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Top 100 Yankees Honorable Mentions: Older Dynasties

A look at some important Yankees of yesteryear who missed the cut for the top 100.

Don Larsen Executing an Out for a Win
Don Larsen goes for perfection with Billy Martin watching from second

Our long-running offseason series on the Top 100 Yankees in franchise history has come to an end. But before we fully bid adieu to this project, we wanted to salute some more Honorable Mention Top 100 candidates who just fell short. As we’ve said multiple times, average voting margins were razor-thin, so it’s really just a rounding error that they weren’t included; do not read too much into it. On each of the next four days, we will briefly discuss six Yankees from different general eras who would’ve easily made a Top 125 list.
Enjoy! - Eds.


Everyone remembers Babe Ruth. Likewise, the rest of what I like to call “The Yankee Immortals,” those figures who endure decades (almost a century in some cases!) later, are still in the popular imagination.

But you don’t win 27 World Series titles without a ton of historical depth. The recently completed Top 100 covers in detail a plethora of those players. But there are even more lurking on the fringes of the list and that’s where we’re headed today. So without further ado: the near-misses from dynasties in the Yankees’ first half-century of play.

Carl Mays

Position: Starting pitcher
Born: November 21, 1891 (Liberty, KY)
Died: April 4, 1971 (El Cajon, CA)
Yankee Years: 1919-23
Yankee Stats: 79-39, 11 SV, 1090 IP, 3.25 ERA, 17.1 rWAR, 12.1 fWAR

Carl Mays Submarine Delivery 1922

“Yankees get Carl Mays” blared the New York Times at the top of page six on July 31, 1919. The Bombers sent pitchers Bob McGraw and Allen Russell and $40,000 to Boston for a player to be named later. That PTBNL? Mays. The prior year, the surly righty led the majors in complete games (30!) and shutouts (8).

Down the stretch in 1919, he started 13 games for the Yanks and finished 12 of them. Think CC Sabathia’s ‘08 stretch run with Milwaukee but insane. From there ... my goodness. What a two-year stretch. 75 starts. 18 relief appearances. 53 wins. 648.2 innings pitched. Unfortunately, his 1920 season is best remembered for the tragic death of Ray Chapman after Mays hit him with a fastball.

Cleveland, Boston, and Detroit made noise about boycotting Mays, refusing to play against him, but ultimately that came to naught. On the field, Mays kept performing, albeit after a week of isolation after hitting Chapman. The 1921 Yankees made the World Series, though they fell to the cross-town Giants. But that was not Mays’ fault — he pitched three games in that Fall Classic, surrendered five earned runs in 26 frames (1.73 ERA), and his performance was worth 16.5 percent cWPA. By 1923 he was basically done with the Yanks, pitching to a 6.20 ERA ERA that year and not appearing in the win over the Giants in that year’s World Series. Still. His 1920 and 1921 seasons ... impressive.

Johnny Murphy

Position: Relief pitcher
Born: July 14, 1908 (New York, NY)
Died: January 14, 1970 (New York, NY)
Yankee Years: 1932-46
Yankee Stats: 93-53, 383 G, 3.54 ERA, 104 SV, 990.1 IP, 13.9 rWAR, 4.1 fWAR

Pitcher for the New York Yankees Johnny Murphy Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

You’d think if a fella hurled 207+ innings as a rookie to the tune of a 131 ERA+ that he’d be a rotation stalwart for years to come. In this case, you’d be wrong. Murphy’s move to predominantly pitching out of the ‘pen after his debut worked out extremely well for both him and the Yanks.

As John Vorperian recounts in his SABR bio of Murphy, the hurler was an anomaly. Relievers were usually guys who were either over the hill or couldn’t cut it as a starter. That doesn’t describe Murphy. Skipper Joe McCarthy would turn to Murphy and his devastating curveball to close out games, leading Lefty Gomes to remark “Ask Murphy” when asked how many wins Lefty would win one season.

Murphy pitched in six World Series, the Yankees won each of them, and he was brilliant: he allowed just two earned runs in 16.1 career playoff innings. In 1941, he tossed six shutout frames over two appearances as the Yanks took down the Dodgers. There’s only one Mo Rivera, but 60 years before the GOAT, Johnny Murphy might as well have been nicknamed “Money Murphy” for his annual playoff performances.

Gene Woodling

Position: Left fielder
Born: August 16, 1922 (Akron, OH)
Died: June 2, 2001 (Barberton, OH)
Yankee Years: 1949-54
Yankee Stats: 698 G, 648 H, .285/.388/.434, 126 wRC+, 124 OPS+, 16.3 rWAR, 15.7 fWAR

Look. If I was the fourth-most valuable Yankee hitter by fWAR for a six-year stretch, behind only Yogi, Rizzuto, and The Mick, I would quite literally insist on that being on my tombstone. “Here lies Kevin. Surpassed only by legends.”

That’s Woodling. The outfielder, who played in New York for six years that spanned DiMaggio’s twilight and Mantle’s onset, among other things, was an on-base machine who led the Junior Circuit with a .429 mark in 1953.

When playoff time came around? It’s clobbering time. Most notably, Woodling took center stage in Game 7 of the 1952 Fall Classic at Ebbets Field. He robbed a hit from Jackie Robinson, clubbed a solo shot off Joe Black in the fifth to put New York ahead, and then caught the final out as the Yanks emerged victorious. Woodling hit .348 that postseason, and then the next year he hit a leadoff shot in Game 5, again at Ebbets, as the Yanks beat the Dodgers in six. If I had a career .318/.442/.529 (LOL) career playoff slash line, that would also be going on my tombstone. Five rings in five tries. That’ll do.

Billy Martin

Position: Second baseman
Born: May 16, 1928 (Berkeley, CA)
Died: December 25, 1989 (Johnson City, NY)
Yankee Years: 1950-57
Yankee Stats: 527 G, 30 HR, .262/.313/.376, 88 wRC+, 6.4 rWAR, 6.3 fWAR

If the PSA Top 100 had been figures instead of players in Yankee history, we wouldn’t be writing about Billy Martin in the “Best of the Rest.” Martin became a Yankee legend in the dugout. At the end of the day though, as a player he was still a member of five Yankees World Series teams.

The Yanks got Martin in October 1949 from Oakland. As an aside, how many readers knew without looking it up that “Billy” was actually Alfred M. Martin? Alfred Martin might have struggled to hit his body weight in the regular season, but when it became playoff time, he was an entirely different player.

Regular season Billy? .669 OPS. When the calendar turned? Billy the (playoff) Kid came to play: .333/.371/.566 with five World Series dingers and 19 RBI in 28 games. He saved the day with a heads-up catch late in Game 7 of ‘52, and in both ‘53 and ‘56, the Billy clubbed multiple round-trippers on the way to Yankee victories. In the former, he knocked in the series-winning run, capping a 12-hit series that won him the Babe Ruth Award (the World Series MVP did not exist yet).

Honestly, even if he’d never stepped into the dugout as a manager, Billy Martin would have a heck of a resume.

Don Larsen

Position: Starting pitcher
Born: August 7, 1929 (Michigan City, IN)
Died: January 1, 2020 (Coeur d’Alene, ID)
Yankee Years: 1955-59
Yankee Stats: 45-24, 128 G, 90 GS, 3.50 ERA, 106 ERA+, 4.6 rWAR, 3.5 fWAR

So. Don Larsen is 122th all-time among Yankee pitchers in fWAR. Infamous free agent signing Hideki Irabu is five spots back. Adam Warren is 21 spots higher. Yet Larsen is among our best of the rest, and in the interests of full disclosure I gave him my 99th spot in my personal top 100. It shouldn’t be overly difficult to suss out why Larsen, despite a pedestrian back of his baseball card whilst in pinstripes, is getting a shout out here in the Honorable Mentions. The Yanks obtained him as part of a 17-player trade with the Orioles in November 1954, one that included the aforementioned Gene Woodling being sent to Baltimore as part of the deal.

He pitched well for the Yanks in his first two years, with a 123 ERA+ in ‘55 and a 119 mark in ‘56. Combined he appeared in 56 games, starting 33 of them. But it was the 1956 World Series that gets Larsen here. Every once in a while, someone does something outsized on the big stage that ends up wildly outliving the rest of their legacy.

The front page of the October 9th, 1956 New York Times declared “Larsen Beats Dodgers in Perfect Game.” It was the first no-hitter in World Series history, and the first perfect game in the majors in 34 years, since Charlie Robertson of the White Sox hurled one in 1922. Larsen’s performance put the Yanks up 3-2 in the series and earned him World Series MVP honors. Only one batter, Pee Wee Reese, managed to run a three-ball count on Larsen. Perhaps the closest call came in the second inning, when fleet-footed Jackie Robinson clubbed a ball to third base. At the hot corner, Andy Carey deflected the ball to shortstop Gil McDougald who fielded the ball on the backhand and whipped it to first to retire Robinson. For one of the iconic, legendary performances in major league history, Larsen gets his Honorable Mention shout-out.

Bob Turley

Position: Starting pitcher
Born: September 19, 1930 (Troy, IL)
Died: March 30, 2013 (Atlanta, GA)
Yankee Years: 1955-62
Yankee Stats: 82-52, 234 G, 175 GS, 58 CG, 1269 IP, 102 ERA+, 9.3 rWAR, 8.2 fWAR

Two years after Larsen’s perfecto, Turley had the finest season of his career and helped carry the Yanks to a World Series win over the Braves. His 21 wins in 1958, among other things, were enough for him to win a Cy Young Award and finish second in AL MVP voting. No offense to Bob but The Mick got jobbed on this one. As did Ted Williams (seriously, how many MVPs could that guy have won?!), but I don’t care about the Red Sox.

When the Fall Classic came around, Turley stepped up. He appeared in four of the seven games, starting two and finishing two others. How’s this for a three-game stretch in crunch time? Game 5: with the Yanks facing elimination, Turley hurled a complete game, 10-strikeout shutout. Game 6 (two days later): with the Yanks up by one with two out and runners on first and third in the 10th inning, Turley entered the contest and retired Frank Torre to force the decisive Game 7.

Speaking of Game 7, which I should point out happened the very next day ... Turley entered in relief of Larsen with one in the third inning. From there, he hurled 6.2 innings of relief. He allowed one run. Front and center on the next day’s Times: “Yanks Beat Braves, 6-2, and Win Series; Turley, in Relief, Outpitches Burdette.” He sure did. Turley’s Yankee career ended with a relatively pedestrian stat line, but his 1958 was a season for the ages and was integral to the Bronx Bombers’ 18th World Series title.

References

Baseball-Reference.

Drebinger, John. “Larsen Beats Dodgers in Perfect Game; Yanks Lead, 3-2, on First Series No-Hitter.” The New York Times. October 9, 1956.

Drebinger, John. “Yanks Beat Braves, 6-2, and Win Series; Turley, in Relief, Outpitches Burdette.” The New York Times. October 10, 1958.

FanGraphs.

Huston is silent on boycott of Mays.The New York Times. August 27, 1920.

Sargent, Jim. “Gene Woodling.” SABR.

Sheehan, Joseph M. “Two Coast Stars Bought by Yanks.” The New York Times. October 14, 1949.

Vorperian, John. “Johnny Murphy.” SABR.

Wood, Allen. “Carl Mays.” SABR.

Yankees get Carl Mays.” The New York Times. July 31, 1919.


Read more: Pinstripe Alley’s Top 100 Yankees
Other Honorable Mentions: Deadball Era; Newer Dynasties; Recent Years