A little over halfway through the lineup for the All-Supernova team, we’ve already seen some of the better Yankees ever, even if for a short period. Bobby Murcer and Don Mattingly were a couple of easy choices with outstanding peaks in centerfield and first-base respectively. Other names, such as Charlie Keller and Roger Maris, had careers that stood out for the criteria we’re looking for, but the pool of players in left and right field offered plenty of qualified candidates.
When we move to the infield, however, the field certainly becomes thinner. That’s not a demerit on the Yankees’ history at those spots; it’s far from it. The fact is that whether we’re looking at shortstop, third base and second, many of the more prominent players in one way or another managed to sustain their production at a solid clip for a long period.
Talking to our managing editor, Andrew Mearns, a couple of current Yankees would make for interesting choices, if not for the fact they are active players. Everybody hopes to see the best possible versions of DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres moving forward, but it’s very easy to argue and imagine that they’ll fail to repeat the sort of production they previously — 2018-19 for Torres and 2019-20 for LeMahieu. Those look like they may well end up being outliers.
Take those disclaimers however you will, but they are a way to explain why I took some liberties with the shortstop and third base selections for this weekend’s addition. But no matter what, these were players with a clear peak period that probably didn’t last as long as it could have.
Without any further ado, our shortstop choice for the All-Supernova squad is one of Casey Stengel’s favorites, the versatile Gil McDouglad.
Career NYY Stats: .276/.356/.410, 1,336 Games, 112 HR, 576 RBI, 559 BB, 623 K, 111 OPS+, 40.7 bWAR
A career Yankee, McDougald doesn’t profile as the typical All-Supernova player with a short peak and a shell of himself for a significant period. Compiling 40.7 bWAR over a decade in the big leagues with 5.8 as your highest single-season mark shows some consistency, but if you dig deeper, it’s plain to see why he’s been included.
It’s understandable that a decent number of fans might not know much about McDougald. They might know that he was a key member of the 1950s dynasty, or that he was unfortunately the batter when Cleveland pitcher Herb Score got drilled in the eye on a line drive up the middle, jeopardizing the up-and-coming superstar’s career. McDouglad’s reaction to the Score incident indicates a great deal about his character — even years after the fact, the Yankees infielder continuously prayed for Score and felt shaken up about what had happened.
McDougald was born on May 19, 1928 in San Francisco, and oddly enough, he barely played baseball in high school. He only made the team as a senior and even then, was limited by injuries. After playing a bit of semipro ball, McDougald signed with the Yankees in 1948 and blazed through the farm system.
Although fellow newcomer Mickey Mantle was the big name in 1951 spring training, it was McDougald who ended up standing out more in the coming campaign. Splitting time between third and second, he hit .306/.396/.488 with a 142 OPS+ in 131 games, earning AL Rookie of the Year honors and a ninth-place finish for AL MVP with a 4.6 rWAR season. The Yankees outlasted the Giants in six games, and in his debut season, he was already a World Series winner. McDougald would go on to play a pivotal role on four more championship teams.
Looking at the rest of McDougald’s career, 1956 and 1957 stand out. It’s no coincidence that those are three campaigns in which he finished in the top seven for the AL MVP. The latter two years also mark a key reason for his inclusion at shortstop on the All-Supernova Team. Although McDougald had spent his career at either second or third, Stengel made him his primary shortstop between the seasons of 1956-58. and during that time, he excelled as the Yankees won three straight pennants and a pair of World Series titles.
A career .766 OPS hitter, McDougald surged to a .311/.405/.443 triple slash with an .848 OPS and 5.1 rWAR in ‘56, and then followed it up by hitting .289/.362/.442 with an .804 OPS and personal-best 5.8 rWAR in ‘57. Across the long history of the Yankees franchise, the only other shortstops to post multiple five-win seasons are a couple lofty names: Derek Jeter and Phil Rizzuto.
In the two periods in between those seasons, McDougald had an OPS of .752 between 1952-54 and .699 from 1958-60. For that time, those aren’t as terrible as they look, but it helps show the contrast between that and what he was able to do in those top three seasons. And even in other years, like the ‘58 campaign at shortstop, he played well while providing World Series heroics:
McDougald made six All-Star games and won five World Series in what was one of the more prolific periods in Yankees history. To me, he represents the epitome of the overlooked Yankee player who might not have been the best, but was significantly above average and helped construct championship teams and not just teams with superstars and no depth.
McDougald may never have been the best player in baseball, but he circled that periphery at least within his position group for three individual seasons.