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Top 100 Yankees Honorable Mentions: Newer Dynasties

Let’s look back at some players that were part of the Yankees’ two most recent dynastic runs.

MLB: SEP 09 Brewers at Yankees Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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.


Over the past couple days, we’ve been taking a look back at some of the Yankees that just missed out on making our Top 100 Yankee countdown. Today, we’re going to continue on with that by looking at some of the players that helped the franchise put together dynasties in the 1970s and ‘90s.

Ed Figueroa

Position: Starting pitcher
Born: October 14, 1948 (Ciales, Puerto Rico)
Yankee Years: 1976-80
Yankee Stats: 132 G, 126 GS, 63-39, 911.2 IP, 3.53 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 106 ERA+, 373 K, 9.6 bWAR, 11.1 fWAR

New York Yankees Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

A two-time World Series champion and a top-five AL Cy Young finisher in 1976, Figueroa was another key pitcher in the Yankees’ late 70s/early 80s run.

Having spent time in the Mets and Giants’ systems as well in the military in Vietnam, Figueroa broke through to the majors with the Angels in 1974. After a couple solid seasons there, the team included him and Mickey Rivers in a trade to the Yankees for Bobby Bonds in December 1975. The trade was a bit of genius for the Yankees as both Rivers and Figueroa would be key figures for the team in the next couple seasons.

Figueroa started off his Yankee career with a bang, winning 19 games with a 3.02 ERA in 1976, as he helped the Yankees return to the postseason for the first time since 1964. For his efforts, he finished fourth in Cy Young voting. He was also given the ball for the do-or-die Game 5 in the ALCS against the Royals, and went seven innings before the game was eventually won on Chris Chambliss’ walk-off homer.

He would remain a crucial cog in the rotation as the Yankees won the World Series in both 1977 and ‘78. Figueroa was especially great in ‘78, winning 20 games and again finishing high in Cy Young voting. He fell off a bit after that and wouldn’t play in the majors after 1981, but even though he often struggled in postseason play, the Yankees would have struggled to simply reach October for their ‘70s runs without him.

Rudy May

Position: Pitcher
Born: July 18, 1944 (Coffeyville, KS)
Yankee Years: 1974-76, 1980-83
Yankee Stats: 184 G, 102 GS, 54-46, 841.2 IP, 3.12 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 120 ERA+, 586 K, 7 SV, 12.2 bWAR, 16.9 fWAR

New York Yankees

While he just missed out on winning a World Series ring with the Yankees, bookending the late ‘70s title teams, May helped the team return to prominence in his two stints in New York.

After seven years with the California Angels, May was struggling in 1974 when he was sold to the Yankees in June. The change in scenery immediately worked as May threw two complete-game wins in his first three games as a Yankee, and performed impressively, helping the team get within two games of first for the first time in a decade.

May remained a good pitcher for the Yankees in 1975, and ‘76, but a clash of personalities with new manager Billy Martin led to him being included in a less-than-stellar trade with the Orioles in June 1976. After spending some years with the Orioles and Expos, an airport reunion with George Steinbrenner led to the team bringing back May in 1980. In a swingman role, he produced the best year of his career, leading the league in ERA (2.46) and helping them to a division title, and then contributed to a World Series appearance in ‘81. Unlike the rest of the names on this list, May never got to be part of a championship Yankees team, but he was a key pitcher on several very good Yankee teams in that era.

Darryl Strawberry

Position: Outfield/DH
Born: March 12, 1962 (Los Angeles, CA)
Yankee Years: 1995-99
Yankee Statistics: 231 G, 779 PA, .255/.362/.502, 169 H, 41 HR, 114 RBI, 121 OPS+, 121 wRC+, 2.9 bWAR, 2.7 fWAR

Already a beloved NYC baseball figure after his days with the Mets, Strawberry rounded out his career with a nice run as a role player with the Yankees, adding a couple more World Series rings to his tally.

Coming off some down years with the Dodgers and Giants and then going through some drug problems that led to a suspension, Strawberry initially signed with the Yankees for the 1995 stretch run. Following a brief stint in Indy ball early in ‘96, he returned to the Bombers to spend the next couple years with the team, showing flashes of the other-worldly talent he demonstrated early in his career. Derek Jeter valued Straw as a mentor, as the now-elder statesman taught him about the game while cautioning him to the off-field dangers.

Strawberry also had a knack for coming up big, hitting three home runs in the 1996 ALCS win over the Orioles. His 1998 season was cut short after he was diagnosed with colon cancer, but he eventually made it back after that and helped the Yankees to the 1999 title.

Jeff Nelson

Position: Relief pitcher
Born: November 17, 1966 (Baltimore, MD)
Yankee Years: 1996-2000, 2003
Yankee Stats: 331 G, 9 SV, 23-19, 311 IP, 3.47 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 136 ERA+, 334 K, 6.4 bWAR, 4.6 fWAR

Nelson wasn’t the main piece acquired in the 1995 trade that brought him to New York (that was Tino Martinez), but the reliever proved to be a valuable bullpen piece for years to come. His slider combined with his sidearm approach to simply make him an uncomfortable at-bat for opposing hitters.

Over the course of 1996-2000, Nelson helped the Yankees to four World Series titles. In 16 innings across five World Series matchups, Nelson put up a 1.69 ERA. That included two scoreless innings in Game 4 in 1996, as he kept the Braves off the board while the Yankees rallied from a 6-0 deficit, picking up a crucial win to even the series at two games each.

While he left in free agency after 2000, Stanton later returned to the Yankees in 2003 in a waiver deadline trade, helping them to another World Series appearance. These days, he does some analyst work for Yankees games on the YES Network.

Mike Stanton

Position: Relief pitcher
Born: June 2, 1967 (Houston, TX)
Yankee Years: 1997-2002, 2005
Yankee Stats: 456 G, 15 SV, 31-14, 448.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 121 ERA+, 8.8 bWAR, 7.6 fWAR

The lefty-pitching counterbalance to Nelson on the bridge to Mariano Rivera, Stanton was also a key contributor to the late ‘90s/early ‘00s Yankees’ dynasty.

A former Brave, Red Sox, and Ranger, the Yankees signed Stanton ahead of the 1997 season, and he would then become the bullpen’s southpaw of choice for years to come. He debuted with the Yankees with a 176 ERA+ in 1997, and was even named an All-Star amidst a 175 ERA+ in 2001.

Stanton often came up big in the postseason, posting a career 2.10 playoff ERA. Some of his biggest moments came in the 2000 World Series. In Game 1, he threw two crucial scoreless frames in the extra innings of an eventual walk-off win, going down as the winning pitcher. In Game 4, he got out of a seventh-inning jam, preserving the Yankees’ one-run lead, as they eventually took the game to go up 3-1 in the series. To tie the bow on it, he won Game 5 too, with a big assist from Luis Sojo.

Chuck Knoblauch

Position: Second base/Left field
Born: July 7, 1968 (Houston, TX)
Yankee Years: 1998-2001
Yankee Statistics: 539 G, 2478 PA, .272/.366/.402, 579 H, 49 HR, 103 2B, 13 3B, 263 BB, 100 OPS+, 105 wRC+, 7.5 bWAR, 7.0 fWAR

Acquired to be the table-setter for an excellent Yankees’ lineup, Knoblauch played that role well and helped the Yankees to their 1998-2000 three-peat.

Knoblauch had previously had a successful run with the Twins, winning Rookie of the Year as he helped them to a World Series title in 1991, as well as making a couple All-Star Games. However, after falling out with some people there, he requested a trade to a team he thought had a better chance of winning, and the Yankees answered that request.

Mostly batting leadoff, Knoblauch slugged a combined 37 home runs over his first two years in pinstripes. That continued into the playoffs, where he famously came up big in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series (as seen above) and Game 3 of the 1999 World Series. Knoblauch’s time in New York was marred a bit by him going through the “yips,” which eventually led to him getting moved off second base and into left field. However, his bat still produced more than enough to be a productive part of the Yankees’ dynasty.

References

Baseball Reference - Rudy May

FanGraphs - Rudy May

SABR, Allen, Malcolm.

Baseball Reference - Ed Figueroa

FanGraphs - Ed Figueroa

SABR, Costello, Rory.

Baseball Reference - Darryl Strawberry

FanGraphs Darryl Strawberry

SABR, Morris, Shaun.

Baseball Reference - Jeff Nelson

FanGraphs - Jeff Nelson

Baseball Reference - Mike Stanton

FanGraphs - Mike Stanton

Baseball Reference - Chuck Knoblauch

FanGraphs - Chuck Knoblauch

SABR, Caola, Ralph.


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