Full Name: Curtis Granderson
Position: Center field
Born: March 16, 1981 (Blue Island, IL)
Yankee Years: 2010-13
Primary number: 14
Yankee statistics: 513 G, .245/.335/.495, 74 2B, 23 3B, 115 HR, 122 wRC+, 14.9 rWAR, 16.1 fWAR
Acquired in one of the more star-studded trades you’ll come across, Curtis Granderson made an immediate and booming impact in his four-year tenure with the Yankees. Coming off of several impressive seasons in a row in Detroit, he reimagined his presence at the plate, and became one of New York’s best players on some very good teams in the early 2010s. With his infectious positive demeanor and new-found power from the left side of the plate, the Grandy Man quickly became a fan favorite in the Bronx.
Granderson was born to Curtis Sr. and Mary, both teachers, in the south suburbs of Chicago, where he grew up. He attended Thornton Fractional South High School in Lansing, IL, where he excelled playing basketball and baseball. There, he wore number 14, the same number Yankee fans would become rather familiar with.
With several recruitments to play college baseball, the outfielder opted for the University of Illinois at Chicago, with the intent of playing basketball as well. His career on the court at UIC was not long-lived, as he rather quickly decided to focus his efforts on the diamond, a decision that would pay off. Granderson found great success as a baseball player with UIC, often leading his Division-I squad in many offensive categories. His junior season was where he fully flourished, hitting .483, second best in the country, and running an OPS over 1.300 in 55 games. His contributions in college were significant enough that UIC’s home field would eventually be named partially in his honor and as the result of a donation, while he stormed his way toward big-league recognition.
Draft and Pre-Yankee Years
After Granderson’s excellent college career, the Detroit Tigers selected him in the third round of the 2002 Draft, with the 80th overall pick. After two very solid seasons across the lower-level minor leagues, and an excellent 2004 season with the Double-A Erie Seawolves (21 HR and .922 OPS in 123 games), the Grandy Man had earned himself a call-up the The Show. He had a cup of coffee in ‘04, and played well in 47 games the following year.
He would play his first full season in the bigs in 2006, and despite a slightly below-average campaign with the bat, and leading the league in strikeouts, it was far from a disaster. He did also play a role in Detroit’s run to the World Series, including a pair of big hits against the Yankees in that year’s ALDS.
2007 was his true coming-out party, however, as he blossomed into one of the better players in the league. He slashed .302/.361/.552, en route to a 136 wRC+, with a historic 23 triples, tied for the most since 1925, and the first time the number had been reached in over 50 years. He was an all-around offensive threat, becoming just the third member of the 20-20-20-20 club (HR, 2B, 3B, SB), culminating in 7.9 fWAR, fourth highest in the majors.
Granderson earned himself a nice payday following the big year, in the form of five-year $30.25 million contract with the Tigers. He would have two more productive years in the Motor City in ‘08 and ‘09, earning his first All-Star selection in the latter.
Grand Arrival in the Bronx
As good as his run in Detroit had been, ‘09 would be his final year there. On the heels of a World Series win, the Yankees looked to upgrade in their outfield, and did so as part of a massive three-team deal, which looked like this:
Yankees receive: Curtis Granderson
Tigers receive: Austin Jackson (from NYY), Phil Coke (from NYY), Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth
Diamondbacks receive: Ian Kennedy (from NYY), Edwin Jackson
It is not often we see a trade with so many notable names, though a few of them were prospects at the time. Nonetheless, more than a couple of players on this list had very significant major-league careers. And of course, the deal landed Granderson in the Bronx, which lead to his eventual inclusion on this very list.
It would not take long for the Grandy Man to enter Yankee fans’ hearts, as the lefty blasted a homer in his first at-bat with the team. It kicked off a very solid 2010 season in the Bronx, as he played in 136 games, slashed .247/.324/.468 (110 wRC+), clubbed 24 homers, and put up 4.0 fWAR in a respectable pinstripe debut.
In August of that year, Granderson approached then-hitting coach Kevin Long with a desire to make some adjustments to his swing. In particular, he wanted to help correct some of his serious troubles against southpaws. Long said the approach was to make “a total reformation of the swing that hopefully will work against lefties and righties.” It may not have been ideal timing, in the middle of August for a contending team, but Granderson was ready to make a change.
The final month of the 2010 season was his best since May, as the changes seemed to have paid off. And as a greater testament to Long and Granderson’s work, 2011 was a major tide change for the then-30-year-old.
He came out of the gates strong in April, swatting seven homers and hitting to the tune of a 147 wRC+, and he never really slowed down. It began what was easily a career year for the left-handed hitter. His 146 wRC+ on the season was a significant career-best, and his 6.9 fWAR was his best since his historic 2007 campaign. He also set a new best in walk rate, and most notably, he beat his previous high in home runs by 11, belting 41 long balls in the 2011 season. One of these included the final touch on the Yankees’ three grand slam game against the Athletics in August.
He earned his second career All-Star selection, his first Silver Slugger, and a fourth-place finish in AL MVP voting. On top of this, Granderson performed well in the postseason, in a losing effort against his former team in the ALDS. Granderson was able to show off his skills with the glove and the bat in a series-prolonging Game 4 win for the Yankees.
Riding high, the Grandy Man continued his success into the 2012 season. Although it was not quite the peak the prior year was, he did have some excellent moments throughout the year. There were notable highs and lows, as he set a Yankee record with 195 strikeouts, but also set another career high with 43 homers.
He would finish with a 116 wRC+ and 4.0 fWAR, another more-than-solid season, earning him his third all-star appearance in what was his final full season effort in the Bronx.
2013 was not so fortuitous for Granderson and the Yankees, as he began the season on the injured list after breaking his forearm on an HBP in spring training. He then rather quickly broke a knuckle for that same reason upon his return to action in May. All told, the star center fielder only played in 61 games, and slashed a rather disappointing .229/.317/.407 when he was able to take the field. As a result of the compounding injuries, Grandy was never able to get things rolling in 2013, and with that season being a utilized team option on his previous five-year deal, his time with the Yankees had likely come to an end.
It was an excellent run in pinstripes for Granderson, as he finished as the second-most valuable player on the team during his tenure by fWAR, behind only Robinson Canó. From 2010 to ‘12, his 108 homers were the fourth most among all hitters, as his newfound power stroke paid off in full at Yankee Stadium.
A move across town, and an end to an excellent career
Granderson still had some gas left in the tank, reinforced by the four-year, $60 million deal he inked with the cross-town Mets before the 2014 season. He surprisingly played 60 more games with the Mets than he did with the Yankees over the course of four years with each team. He never quite reached the highs he did with the Yanks, but he did tally another 5-win season in 2015, and another 30-homer campaign in ‘16. It was another good run for Grandy in the Big Apple, as his career reached its twilight.
Granderson was traded to the Dodgers during the 2017 season, and also made stops in Toronto, Milwaukee, and Miami before retiring following the 2019 season at the age of 38. He finished with a career 115 wRC+ and 47.2 fWAR. He was among the 20 most valuable position players in the sport over his 16-year big league career.
(Grandy) Man of the People
Perhaps even more resonant than his outstanding playing career, was the legacy he had as “one of the good guys.” From the outside, that distinction seemed more than deserved. Josh Donaldson said he was “The nicest man in baseball,” while Pete Alonso remarked that “I don’t think anybody likes Grandy, I think everyone loves Grandy.’’ As a young fan while he was in pinstripes, it’s hard to disagree with this sentiment.
He was given the Marvin Miller Man of the Year distinction by the MLBPA (an association he was a major contributor too) four different times, and he was awarded the prestigious Roberto Clemente award in 2016, both of which honored his continued off-field contributions.
Post-playing career, Granderson has continued his off-field philanthropy through his own charities, as well as serving as the president of the Players Alliance, an organization striving for equity for black athletes in baseball and elsewhere. He has also worked as a TV analyst for TBS.
Between star-level seasons in many different stops around the bigs, to reaching new heights with the Yankees, and being remembered as a true good guy of the game, Granderson continues to build a legacy more than worthy of inclusion on this list.
Staff rank: 91
Community rank: N/A
Stats rank: 90
2013 rank: N/A
Jerry Krasnick “Curtis Granderson; A Legacy of Respect” (link)
Wallace Matthews “Curtis Granderson reworking his swing” (link)