The New York Yankees in their 107-year glorious history have had their share of great baseball players. From Babe Ruth to Joe DiMaggio to Ron Guidry, Derek Jeter, and dozens more, some of the best baseball players in history have graced Yankee Stadium. In my other top ten columns, I’ve dealt with the pitchers, catchers, and baseman. In this installment, I will attempt to identify the great Yankee shortstops. With so many great shortstops, some writers will differ with the order of their preferences. Here are this writer’s top 10.
One through five is relatively easy, beyond that gets more difficult as the New York Yankees are more known for their outfielders, 2nd and 3rd baseman. If the Yankee has a position that is the weakest in their history, it is probably at shortstop. Also, the Yankees have had players that were known for their offense and defense of their positions, but they were more well know at another position. A good example is Alex Rodgriguez, one of the top five shortstops in all of the baseball lore, but he played 3rd base for the Yankees. Joe Sewell, the Hall of Fame shortstop, could have been included in this list, but I did not consider him as he only played two years for the Yankees.
10. Tom Tresh
First, let me say about Tom Tresh that he would have been in the top five with the exception that he played more in the New York Yankee Stadium outfield than in at short. Tresh played nine years for the Yankees with a career batting average of .247 with 140 home runs, five seasons with 20 or more, while being an excellent defender at both short and in the outfield.
9. Gene Michael
Gene Michael was valuable to the New York Yankees, as a player, coach, manager, and in the front office. He was as much responsible for the last ’90s, 2000’s Yankee dynasty as anyone in the organization. Michael started his seven-year stint with the Yankees in 1968. He was not known as a hitter and less so as a long ball hitter. What he was known for was his excellent defense at short. He is another Yankees that could have ranked higher on this list if his offense was in line with his defense.
8. Mark Koenig
Many present-day fans don’t know Mark Koenig, he played for the Yankees for six years starting in 1925. Koenig was an excellent hitter for that time, hitting .285. He was not a home run hitter but hit for contact. In 1928 he hit .319 for the season. He was agile at short and played 2nd and 3rd when needed. In 1927 he had third-most assists at shortstop in all of baseball (423). In the World Series that the Yankees lost that year, he hit .500 without any errors in 28 chances.
7. Kid Elberfeld
Kid Elberfeld is another Yankee that few fans don’t remember. He played short for the New York Yankees between 1903 and 1909. In his seven years, he averaged .268 with 28 home runs. As with many players at that time, he played all infield positions with the exception of the 1st base. His fielding average was .938, which was excellent for shortstops at that time.
6. Bucky Dent
Some may say that Bucky Dent should be further down this list or not on it it all. I place him sixth due to his exceptional spotlight play in the 1978 one-game playoff with the Red Sox. Dent hit .239 while with the Yankees and was an All-Star twice mostly because of his defense. Dent was primarily known as a clutch contact hitter hitting 518 hits as a Yankee.
5. Frank Crosetti
Frank Crosetti is my choice as the 5th best Yankee shortstop. Crosetti played his entire 17-year career with the Yankees, which brings him up on the list substantially. He hit .245 with over a thousand runs scored. He was a two-time All-Star and a three-time MVP candidate. Crossetti started his career at short for the Yankees in 1932, a position he held until a poor season in 1940 when Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto took over for him at short. But he retook the job when Rizzuto left for the Navy. Rizzuto rejoined the club in 946. Crosetti then became a player/coach for the club when he retired in 1948. He had a .948 fielding percentage as a Yankee
4. Roger Peckinpaugh
Roger Peckinpaugh was a Yankee for nine years and was an MVP candidate in 1914 when he was a player/manager. He is the only one of the list to have managed the Yankees. He had a .949 fielding average while with the Yankees, which was quite good for that era. He had a .259 batting average over the span. He was known as a contact hitter with the ability to steal bases. He stole 38 in 1914. In 1921 Peckinpaugh led all of baseball with the most assists in one game (9). After leaving the Yankees, he had a long managerial career ending with the Indians in 1941. He later became general manager and president of the Indians.
3. Tony Kubek
Tony Kubek was one of the most beloved New York Yankees. He played 9 years with the Yankees in 1957 he won the Rookie of the Year award. He played from 1957 to 1965. He was an All-Star four times and was an MVP candidate three times. Kubek is the first utility player to make the list, and although he played all over the field, 80% of his games were played at short, which is where he won all his awards. The only position that Kubek did not play for the Yankees is that of pitcher or catcher. In Game Seven of the 1960 World Series, he bungled a double play when he was hit in the throat by a bad hop that knocked him out. At short, he had an excellent .967 fielding percentage.
2. Phil Rizzuto
Known as much for his career in broadcasting and his onfield play at short. Rizutto can not be overlooked as one of the best Yankee shortstops ever. The “Scooter” had a .968 fielding percentage at short in his 13 Yankee seasons. Rizzuto was of small stature, and the manager at the time that Rizzuto made his major league debut in 1941 Joe McCarthy once said Rizzuto was too small to be a good baseball player. History has shown that McCarthy was very wrong. IN 13 years, he had a fielding percentage of .968. He hit .273 over the life of his career with almost 1,600 hits over the span. Rizzuto the five-time All-Star was an MVP candidate eight-time capturing the award in 1950. Rizzuto was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. When he left the Yankees in 1956, he had over 1200 double-plays under his belt.
He contributed to seven Yankee World Series championships and is sixth all-time in World Series games played, eighth in hits with 45, fourth in walks with 30, and tied for third in stolen bases with 10. Rizzuto would go on to have an exceptional 40 years broadcasting on radio and TV for the New York Yankees. His folksy style embraced him to the Yankee fans. His signature “Holy Cow” was known throughout baseball even to this day.
1. Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter is the hands-down best New York Yankee shortstop ever. This baby bomber spent his entire Hall of Fame career, 20 years with the Yankees all of them at shortstop. He is one of the very few career Yankees to have never played a game at another position at any time during there career. Jeter was the most popular of all Yankees from the late ’90s to the present. He was a member of the “Core four” that brought the Yankees to five World Series Championships.
After 20 years at short, he had the highest fielding percentage (.976) of any Yankee shortstop in the history of the club. Add to that, Jeter was clutch at every important opportunity. He hit an amazing batting average of .310, the eighth highest of any Yankee. He led all Yankees playing 2,247 games while getting a historic 3,465 hits. He was also number one with 544 doubles.
Getting back to Jeter being clutch, he had a unique ability to find himself in impact changing moments during the regular and postseason. He seemed to relish it, although the shortstop was one of the most modest players always putting the team first. A few examples include him getting his 3000th hit. He didn’t just get a hit, he did it in style with a smashing home run. When it came time for Jeter to retire in his last appearance at Yankee Stadium, he turned fantasy into reality when he hit the walk-off home run in his final game.
Jeter, during his career with the Yankees, was Rookie of the Year in 1996, he was an All-Star 14 times, a twelve-time MVP candidate, a five-time Gold Glove award winner, and a Silver Slugger award winner five times. Jeter was one fo those unique players that played consistently throughout his entire career and retired at the top of his game. Jeter became the second Yankee shortstop to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame to be inducted in the 2020 class. He missed a unanimous vote by just one sour sportswriter.
In selecting my top ten, I valued time with the club, performance as per Baseball-Reference.com. Peak career performance and performance in postseason play was also a factor. Special situations like changing career positions were also a consideration.
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research.