We’ve completed the full lineup selection for our all-time team of complementary greats. Before diving into the pitching side, let’s put out the order and have a look at the final product.
Our selections span several different eras across a period of more than one hundred years, from Bob Meusel all the way to Didi Gregorius. This is what the lineup for the complementary greats of New York Yankees history could look like:
- Earle Combs (CF)
- Bob Meusel (LF)
- Tommy Henrich (RF)
- Oscar Gamble (DH)
- Bill Skowron (1B)
- Elston Howard (C)
- Home Run Baker (3B)
- Didi Gregorius (SS)
- Willie Randolph (2B)
Utility player: Johnny Blanchard
*The lineup ended up being somewhat lefty heavy just as I feared, but given the nature of this series, we’re not going to worry too much about lineup construction.
Let us know in the comment section which was your favorite selection, and if there was a specific player you would’ve liked to see make the cut.
Now, on to the pitching staff. There will be four selections in total, in order to not find ourselves reaching for names that may not fit the bill towards the end. There will be one right and left-handed starter; the same setup goes for relievers, who could be a closer, a setup man, or something else entirely.
The first selection for the staff is a left-handed starting pitcher: Eddie Lopat.
Career NYY stats: 113-59, 3.19 ERA, 1,497.1 IP, 121 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP, 17.3 rWAR
Accolades: 1 ERA title, 1 All-Star Game appearance, and 5 World Series championships
Long before the Yankees were winning their last championship in 2009 with a three-headed monster in the rotation (CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett), that formula had already worked with another rotation headlined by Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. They anchored a staff that won the World Series for five straight seasons from 1949 to 1953.
Lopat didn’t start his career in New York, but he was born there and grew up as a Yankees fan. He started out as a hitter, failed a tryout with the then New York Giants, and went on to sign a minor league deal with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
For the most part, he struggled with the bat in his hand, and one day in the minors, Carlos Moore, his manager, noticed the life on a routine throw he made and asked him to try to throw a curveball. Lopat obliged, and caught the eye of his skipper who stated that he could be a great pitcher if coached properly, even with such a small sample size of evidence.
The transition certainly took time, as after his move to the mound, Lopat bounced around for several more years in minors. In 1939 he started throwing a screwball, and after finding some form of success in 1942 playing in the Southern Association, Lopat received an opportunity with the Chicago White Sox.
One of the main reasons why Lopat ended up with the Yankees via trade, a few years later, was the emergence of one Yogi Berra. That allowed general manager George Weiss to be aggressive and trade catcher Aaron Robinson in a package deal for Lopat on February 24, 1948.
Lopat received many nicknames, such as “The Junkman” and was also referred to as “Steady Eddie” by Mel Allen. He was a smaller guy at 5-foot-10 and didn’t have overpowering stuff, but he always made due with his ability to manipulate the baseball, change arm angles and deliveries. Lopat also regularly stepped up to the challenge of the World Series spotlight, notching a 2.60 ERA across 7 starts and 52 innings, never allowing a single playoff homer — even against some fearsome Dodgers and Giants lineups.
Although Lopat’s All-Star berth came in 1951, he was actually even better on a rate stat basis when he turned 35 in 1953. As the Yankees strolled to their fifth title in a row, Lopat had a .800 winning percentage going 16-4 and leading the majors in ERA (2.42) and WHIP (1.12). Ted Williams went on the record then saying that “The Junkman” was one of the toughest pitchers he faced.
Although he was never the starriest name on the Yankee staff, Lopat quietly became one of their more reliable arms during a remarkable period of success. Lopat won over 100 games as a Yankee, and never posted an ERA above 3.65 during his time with the club. He is a perfect pick to start our staff of underrated greats.