Over the course of MLB history, second base has rarely been a source of the game’s premier hitters. Second basemen generally receive their plaudits for their glovework, while their bats are perennially overshadowed by those belonging to first basemen and right fielders. However, the greatest Yankees second basemen break this mold. While they are certainly in the discussion of the game’s top fielders, they also were some of the most potent contributors at the plate for their teams.
As a reminder, the rankings in this article rely on FanGraphs’ WAR formula and not Baseball-Reference’s, the key discrepancy being FanGraph’s usage of UZR versus Baseball-Reference using DRS in the calculation. Let’s get to the list:
Willie Randolph: 51.4 fWAR
Somewhat surprisingly, the beloved longtime-Yankee infielder and coach tops the list of the greatest Yankees second basemen. While he lacked the power that is often an indispensable component of WAR accumulation, he instead derived that value in his ability to get on base, his speed, and his faculty in the field. He never won a Gold Glove award, yet ranks fourth in Yankees history in Total Zone and in the top 50 in MLB history.
Randolph was an invaluable contributor to the Yankees’ back-to-back World Series titles in 1977 and 1978, yet his best personal performance came two seasons later. In 1980, he entered Mike Trout territory posting a walk rate of 18.5% while drawing an MLB-leading 119 walks. This resulted in an on-base percentage of .427, an OPS+ of 133, and a wRC+ of 140, and earned him down-ballot MVP votes.
Randolph solidified his status as a fan-favorite serving as bench coach and third base coach during the dynasty years at the turn of the millennium before moving across town to manage the Mets. He has recently made several appearances in the YES commentary box, with calls from many fans (including this one) to expand his role.
Tony Lazzeri: 48.4 fWAR
The man who started the tradition of excellence at second base, Tony Lazzeri was a less heralded member of Murderer’s Row. He won five World Series rings between 1926 and 1937, and had a top-three finish in MVP voting in 1928.
Lazzeri was an impressive mix of hitting for average and power, on several occasions finishing behind teammates Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig for the American League home run crown. Despite the MVP results of the previous season, his best year actually came in 1929, in which he posted a .354/.429/.561 slash line, accompanied by a 159 OPS+ and 158 wRC+.
He tragically passed away far too soon, dying at the age of 42 from a fall caused by either a heart attack or a seizure. The Veterans Committee posthumously inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Joe Gordon: 40.1 fWAR
While he played the least games for the Yankees of anybody on the list, Joe Gordon impressively still finishes third in fWAR. He achieved this with his rare batting abilities and fielding prowess. Flash Gordon was the prototype power-hitting second basemen, being the first second baseman to ever hit 20 home runs in the American League. He also held the record in the AL for most home runs at second base before being passed by Robinson Cano, and sat atop the single-season leaderboard in that category until 2001.
Gordon won the 1942 American League MVP with 18 home runs, 103 runs batted in, a 154 OPS+, and a 152 OPS+. In addition to his hitting acumen, he played a staunch second base, finishing third all-time in Yankees history by Total Zone. He was an important sidekick in the early Joe DiMaggio days, helping the Bombers to four World Series wins in his seven seasons with the team.
Gil McDougald: 39.7 fWAR
The standard of distinction set by the previous two players at second base was continued by Gil McDougald starting in 1951. He entered the league with a bang, posting a career-year offensively in his Rookie of the Year campaign. In that 1951 season, McDougald managed a slash line of .306/.396/.488 along with a 142 in both OPS+ and wRC+.
Though his name often gets overlooked in discussions about the Yankees teams he was on, he nonetheless was an important contributor alongside Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in five world titles between 1951 and 1958.
He is perhaps best known for an incident in 1957, when he hit a line drive off of Indians pitcher Herb Score’s head. Score lost vision in his right eye causing him to miss much of the next two seasons before regaining sight and returning to pitch. McDougald was distraught, and considered retiring from the game had Score not gotten his vision back. Ironically, McDougald himself was struck in the head with a baseball two years prior, causing him to gradually lose hearing. This eventually was in part a reason why he retired prematurely at the age of 32.
Robinson Cano: 35.8 fWAR
The only active player on this list, Robbie Cano has already cemented himself as one of the greatest second basemen in the history of the game. He is divisive figure among fans, but his star-power cannot be denied. He led all of MLB in base hits in the 2010s. He flashed his brilliance with the leather, winning two Gold Glove awards, but the inconsistency in doing so left fans wanting. His sometimes-lackadaisical approach in the field and on the base paths prevented him from ever being universally loved.
Regardless, there is no doubting that few second basemen in history can rival his offensive achievements. He ranks third all-time in home runs and eleventh in baseedihits, and figures to climb those ranking given a handful more productive seasons. If not for the 80-game suspension for his positive test of a suspected PED-masking agent, he would be a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame.
At the top of his game with the Yankees, Cano was a joy to watch. His easy-going personality and effortless ability in the field made him an easy candidate as a fan favorite. And like many, I was sad to see him spurn the Yankees when he signed his mega-deal with the Mariners, but felt he deserved his handsome payday.
Honorable Mention: Snuffy Stirnweiss (29.1 fWAR), Alfonso Soriano (11.0 fWAR)
Second base was long disregarded as a source of offensive production. However, the Yankees across many decades have fielded unnatural batting talent at the position. In combination with their dexterity in the field, the top five Yankees second basemen were often standard-bearers in the league at the two-bag.