[image title="Thurman Munson" size="full" id="17896" align="center" linkto="full" ]
This is the first in what will be an extended series of posts that will run over the summer. I will do one post covering the top 5 Yankees by WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at each position, plus a second profile piece on one player at each position. At the end of the summer, I’ll put together a post ranking the top 60 Yankees of all time. I will be using the career WAR found at baseballprojection.com, with only WAR garnered as a Yankee being included in the calculations.
1. Yogi Berra (61.8 WAR as Yankee)
Yogi compiled 61.8 WAR over his 18 seasons with the Yankees, good enough to put him at #97 among all position players in terms of career value. His best season was likely 1956, in which he finished with 7.3 WAR, and had a batting line of .298/.378/.534 with 30 homers and 105 RBI. He also caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of that season’s World Series, and added a whopping 1.248 OPS (3HR, 10 RBI) in that series as well. Interestingly enough, Yogi did not win the MVP in 1956, although he did finish second to teammate Mickey Mantle (1.169 OPS!). He had won the MVP in 1951, 1954 and 1955, and finished no lower than 4th between 1950 and 1956. He made 15 all-star teams, batted .285/.348/.482, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.
2. Bill Dickey (54.3)
Dickey’s career value was good enough for #144 among position players, and all of that was compiled at catcher. Unlike Berra, who spent some time in the outfield, Dickey never moved off the position, which probably lead to his general loss of effectiveness from age 33 on. Dickey had his best stretch of seasons from 1936-1939, as he was worth at least 5.3 wins in each year and helped the Yankees win the title in every year during that span. He had a fantastic .313/.386/.484 line for his career, and garnered MVP votes in 9 different seasons. A more complete profile of Dickey is forthcoming.
3. Jorge Posada (44.3)
Posada got a late start to his career, only getting the bulk of the catching work starting in 1998 and only becoming the “everyday” guy in 2000. From 2000 on, he has been a fairly consistent force in the Yankee order, helping him reach #228 on the all-time position player WAR list. Due to that late start and some solid AL catching, he has only made 5 all-star teams. His best two seasons were likely 2003 (.281/.405/.518) and 2007 (.338/.426/.543), and he garnered MVP votes in both seasons, finishing third in 2003. His career line of .278/.379/.482 compares favorably to that of Dickey and Berra, but his defensive struggles place him on a notch below both of them. He is still adding to his career totals and could catch Dickey with 3 good years, but I think that is unlikely. His Hall of Fame case should be interesting to watch, as he is likely deserving but may struggle to capture the imagination of voters looking for loads of accolades and memorable moments.
4. Thurman Munson (43.3)
Munson would likely be higher on this list, if not for his tragic death during the 1979 season. Thurman won the Rookie of the Year award in 1970, and MVP in 1976, was chosen to 7 All-Star Games, and won 3 Gold Gloves. He caught three teams that went to the World Series from 1976-1978, including two winners (’77 and ’78), and notched a .909 OPS in those three World Series. Although he won the MVP in ’76, 1973 and 1975 were probably better years, with ’73 in particular being a banner year for Munson, as he notched a career high in 2B (29), HR (20), OPS (.849), and WAR (6.6). His death in 1979 likely cut off what seemed to be an early decline for Munson, as he had stumbled at the plate in 1978 and continued to so in 1979. Unfortunately, it also cut off any chance he had at putting the finishing touches on a Hall of Fame resume, and Munson will be remembered by history as a strong all-around catcher who was taken from us too soon.
5. Elston Howard (28.6)
Howard just makes it onto the top 500 position player list, coming it at #495 on the strength of 14 year career that saw him spend most of his almost 1500 games at catcher. Howard made 9 All-Star games, won 2 Gold Gloves, and won an MVP in 1963 in what was one of three 5+ WAR seasons. Much like Posada, Howard got his start at 26, and only exceeded 400 plate appearances for the first time in 1958, at age 29. However, he got his late start due to racism rather than slow development, as he was the first black Yankee and his 1963 AL MVP represented the first instance of a black player winning that award. His peak ran from 32-35 (1961-64), when he put up a batting line of .306/.354/.499 and averaged 21 HR and 84 RBI per season as the Yankees made the World Series in each of the four seasons. Howard’s bat fell off dramatically in 1965, and he was washed up by 1967, at which point the Yankees traded him to the Red Sox. He did not hit well for the Sox, but did participate in the 1967 World Series, which marked his 10th Series (he lost 6).
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