Wednesday, October 11, 2017

How Do the Yankees' Young Studs Compare?


The Yankees have always had plenty of money to buy stars from other teams or to sign free agents. They infuriated the fans of other teams when they bought Johnny Mize in 1949 and Enos Slaughter in ’54. The results have been mixed. Often the players have been well past their prime, see Kevin Brown, 2004-5. Sometimes the results have been spectacular, see George Herman Ruth, 1920 to 1932.

For most of the past several years the club has relied heavily on free agent signings instead of focusing on their scouting and farm system. Now, they’re looking more to homegrown talent. How does the current stable of Dellin Betances, Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Chad Green, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and Gary Sanchez stack up against batches of young homegrown Yankees of the past? Is it their best crop ever?

The early years of the franchise were lean ones. The Highlanders did finish second three times - in each case almost completely the result of career years from their aces, Jack Chesbro in 1904, Al Orth in ‘06, and Russ Ford in 1910. In ‘27 reporters resurrected the term “Murderers’ Row” to describe the Yankee powerhouse. It was a reference to the second floor of New York’s City Prison, which everyone called the Tombs, the floor on which rapists and murderers awaited execution. The nickname had originally been applied to the 1918 squad in Miller Huggins’ first year as manager. It referred to Frank Gilhooley, Del Pratt, Wally Pipp, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Ping Bodie, and Roger Peckinpaugh. Each had started his career with another team. (It was a sign of the dead ball era that the six sluggers had combined for a whopping fourteen home runs that year.)

The first homegrown young star to arrive was Lou Gehrig in ’25. He was joined the next season by Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, and powerful Tony Lazzeri. The club won three straight pennants before giving way to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia powerhouse. The next rookie Yankee hopeful was Leo Durocher (in ’28). He was good with his mouth but not so much with his bat. The next year 22-year-old Bill Dickey from the Jackson (Mississippi) Senators went behind the plate and embarked upon a Hall of Fame career.
In 1930 the Yanks brought up Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez, who would anchor the staff for years to come. The witty Gomez attributed his success to “clean-living and a fast outfield.” In his rookie season he coined a phrase when he said the fielders often had to ‘go fer’ balls.
 
Joe D, Keller, and Henrich
There were no other sensations until DiMaggio came along in '36. Joe D was followed by Tommy Henrich in '37, Joe Gordon in '38, and Charlie Keller the next year. Phil Rizzuto, who'd been nicknamed 'Scooter' in his last year in the minors, completed the juggernaut in '41.

It would be six more years before any new young stars cracked the lineup - 22-year-old Yogi Berra and Vic “the Springfield Rifle” Raschi. Allie Reynolds came over from Cleveland to give the Yankees another dynamic duo the likes of Ruffing and Gomez.

In ’51 Mantle arrived. Whitey Ford had gone 9-1 in 1950 but would serve two years in the military before returning for ’53. Whitey and Mick were joined by Moose Skowron in ‘54, Elston Howard in ’55, and 21-year-olds Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek in ’57. More homegrown talent and more championships. The championships would continue, but the homegrown talent base was thinning ominously. The next crop of Tom Tresh, Joe Pepitone, and Jim Bouton in’62, Al Downing ’63, and Mel Stottlemyre in ’64 was good but clearly much less gifted than its predecessors.

The next batch of hopefuls - Horace Clarke, Roy White, and Bobby Murcer, who was ordained the next Mickey Mantle, was a disappointment. With the exception of Thurman Munson (1969) the next few years would see the Yanks import young talent someone else had developed - with excellent results. The imports included Sparky Lyle, Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Bobby Bonds, Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Reggie Jackson, Rich Gossage, Don Gullett, and of course Catfish.
 
The Core Four
The only gem the Yanks produced in the ‘80’s was Don Mattingly, who started in the outfield. He was surrounded by another bunch of imports that included Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson.  The 90’s saw the arrival of Bernie Williams and more imports - Paul O’Neill, Wade Boggs, and Jimmy Key. The Buck Showalter years ended with perhaps the best batch of homegrown talent in Yankee history. Joining Williams in ’95 were Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera. The young guns were joined by another slew of imports: Joe Girardi, Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, Mike Mussina, and Jason Giambi.
 
Robinson Cano, the most gifted homegrown player since Derek Jeter, came on the scene in ’05 along with Melky Cabrera. Three years later Joe Giradi welcomed Brett Gardner, David Robinson, and Jobe Chamberlain. The next year it was right back to importing high-priced help in the form of C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, and Curtis Granderson - again with good results. There was a long lull and then Brian Cashman finally committed himself to finding and producing talent rather than buying or renting it. Only time will tell if the current crop can compare to those of the Gehrig-led crop of ’25-26, the Dimaggio-led crop of ’36 to ’41, the Mantle-led crop of the Fifties, and the Jeter-led crop of the ‘90’s.

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