The position player selection process for our starting lineup with this all-time team of complementary greats is almost complete. Let’s take a step back and recap who’s already in the squad.
C - Elston Howard
1B - Bill Skowron
2B - Willie Randolph
LF - Bob Meusel
RF - Tommy Henrich
DH - Oscar Gamble
A couple of things to be acknowledged that played a role in my decision for these final names. Our lineup is certainly becoming left-handed heavy which amusingly enough is sort of the opposite of the current Yankees.
I thought about leaning towards right-handed batters moving forward, but ultimately, this is a hypothetical scenario and perhaps even more importantly, an exercise to recognize and praise careers that may not get their deserved recognition. I was certainly aware of this occurrence, but I’m not about to let it take the place of another lefty hitter.
The second aspect to acknowledge is that we went heavy on the way back. While the younger generation of fans may know a lot of these names due to their dedication, it’s not like they have any memories of them.
There is something special about giving praise to Bob Meusel and Tommy Henrich right now, because almost a century later, they’re even likelier to slip through the cracks of history. However I also wanted to take the time to praise a player of our current generation.
This player didn’t have a long career in New York, but he left his mark in a short period. After being inserted into a rather difficult and unique situation without a lot of experience, he managed to provide stability and also improve his own game and take it to new levels.
This player is none other than Didi Gregorius.
Career NYY stats: .269/.313/.446, 660 G, 97 HR, 360 RBI, 102 OPS+, 15.1 rWAR
Didi’s full name is Mariekson Julius Gregorius, but through the beginning of his career in the United States, a lot of American players had difficulty spelling his name. Thus, he adopted Didi, a family nickname and it stuck.
Gregorius is the son of a former ball player, Johannes Gregorius Sr, and while he grew up in Curaçao, he was actually born in Amsterdam while his father played professional ball in Holland. Not many players can claim to have been a part of two high-profile team trades, but that was the case with young Didi after turning pro in 2007. Coming up through the Reds’ farm system, he didn’t have a clear path to a major league role. So when Cincinnati saw an opportunity in December 2012 shortly after his MLB debut, he was shipped off to Arizona in the deal that sent Trevor Bauer to Cleveland and Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds.
A little under two years later, after a couple of underwhelming limited seasons with the Diamondbacks, Didi was once again shipped off, this time to the Bronx. Robbie Ray went to Arizona and Shane Greene went to the Tigers. Perhaps it was appropriate, as Yankee Stadium was the site of his first career homer, off Phil Hughes in 2013:
It was a sign of things to come, as Didi became well-acquainted with the short porch during his tenure in pinstripes.
The Yankees acquired Gregorius because a certain legend had recently retired, and the team needed a shortstop. The Dutch native didn’t have the resume nor the pedigree to really put the fanbase at ease, and there were some lingering questions. Nevertheless over the next five seasons, Gregorius more than answered them all.
After only hitting nine homers in 155 games during his debut season in the Bronx, Gregorius gradually increased his production at the plate over the following four years, adding some power to his bat. Watch how these numbers evolve from 2015 through 2018:
HR: 9 - 20 - 25 - 27
OPS+: 89 - 97 - 106 - 124
As the team took a step forward behind its young core in 2017, Gregorius became an integral part. Twice, he made a name for himself in postseason glory, first by belting a key three-run homer in the first inning of the Wild Card Game after the Yankees fell behind Minnesota early ...
... and then going deep twice off AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber in the ALDS Game 5 clincher in Cleveland.
That helped complete a comeback from down 0-2 in the series and propelled New York to the ALCS, where the Astros put a heartbreaking end to a dream season.
Another superb campaign from Gregorius in 2018 (4.9 rWAR) helped the Yankees reach 100 wins, though they had to settle for a Wild Card spot and came up short against the eventual champion Red Sox in the ALDS. The next year did not go as well for Didi personally, as recovery from Tommy John surgery limited him to 82 games of underwhelming play in 2019, though his grand slam during the ALDS sweep of the Twins offered one last playoff highlight:
After another brutal ALCS loss to Houston, Gregorius left for Philadelphia via free agency with his future role in New York uncertain. But through a transitional period that could’ve been quite tumultuous, he was a steady and reliable presence and absolutely a complementary piece worthy of praise.
Thanks for everything, Didi.