I found myself at lunch the other day with an Orioles fan. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since I live in Maryland, so if I find myself at lunch with a baseball fan, odds are good he or she is an Orioles fan. So we talked about the usual things: the O's young pitching; how neck-in-neck the four teams at the top of the AL East seem to be; our mutual dislike of the Red Sox.
I try to be pretty congenial about my Yankees-fandom. I explain I was born into this, and apologize for the Jeffrey Maier home run, and ask "if Buck Showalter is so smart, then why'd he let Brian Matusz pitch to Raul Ibanez when everyone in the Stadium knew what was going to happen next?" But I found myself in unusual territory when my colleague kept pushing me to call Derek Jeter the most overrated player of my lifetime.
Now, I'm willing to concede the 2014 version of Derek Jeter as a tremendously overrated player from a viewpoint of raw production. But Derek Jeter, in his entirety, was probably seen about right: one of the most uniquely gifted players of his generation, and among the all-time greats.
So I began to assemble a list of most overrated Yankees of my lifetime. To start, I eliminated flopped prospects. They're overrated by definition, but failed prospects are mostly invisible to fans of other teams. I also eliminated one year players- sure, Aaron Boone's place in Yankee history really boils down to one extra inning knuckleball. I don't think anyone is trying to argue the opposite, that the player was a useful part of the Yankees. So, since it's my list, I looked only for guys who played at least three seasons in pinstripes.
Danny Tartabull: Maybe I'm the only one who overrated Danny Tartabull, but he was basically unstoppable in a handheld Sega baseball game I had. His actual results always seemed to leave something to be desired (130 or fewer games played each season, and a ticket out of town in the midst of the 1995 playoff hunt). Maybe because he was a Yankee at a time when he was completely outshone by import Paul O'Neill and top prospects like Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Ruben Rivera and Jorge Posada demanding the playing time. Maybe he's less overrated in retrospect, but we expected the world of him at the time.
Jeff Nelson: Nelson was part of the perfect "bridge to Rivera" during the championship years, right? Except for his 1.4 WHIP from '96-'01 and a couple long DL stints in '98 and, '99 that might have had something to do with the team's great record in those seasons. Dellin Betances created nearly as many wins above replacement last season than Nelson did in his entire Yankee tenure. But, the Yankees' bullpen troubles in the early 21st century cemented this nostalgia for the good ol' days, so much so that the Yankees actually brought him back in 2003, when he wasn't much worse than he'd been before.
Melky Cabrera: Remember what a train wreck the 2005 Yankees were? Things were so bad they shifted their newly acquired second baseman to left field, and called up some brick-handed prospect named Robinson Cano. Things were so bad that we regularly didn't know who was starting four days in advance, and some Taiwanese sinkerballer was called up because, hey, it beats trading for Shawn Chacon (and then they did that too). For six days in July, the Yankees benched the corpse of Bernie Williams and let a young switch-hitter from Double-A play centerfield. All he had to do was catch the ball. He got three hits in his first two games, then went into an 0-for-13 slump. And he didn't catch the ball. He turned a Trot Nixon single into a homer and generally looked overmatched. Over the next four seasons, Melky would never manage a league-average offensive line while posting negative defensive values each year (except 2008! yay +4 runs). But he won a ring, and he had a catchy nickname, and he was a switch-hitting center fielder. What else could a fanbase ask for really?
Obviously, this list isn't the most in-depth or statistically-minded. I'm sure some of you can tell me which players hurt the team the most in their tenure. But what do you think? Have I forgotten someone who should make an all-overrated team?