serviceable major leaguers.

The bottom line on Matsui? Stepping out of the authorial role for a moment and writing as a Yankee fan, if there are two outs and a runner on third in a tie game, he's the one guy on the team I most want to see coming to the plate. Sorry, Derek.

The following may seem like a tangent. It's not.

In the world of competitive athletics, there are some positions that just scream "legacy" and "pressure on whoever the new guy is." You want to play tailback at USC? Then you'd better be Reggie Bush, because Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen and Charles White, among others, are watching closely.

Play center for the Lakers? Don't worry, your predecessors have only included a few guys named George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. Always dreamed of playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys? Be prepared to live up the the ghosts of Dandy Don Meredith, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman; even Danny White was an All-Pro who took the team to two title games.

It's like that with playing CF for the New York Yankees. The current denizen of the great pasture in the Bronx, Bernie Williams, may well be headed to the Hall of Fame -- Mike Green seems to think so. But whether he gets there or not, one thing is for certain; the absolute best legacy he can hope for in pinstripes is as the third-best CF in team history. Maybe.

Let's get the tough one out of the way -- Mantle or DiMaggio? Well, thirty years ago it would hve been sacrilegious in the Bronx to even ask the question; Joe D. was the Yankees, no disrespect to the Mick. With the additional three decades of perspective, it's clear that Mantle was statistically the better player, and even with his various injuries, Mantle played five more years and 700 more games for the team (albeit 260 or so were at 1B).

If you looks at current players who comp to these guys according to BBRef's similarity scores, Joe D. gets names like Albert Pujols and Vlad Guerrero; for Mantle, the names are Bonds, Sosa and Bagwell. Can you say "win-win"?

So who's better? I may change my mind by the time I finish writing this sentence, so check back in a few paragraphs.

If Mantle and DiMaggio were Aikman and Staubach, the Yankees have also had quite a few Don Meredith types patrol CF for the team. Earle Combs, mentioned previously in the LF section, is in the Hall of Fame (though he's a dubious choice, frankly), while Rickey Henderson, also mentioned previously, probably didn't hang with the Yankees long enough to enter this discussion. Bobby Murcer did; in two tours of duty in pinstripes, he played more than 1200 games and though he never became "the next Mantle," as he was hyped, this Oklahoma boy did arguably have a better career than Combs.

For a while, the Yankees of the '80s decided CF was a speed position, and that brought on Jerry Mumphrey, Omar Moreno and even Ken Griffey Sr., then Claudell Washington and Roberto Kelly provided a bridge to Williams.

In the current AL East, Bernie is aging enough so that, while he remains the best CF in the division from a career perspective, he barely makes the top three from any reasonable current analysis.

Center Fielders in NYY History: (1) Mantle (2) DiMaggio (3) Williams (4) Combs (5) Murcer. Notes: Sorry, dad. Mantle was better. Am I still allowed to visit?

2005 AL East Center Fielders: (1) Vernon Wells (2) Johnny Damon (3) Bernie Williams (4) Carl Crawford (5) Luis Matos. Notes: As hard as it was to write Damon's name before Bernie's, I had to think hard about whether or not Carl Crawford deserved the bronze these days; he just might.

You know, if I had to guess, I'd guess that Gary Sheffield is going to end up in the Hall of Fame. His "most comparables" lists at BBRef are littered with guys who are already there (Duke Snider, Billy Williams, Orlando Cepeda, the aforementioned Dave Winfield) and guys who are going to get there (Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Scott Rolen, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., maybe Larry Walker) with a dash of guys who it can be argued should be there but haven't yet gotten the call (Jim Rice, Dale Murphy).

You have to like his counting stats -- two more years like the last two, and he'll be within a good month of 500 homers and have more than 2500 hits -- and his rate stats; depending on which way the wind is blowing, his career batting average teeters on .300, his career OBP is right at .400 and his career SLG is well over .500. Nice.

But you know, at least one guy -- another Hall of Famer who appears on Sheff's most similar list -- is going to keep him out of the #2 position in ranking the team's all-time right fielders; guy by the name of Reginald Martinez Jackson, who'd spend just five years in pinstripes, but managed to take the city by storm, get a candy bar named after him, and lead the Yankees to four division titles, three World Series and two rings in that five-year span. Sure, it's possible that Sheff can still match or surpass some of those things, but ... well, he won't.

So why isn't Jackson number one? Surely you're joking. See, there was this guy named George, who was arguably the best left-handed pitcher in the big leagues for almost five years, but when he came to New York, he moved to the outfield and singlehandedly changed the game forever. Not even the Straw Who Stirs the Drink can match up with The Sultan of Swat.

So Sheff is a solid number three on the list? Not so fast, my friend. A couple of other guys bear mentioning here, scoring extra points for longevity and team success. First, remember the name Hank Bauer? This fine right-handed Kevin McReynolds-type hitter started in RF for the Yankees from 1949 through 1959 and in that 11 year span, his team failed to advance to the World Series just twice, winning seven of the nine times they did make it. Although Bauer made three All-Star teams, he was never "great" -- but we was very good, for a very long time and that has to count for something.

The re-emergence to prominence of the 1990s Yankees coincided almost precisely with the trade of Bobby Kelly to the Reds for fiery lefty swinger Paul O'Neill. Like Bauer, O'Neill was very good for a very long time (starting in RF in the Bronx for nine years, 1993-2001) and won a bunch of World Series rings; O'Neill was the better player, Bauer was a Yankee longer and won more titles. O'Neill was an excellent defensive player and had a good enough arm that it led him to the Riverfront Stadium mound one unfortunate day in 1987. Bauer and O'Neill might make the perfect R/L RF platoon for some historical team, if you could keep the latter from tearing up the clubhouse in frustration.

Other Yankee right fielders have included four excellent seasons (and three mediocre ones) from turn-of-the-last-century icon Wee Willie Keeler; Cy Seymour, two different Alous, Bobby Bonds, Steve Kemp, Danny Tartabull and a couple of former Blue Jays who may never have been mentioned in a sentence together before, Jesse Barfield and Raul Mondesi. Tommy Henrich, who played all over the field but mostly in right, received MVP votes throughout the 1940s and led the league in triples twice.

Oh, and speaking of MVPs, another Yankee RF won a pair back-to-back to kick off the 1960s and belted 203 homers in his seven years in pinstripes -- of course, 61* of them came in one magical season. Ruth, Jackson, Bauer, Maris, O'Neill, Keeler, Henrich -- my goodness, is Sheffield even going to make the top five? In fact, does Reggie belong at number two?

The answer to both questions is no. After just one year in New York, Sheffield is not there yet, though he could be eventually. However, with very few apologies directed at the future Hall of Famer new to Maryland, Sheffield is, at the very least until Babe Rios does something in an actual regular season game, the best right fielder in the American League East right now.

We might as well toss in the fact, a propos of nothing, really, that Sheffield does share one key thing in common with Mantle -- both came to the big leagues as shortstops. But it might be fairer to say that he shares that in common with Murcer.

Right Fielders in NYY History: (1) Ruth (2) Maris (3) O'Neill (4) Bauer (5) Jackson. Notes: Wow, it's hard to leave guys like Henrich and Keeler off the list entirely; and it's tempting to move O'Neill and Bauer up ahead of Maris based on longevity, but for all the Hall of Fame should-he-or-shouldn't-he controversy, Roger Maris was a hell of a player for quite a long time.

2005 AL East Right Fielders: (1) Sheffield (2) Aubrey Huff (3) Sammy Sosa (4) Trot Nixon (5) Alexis Rios. Notes: Yes, it is possible that Rios could move up this list. Based on their respective values right now, is there a team out there that wouldn't rather have Huff than Sosa?

Let's not spend a lot of time here ... the Yankees, like most teams these days, don't generally employ a "full-time designated hitter," but if they do in 2005, just see the 1B discussion above. If everyone is healthy and productive and the Yankees are smart, Jason Giambi will be the full-time DH; if everyone is healthy and productive and the Yankees follow form, Tino Martinez will be the primary DH, with a fair number of at-bats going to reclamation deluxe Ruben Sierra.

Historically, many baseball fans know that Ron Blomberg of the Yankees was, by accident of scheduling, really, the first man ever to actually appear as a DH, back in April of 1973; but after just a week of that season, the Yanks bought the contract of former All-Star 3B Jim Ray Hart and he was the team's primary DH the rest of the way.

The Bombers have never had an Edgar Martinez, but the franchise did trot out the greatness of Don Baylor as its DH for three non-championship seasons in the early 1980s. The best of the rest include Kevin Maas, all too briefly, Sierra, Cliff and Nick (no relation) Johnsons and David Justice. Other recognizable names have slid through the role over the years, none making much of an impact: Carlos May, Oscar Gamble, Mike Easler, Ron Kittle, Jack Clark, Steve Balboni, Cecil Fielder, Chili Davis and, of course, Darryl Strawberry.

The NYY DH slot: where formerly big bats go to die. Sounds like a job that might have Giambi's name written on it upcoming

Designated Hitters in NYY History: (1) Baylor (2) Everybody Else.

2005 AL East Designated Hitters: (1) David Ortiz (2) Martinez/Sierra (3)Palmeiro/BJ Surhoff (4) Shea Hillenbrand (5) Josh Phelps. Notes: Let's see now ... New York's likely DH used to play for Tampa, whose likely DH used to play for Toronto whose likely DH used to play for Boston ... how long before Papi Ortiz ends up in Baltimore, anyway?

We'll come back to the established format to look at managers throughout NYY history and in the current AL East before closing with a projection, but it simply isn't feasible to continue looking at the rest of the roster this way.

So what we'll do is slot the remaining spots into the three obvious units -- rotation, bullpen and bench -- and see how the current Yanks stack up against the rest of the division and against arguably the five greatest, or at least best-known and most-revered teams in franchise history.

In order to represent all the various eras of Yankee dominance, the five teams chosen, all of which won World Series rings, are as following:

  • 1927 (Murderer's Row 119-55)
  • 1939 (106-45)
  • 1961 (M&M boys, 109-53)
  • 1978 (Bronx Zoo, 100-63)
  • 1998 (114-48)
Ready? Let's start, appropriately enough, with the starting pitching.

1. 1927: Waite Hoyt/Urban Shocker/Herb Pennock/Dutch Ruether/George Pipgras
2. 2005: Mike Mussina/Randy Johnson/Kevin Brown/Carl Pavano/Jaret Wright
3. 1978: Ron Guidry/Ed Figueroa/Catfish Hunter/Dick Tidrow/Jim Beattie
4. 1998: Andy Pettitte/David Cone/David Wells/Orlando Hernandez/Hideki Irabu
5. 1939: Red Ruffing/Lefty Gomez/Atley Donald/Monte Pearson/Bump Hadley
6. 1961: Whitey Ford/Ralph Terry/Bill Stafford/Rollie Sheldon/Bud Daley

Legend has it, of course, that the '27 Yankees won with offense, offense and more offense. But that front three of Hoyt, Shocker and Pennock (two righties and a lefty) ran up a combined 664 big league victories. By remarkable coincidence, heading into 2005, Mussina, Johnson and Brown (two righties and a lefty) have also rung up exactly 664 wins among them. If Pettitte returns to health and form, that '98 front three might approach that total of career wins, too.

For one season, the best front three of the list above might have been the '78 crew, with Guidry stringing together his amazing 25-3 campaign, Eddie Figueroa finishing 20-9, and Hunter having the last good season of his Hall of Fame career.

The '61 rotation revolved around The Chairman of the Board, Ed Ford, who started 39 times, then took the ball for two of the five World Series games. Terry was second on the team with just 27 starts; future author Jim Bouton didn't make his MLB debut until 1962.

Irabu was actually quite a good fifth starter in 1998 (13-9. 110 ERA+), but you can see why the Yankees dealt Wells and some dryer lint for Roger Clemens the following offseason. The '39 team had an awesome right/left one/two punch in Ruffing and Gomez, but the dropoff to Donald, Pearson and Hadley -- well, their BBRef comps are guys like Charlie Lea, Chan Ho Park and Mike Moore, so it's a good thing the '39 bullpen was so good, at least for its era.

The bottom line is that the '05 team has nothing to be ashamed about in comparisons to their forebears, but plenty to be worried about should the injury bug bite; nobody in NYC wants to imagine giving 30 starts to Jorge DePaula or Alex Graman just yet.

Let's be honest; the '61 rotation might be ranked sixth here, but it'd still be a top-10 rotation in major league baseball today. The historical competition, even when cutting 100 years of history down to six, is awesome.

As for the 2005 AL East, with the defections from Beantown, lay it out this way:

1. BOS: Curt Schilling/David Wells/Matt Clement/Wade Miller/Tim Wakefield
2. NYY: Mike Mussina/Randy Johnson/Kevin Brown/Carl Pavano/Jaret Wright
3. TOR: Roy Halladay/Ted Lilly/David Bush/Josh Towers/Gustavo Chacin
4. BAL: Sidney Ponson/Rodrigo Lopez/Erik Bedard/Daniel Cabrera/Matt Riley
5. TAM: Dewon Brazelton/Mark Hendrickson/Rob Bell/Scott Kazmir/Casey Fossum

As salary totals would project, it's a pretty steep dropoff from two to three. Is Tampa Bay really going to war with this rotation? A Jay castoff, a Bosox castoff, a Rangers castoff and a couple of kids?

*Indicates closer.
2005: Mariano Rivera*/Tom Gordon/Paul Quantrill/Steve Karsay/Mike Stanton/Tanyon Sturtze
1998: Mariano Rivera*/Mike Stanton/Darren Holmes/Graeme Lloyd/Jeff Nelson/Ramiro Mendoza
1978: Rich Gossage*/Sparky Lyle/Ken Clay/nine guys who pitched 4-8 games each
1939: Johnny Murphy*/Spud Chandler/Steve Sundra/Wes Ferrell
1961: Luis Arroyo*/Jim Coates/Hal Reniff/Tex Clevenger/several others
1927: Wilcy Moore*/Bob Shawkey/Joe Giard/Myles Thomas

It's almost not fair to even draw these comparisons, because bullpen use across eras has altered so drastically. How do you compare the bullpen for the '39 Yankees, a team that had 87 complete games, with the '98 unit that backed up a rotation which completed just 22? How do you compare the quintessential closer, Mariano Rivera, to a Wilcy Moore who led the '27 Yanks with 13 saves. but also started 12 games and finished 19-7? Moore threw 213 innings in 50 appearances in 1927; in his most recent three full seasons, Rivera has racked up 195 innings in 183 appearances. Moore's supporting cast in '27 barely pitched enough to merit including, though Shawkey had a nice year to close out his career.

Miller Huggins wouldn't have any idea what to do with Rivera, much less what to do with the biggest "name" righty/lefty combo out of the pen in the Closer Era, Goose and Sparky from the '78 squad. Lyle, coming off his '77 Cy Young Award, had to take something of a back seat to the dominance of Gossage in '78 before being dealt to the Rangers in a 10-player deal that landed Dave Righetti in the Bronx, where he recorded more than 200 saves and threw a no-hitter.

Luis Arroyo had 29 of his 44 career saves for the '61 Yankees -- Ford, who won the '61 Cy Young (back when only one was given out rather than one in each league), would joke after the season that he planned to "go on the banquet circuit and give speeches where I talk for seven minutes and Luis talks for two."

The other guys in that '61 pen included a cast of characters ranging from the young Al Downing to the aging Ryne Duren; the most-used guys, Coates, Reniff and Clevenger, were sort of the Luis Aquino, Doug Sisk and Calvin Schiraldi of their time, so you can see why Arroyo got a lot of work; although Coates actually worked more innings than Arroyo, that's primarily because he started 11 times.

While Arroyo briefly shone in the '60s, he and Rivera had their paths paved in part by Johnny Murphy, one of baseball's first full-time relievers, and the second (after Firpo Marberry) to crack the 100-save barrier for a career. In fact, Murphy, who went on to serve as GM of the '69 Miracle Mets, was baseball's all-time saves leader from 1946, when he passed Marberry, until 1962, when Roy Face finally passed up his career total of 107. In Rivera's two best single seasons combined, by contrast, he amassed 103 saves.

Murphy had some good talent surrounding him in the '39 pen, but Sundra started nearly half of his appearances (and completed eight of his 11 starts!), Chandler appeared in just 11 games, and Ferrell made it into just three. It was truly a different era; the 2004 Yankees had three different pitchers appear in more than twice as many games as Murphy's team-leading 38 back in 1939.

The '78 unit had the two closers, Kenny Clay (who appeared 28 times) and a bunch of guys you've probably heard of who swung through midtown for cameos -- Rawly Eastwick, Ron Davis, Paul Lindblad, Ken Holtzman.

The '05 bullpen, like its '98 predecessor, features Rivera, Stanton and Mendoza (the latter of whom didn't make the 2005 Top 6 listed above), and though all were younger and better seven years ago, the supporting cast this coming season (Gordon, Quantrill, Karsay) is better than it was then (Nelson, Lloyd, Holmes). Opinion on that is subject to change by October, of course.

As for the 2005 AL East:

BOS: Keith Foulke*/Byung-Hyun Kim/Matt Mantei/Alan Embree/Mike Timlin/John Halama
NYY: Mariano Rivera*/Tom Gordon/Paul Quantrill/Steve Karsay/Mike Stanton/Tanyon Sturtze
TOR: Miguel Batista*/Justin Speier/Scott Schoeneweis/Kerry Ligtenberg/Vinny Chulk/Ryan Glynn
BAL: BJ Ryan*/Jorge Julio/Steve Kline/Todd Williams/John Parrish/Bruce Chen
TAM: Danys Baez*/Lance Carter/Jesus Colome/Travis Harper/Jorge Sosa/Trever Miller

The Red Sox move from a shaky to a clear number one in the division if Bronson Arroyo wins the fifth starter's role and frees Tim Wakefield up to eat innings out of the pen. The Devil Rays have a ton of talent in their bullpen, but need to figure out how to harness it; the lack of emergence by Jorge Julio into the expected "Dominant Closer" role hurts the Orioles.

The Blue Jays have everything to prove after a disappointing 2004, and it needs to start with Miguel Batista turning out to be the best closer in Canada since Tom Henke and Duane Ward. That might move the Blue Jays ranking here up to ... um, still third. Oh well, it'd be a better third.

Limited to top seven or eight players on each team, including DHs
1961: Johnny Blanchard, Earl Torgesen, Bob Cerv, Hector Lopez, Deron Johnson, Billy Gardner, Joe DeMaestri, Jack Reed
1978: Mike Heath, Cliff Johnson, Jim Spencer, Brian Doyle, Paul Blair, Gary Thomassaon, Jay Johstone, Damaso Garcia
1998: Joe Girardi, Tim Raines, Chili Davis, Luis Sojo, Homer Bush, Dale Sveum, Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer
1939: Tommy Henrich, Buddy Rosar, Jake Powell, Joe Gallagher, Bill Knickerbocker, Lou Gehrig, Art Jorgens
1927: Johnny Grabowski, Ray Morehart, Cedric Durst, Mike Gazella, Benny Bengough, Ben Paschal, Julie Wera
2005: John Flaherty, Rey Sanchez, Andy Phillips, Felix Escalona, Tino Martinez, Ruben Sierra, Bubba Crosby, Robinson Cano

As with bullpens, but to a lesser degree, bench use over the eras has changed, so the comparisons are harder to make fairly. The '39 squad, for instance, had only one non-starter (Henrich) amass more than 105 at-bats, while their seventh-most-used substitute, Jorgens, didn't have a single plate appearance that season, his last in the majors. Gehrig played just eight games before succumbing to retirement brought on by the disease that now bears his name.

By contrast, the '98 squad's four top reserves combined for more than 800 trips to the plate, while four other players had at least 50 at-bats each. That '39 squad may have been an aberration, though; where their top seven reserves had only about 650 at-bats combined, even their 1927 forebears, who used only seven non-starters all year, saw the bench players combine for nearly 850 at-bats.

While the 2005 squad apparently looks to turn its bench into "Ex-Devil-Rays on Parade," the '61 team, as was practically tradition at that point, was stuffed with ex-Kansas City A's. In addition to Maris in the starting lineup, Cerv, Lopez and DeMaestri all came to the Bronx from the Yankees' unofficial farm club, while youngster Deron Johnson would be dealt to KC in midseason, along with Art Ditmar, for Bud Daley as the Yankees found their rotation lacking a lefty behind Ford as the season progressed.

The '78 bench was incredibly deep and diverse, anchored by defensive wizards Spencer, Blair and the rookie Doyle -- who probably should have won the 1978 World Series MVP instead of Bucky Dent, as Denny's little bro hit .438 for the injured Willie Randolph. And of course, they had Cliff Johnson, who may have been the meanest-looking player in team history.

The '98 bench was anchored by a guy worthy of the Hall of Fame, Raines, and had both veteran stalwarts like Girardi and Sojo and kids like Spencer and Ledee. The '05 bench can only aspire to be that good.

As for the 2005 AL East:

BAL: Geronimo Gil, David Newhan, Chris Gomez, Tim Raines Jr., B.J. Surhoff
TOR: Myers/Zaun, Frank Menechino, John McDonald, Reed Johnson, Gabe Gross
BOS: Doug Mirabelli, Ramon Vazquez, Kevin Youkilis, Jay Payton, Adam Hyzdu
NYY: John Flaherty, Rey Sanchez, Andy Phillips, Tino Martinez, Ruben Sierra, Bubba Crosby
TAM: Kevin Cash, Rocco Baldelli, Joey Gathright, Eduardo Perez

Seriously, how far off are we from some team carrying 10 position players and 15 pitchers? While Escalona and Cano are listed in the Yankee comparison chart above, just to get the numbers even with the other benches in team history, there is no real plan for them to contribute in a meaningful way in 2005, so they are removed from this divisional comparison list. The Orioles won't be the best at much in their division this year, but they do look to have the best bench, though not by a wide margin.

The Yankees are the only team in the division who don't have one guy on the bench where you think "Wow, shouldn't he be starting for someone?" (Payton, Gross, Baldelli, maybe Raines) but that's not all bad -- a cadre of bench players who understand they are bench players is good for clubhouse chemistry. But given that one of Martinez or Sierra will likely be in the starting lineup every day as the DH, Bronx Bench '05 (New from XBox!) is not a terrifically deep, talented group.

Joe Torre has come a long way since the "Clueless Joe" headlines of the NYC tabloids when he was tapped to replace Buck Showalter after the 1995 season. Some of the younger diehard Yankee fans out there probably think Torre is the greatest manager the Yankees have ever had.

Judging by the only metric that matters, though he's come an inestimably long way from the "Clueless" moniker, he's an even longer way from wearing the "greatest" crown either. As noted at the outset of this jaunt through All Things Yankee, "where a team finishes in the division doesn't really matter any more, thanks to the advent of the Wild Card; all that matters is winning the ultimate title."

So by that sole criterion, your top five Yankee managers of all time:

1. Casey Stengel (10 pennants, seven championships)
2. Joe McCarthy (eight pennants, seven championships)
3. Joe Torre (six pennants, four championships)
4. Miller Huggins (six pennants, three championships)
5. Ralph Houk (three pennants, two championships)

Notes: Like Houk, Billy Martin managed during three Yankee pennant-winning seasons and won two World Series, but in the '78 title season, he shared managerial duties with Dick Howser and Bob Lemon; Martin guided the Yankees to a 52-42 mark that year, while Lemon's turn at the helm yielded a remarkable 48-20 (.706) mark that erased a huge Red Sox advantage and led to what New Englanders fondly recall as the Bucky Bleeping Dent game. So Houk edges out Martin for our top five list, meaning the only two men to have managed both the Yankees and Red Sox, Houk and McCarthy, won titles in NYC ... and didn't in Beantown.

2005 AL East Managers
True, it hardly seems fair to hold Torre's current peers to the Stengel/McCarthy/Huggins standards, but that's the metric we're using. Since everyone on the below list plays by the same rules, unlike the above historical list, we'll add in division titles.

1. Joe Torre (nine division titles, six pennants, four championships)
2. Lou Piniella (four division titles, one pennant, one championship)
3. Terry Francona (zero division titles, one pennant, one championship)
4. Lee Mazzilli (entering second full season)
5. John Gibbons (entering first full season)

Notes: Mazzilli and Gibbons each earned a World Series ring as a player -- as teammates in bit roles on the '86 Mets team that ruined Bill Buckner's life. Piniella won one of his division titles and his (so far) sole managerial ring with the 1990 Reds. Torre won one of his divisional titles with the unlikely 1982 NL West champion Braves.

Here's a quick recap of where the 2005 Yankees stand, position by positions, as individuals and units, against their own franchise's historical benchmarks and against their 2005 divisional compatriots:

C: #3 all-time NYY, #1 '05 AL East
1B: #5, #2
2B: NR, #5
3B: #2, #1
SS: #1, #2
LF: #4, #2
CF: #3, #3
RF: NR, #1
DH: NR, #2
SP**: #2, #2
RP**: #1, #2
Bench**: #6, #4
MGR: #3, #1

**Ranked only against '27, '39, '61, '78 and '98 teams

The only two things that could keep the Yankees from walking to still another AL East crown in 2005 are: (1) if the razor-thin edges the Red Sox have in the rotation and the bullpen widen at all; and (2) injuries, injuries, injuries. The Yankee depth is, well, shallow, so a few key injuries to a team that ranks first or second in its division at all but one of the 10 everyday positions -- and has a potential Hall of Famer in that tenth slot -- would (no pun intended) hurt enormously. The starting pitching options no longer run deep, either, and the minor league system has been decimated, making the likelihood of a July trade for Ted Lilly or Sidney Ponson extremely remote.

All that said, Yanks win the East at 102-60 (bettering their eventual Pythagorean performance by seven full games) and defeat your 2005 Wild Card NL Champion Cincinnati Reds to take home World Series #28.

New York Yankees 2005: Stacking Up to History | 9 comments | Create New Account
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Ben - Friday, March 25 2005 @ 06:06 AM EST (#107464) #
Great preview, I agree that the Yanks will probably win the East but I'm not sure about the Series. They got a huge upgrade in Johnson and ARod and Giambi will be better this year I think. I'm not basing this on anything scientific but just my gut instinct. I love how you compared each player to everyone in the divison and I think that everyone is dead on. Essentially the wild card is going to come down to Boston, Oakland and Anaheim (or Los Angeles? how about California) with the West title being a very strategic place to be since I think that's who is going to face the Central winner. I think that the Yankees can be beaten in a long series if Pavano and Brown dont pitch well. While the Diamondbacks showed that 2 pitchers can beat you, I dont think it can be done again, especially against a team like the Red Sox and Athletics who stress pitch counts and getting into the bullpen early. In the short series, however, the Yankees will be pretty hard to beat with Johnson, Mussina and one of the two following.

Basically I have no idea whats going to happen this season and thats why I love baseball
Craig S. - Friday, March 25 2005 @ 10:33 AM EST (#107474) #
Assuming that their well-aged rotation doesn't suffer a rash of injuries or eroded skills, and that Jaret Wright can come anywhere close to his 2004 performance, they'll win the division. I'm still not sure why they signed Tony Womack, but their offense is strong enough to make up for his inclusion in the lineup.

You had me until the part about beating the Reds (!) in the Series. You've got more enthusiasm for them than most people in this area, who I think are already focused more on who the Bengals are likely to select in the NFL draft. Great preview!
groove - Friday, March 25 2005 @ 06:49 PM EST (#107543) #
The best closer in Canada since Ward was probably Ugueth Urbina (circa 1998). Or possibly Billy Koch circa 2000.

What I just noticed reading this article is that we have arguably the best bench in the AL east. I really think this is the prime reason that we've done so well in spring training thus far. Too bad this wont translate into regular season success.

Magpie - Friday, March 25 2005 @ 10:16 PM EST (#107550) #
A wonderful piece, Mick - is it not bizarre that Roger Peckinpaugh is the second best shortstop in Yankees history? Its shocking to me.

But the first great or near-great LF for the franchise was the one who bumped Ruth to RF, Long Bob Meusel.

This is really interesting. (To me, anyway!) The configuration of the Yankees outfield in the 20s seems to have been a rather fluid thing. Bob Meusel was acclaimed by everyone who saw him as having the best outfield arm in baseball. It was a no-doubter, like Clemente in the 60s and Barfield in the 80s. And of course, he is generally remembered as the left fielder on the great Yankee teams of the 20s.

Meusel would have played LF because of the enormous dimensions of left and left-centre in Yankee Stadium. The left field alley was 460 feet from home plate. While Ruth could certainly throw, and was actually fairly mobile, Meusel was faster and threw better than anyone else in the league.

During the ten years Ruth and Meusel played together, they always went back and forth. They both arrived in New York in 1920.

1921Ruth134018 Meusel100137
1922Ruth71040 Meusel47174
1923Ruth68773 Meusel78043
1924Ruth50799 Meusel93249
1925Ruth33066 Meusel86046
1926Ruth82068 Meusel68138
1927Ruth56095 Meusel83048
1928Ruth55099 Meusel87044
1929Ruth55078 Meusel56040
TOTAL:Ruth64034721 Meusel6244567

Ruth actually played more games in both LF and RF than Meusel in the 10 years they were togther. Ruth, believe it or not, was more durable. He never missed a game, except for two significant stretches in 1922 and 1925.

Clearly, however, the two were flip flopping from RF to LF. Without more data, we can't be sure why. One assumes that Meusel was playing LF in the parks with big left fields: Yankee Stadium, Griffith Stadium in Washington.

Also note - it appears that Ruth began his Yankee tenure in RF, and that Meusel moved him to LF as 1920 progressed. In 1921 and 1922, Meusel plays more RF and Ruth plays more LF.

In 1923, the Yankees moved into the Stadium, and now Meusel starts to play more and more LF. But Ruth still plays about a third of his games in LF and Meusel about a third of his games in RF.

What did they do in the World Series? Glad you asked.

In 1921, all the games were in the Polo Grounds: Ruth played LF and Meusel played RF.

In 1922, again all the games were in the Polo Grounds. This time Ruth played RF and Meusel played LF.

In 1923, at the Polo Grounds and the Stadium. Ruth played RF (and moved to 1B in one game); Meusel played LF.

In 1926, at Yankee Stadium Ruth played RF and Meusel played LF. They did the same thing for the first game at Sportsmans Park in St Louis, but for the next two games in St Louis Meusel moved to RF and Ruth played LF.

IN 1927 at Forbes Field and the Stadium, Ruth was in RF and Meusel in LF.

In 1928, at the Stadium Ruth played RF and Meusel played LF, but when they went to St Louis again Ruth moved to LF and Meusel played RF.

There! Now we know!

Paul S - Saturday, March 26 2005 @ 10:46 AM EST (#107566) #
The Sox have the best bench by far. It looks to be Payton (who could start for most teams), Mirabelli (best backup catcher in baseball), Youkilis (a productive young hitter already), Vazquez and Petagine. I don't think it's even close. The only way production will fall off a cliff in the case of injury is at SS, because Renteria to Vazquez is a very steep drop off. Everywhere else it won't cripple them, even Manny to Payton. The Jays losing O-Dog (Chino) or Sparky/Frankie Cats (Gross); the O's losing Palmeiro or Sammy (Gibbons); and maybe one of the D'Rays' infield (although with the versitility of Huff, Cantu, Lugo, and A-Gon, they can endure almost anything, but it's still not as high a level as Boston) are the only other positions in the division, nevermind benches, that match up. That's perhaps the best indicator of a great bench.
Mick Doherty - Saturday, March 26 2005 @ 10:58 AM EST (#107569) #
OK, Mags, thanks for makiny my head explode. I actually found myself in the original draft wondering if I would end up making Ruth the best LF and the best RF, but that didn't seem right. The NYY have always seemed to bounce their LF around; Keller played both LF and RF, as noted Ricky played LF and CF, and as you have pointed out elsewhere, Winfield played CF some. Even now, Matsui is probably a better defensive CF than Williams and plays there not infrequently.

It hasn't been quite so random at other positions, though a couple of guys come to mind:

Gil McDougald's games played
2B 599
3B 508
SS 284

Tom Tresh's games played:
OF 727
SS 351
3B 65

In fact, if I thought of either of those guys primarily as shortstops, which would be wrong-headed of me, either or both might slip pass Peckinpaugh's shocking #2 ranking at the position.

Berra, of course, also played in the LF slot machine fairly regularly.

Paul S., that's a fair argument. I believe it's wrong, obviously, or I wouldn't have written it the way I did -- I think we part most vividly at Youkilis and Vazquez -- but I'm generally shocked that that's the first and only ranking I've been called out on, either in NYY history, or more likely, in the current AL East.

Paul S - Saturday, March 26 2005 @ 11:49 AM EST (#107571) #
As a Sox fan it was the only one that stood out. :-)

I could've nitpicked about some things being out of date and how Mora is probably far far better than Koskie and Mueller, but I didn't. Believe me, it's all minor. Great article.
Mick Doherty - Monday, April 04 2005 @ 03:03 PM EDT (#108934) #
My dad, who I reference in the story above, did write to me about the Mantle/DiMaggio ranking, and I thought it was worth sharing here, at least in part. I know many people on Da Box are stridently on one side or the other of the "intangibles" argument:

Brought back a lot of names.

Even though we shared a birthday [ed. note: Mantle was five years older] and Mantle was a nicer guy with superior talent, DiMaggio easily, in my mind, ranks above him. I'm not too much a believer in "intangibles," but with DiMaggio on the field the Yankees had an aura of invincibility about them. And watching him take those first steps out of the dugout, with the rest of the team then following, was something unmatched in my experience. The statistical comparison was not completely fair to DiMaggio, who lost what would have been three prime years to military service during WWII.

Your mention of Billy Johnson reminded me of a play I rarely if ever see any more. He had a fine arm, and when Rizzuto would go too deep in the hole to put on the brakes, change momentum and make the throw, he'd toss it to Johnson who fairly often threw the hitter out at first.

Mike Green - Monday, April 04 2005 @ 03:30 PM EDT (#108942) #
Mick's Dad has a point. During 9 of DiMaggio's 13 playing seasons, the Yankees won the World Series. During Mantle's prime 1952-1964 (also 13 seasons), the Yankees won *only* 6 World Series. Now, DiMaggio probably had more help than Mantle did in the 50s, but if consistency of winning is the test of greatness, DiMaggio deserves a point or two.

Perhaps the intangible can be seen in tangible ways.

My vote is still with Mantle because I give Mantle credit for leading a less able club than DiMaggio had with him. Mantle had Berra and Ford, whereas DiMaggio had Gehrig and Dickey, Joe Gordon, Gomez and Ruffing in the 30s, and then Henrich, Keller, Ford, Berra, and Rizzuto in the late 40s and 50-51.
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