As noted in the story below, the Yankees have a long-standing tradition of introducing a "greatest living Yankee" at Old-Timers events.
Who would be the greatest living Red? Rose? Bench? Morgan?
Yogi, Whitey, Reggie ... Who’s the ’greatest living Yankee?’
By PAUL WHITE
NEW YORK — It became yet another Yankee Stadium tradition, one that lasted for more than four decades. On a summer Saturday afternoon, public-address announcer Bob Sheppard would introduce the last man to come out of the dugout for the annual Old-Timers Day:
“The greatest living Yankees player, Joe DiMaggio.”
DiMaggio, the Hall of Famer who attended 47 of those showcases of Yankees tradition, insisted on that introduction whenever he appeared at Yankee Stadium after his playing career.
“Joltin’ Joe” has been gone for nearly a decade now, but Yankees tradition continues. It’s a tradition passed along through Whitey Ford, Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry and others who never wore another uniform as players. Also through Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Paul O’Neill and more who came to New York and embraced the significance of who came before them in the Bronx.
The 62nd and final Old-Timers Day in the current Yankee Stadium will be held Aug. 2, but a generation of present-day Yankees led by Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will respectfully carry that history across the street to a new ballpark next year.
That’s important to the Yankees family.
“People around the world live and die with what this team does on a daily basis,” says current general manager Brian Cashman of the franchise that has won 26 World Series championships.
Wondering who is the current “greatest living Yankee” is more than just another of those scores of questions baseball fans love to debate.
Yogi Berra is the choice of Joe Torre, who can claim outside-observer status now that he’s the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers but whose 12 seasons as Yankees manager and his New York City upbringing give him plenty of insight. “Don’t ask Reggie the question. And I say that tongue-in-cheek because Reggie’s a good friend of mine.”
Is it Berra, with his 10 World Series rings, three American League MVPs and iconic status that comes as much from bemusement over his public persona as reverence for his playing ability, or Jackson, who can’t match Berra’s consistency on the field but wins in the areas of power and drama?
Or is it Ford, with his catcher a Hall of Fame link to the franchise’s golden period of five World Series wins in a row (1949-53) and 10 in 16 seasons (1947-62)?
Or Jeter, Rivera and other modern architects of the return to glory that has resulted in playoff appearances the past 13 seasons, including four more World Series victories?
Despite Torre’s advice, how about asking Jackson?
Jackson was invited to throw the ceremonial first pitch this opening day, the last one at the current Yankee Stadium. He insisted Berra accompany him and also size up the “greatest living Yankee” contenders.
“I see Yogi and Whitey as tied,” Jackson said that day. “And there’s Don Mattingly, and now (relief pitcher) Goose (Gossage) is in the Hall of Fame. I’m in that group.”
There’s little debate over Jackson’s impact. Forget his celebrated clashes with manager Billy Martin or the controversial quotes attributed to him such as “I’m the straw that stirs the drink.” His mark on Yankees lore was as indelible as his timing was impeccable on Oct. 18, 1977. That’s the night Jackson hit three home runs against three Dodgers pitchers to drive in five runs in an 8-4 Game 6 victory that gave the Yankees their first World Series championship in 15 years and their first under George Steinbrenner’s ownership.
That winning is important under Steinbrenner is an understatement, but just as significant to his legacy is the emphasis on Yankees history. The Reggie Jackson days predate Cashman, but he grasps the significance of one of Steinbrenner’s visions: inclusion of the franchise’s most significant players beyond a tip of the cap and maybe a swing of a bat on Old-Timers Day.
“George recognized the value of these guys,” Cashman says. “He went to them and said, ’I want you to come to spring training. You’re going to tell them what it’s like to be a Yankee.’ He understood it better than anyone.”
That’s what Jeter discovered in 1995 when, as a 20-year-old, he went to his first Yankees spring training. He thought he understood.
“I was a Yankee fan all my life,” he says. “I knew all about the history.”
Living it, though, is something quite different, he admits. It took some getting used to. The awe took some getting over.
Jeter has built a bond over the years with Berra, who still puts on uniform No. 8 in the coaches’ room every spring in Tampa. But the current team captain falls short of endorsing Berra as “greatest living Yankee.”
“Well, you have to think about Yogi,” Jeter says. “But wait, don’t put me down for that. There are so many great Yankees.”
But teammate Rivera, who could make his own interesting case as he solidifies his status as arguably the game’s top all-time closer, has no doubt.
“Definitely Yogi,” Rivera says. “Ten World Series wins. He’s seen a lot, and the way he treats the game, the way he respects the game, the way he went through his business is amazing. He’s done everything, and the most important thing that he has — what a person, what a person. That’s all I have to say about him — beautiful man.”
Jeter also could include himself, especially with the emphasis put on a full career in pinstripes.
“The only thing Jeter falls short on,” Torre says, “is if you look at stats and the numbers he’s put up, they sort of pale in comparison to a lot of the production numbers other people put up. But when you watch him on an everyday basis and take in everything he means to the ballclub, you can’t ignore it.”
Jeter’s in a category with Mattingly, the captain who preceded him, though with a nearly eight-year gap because the captaincy is earned rather than handed down. Mattingly likely won’t join so many of his Yankees predecessors in the Hall of Fame — injuries shortened his career by enough to short-circuit any debate there — but his “Donnie Baseball” nickname is as memorable to modern Yankees fans as Jackson’s “Mr. October” or DiMaggio’s “Joltin’ Joe.”
Regardless of the direction of the debate, the current Yankees leadership is intent on creating more candidates.
“These guys grew up together,” Cashman says of Jeter, Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada, core members of the current run of success. “They challenge each other in the clubhouse. They got to this level together. They learned to win together.”
The unassuming Berra, who’s heard the description before but never has become comfortable with it, probably can safely claim the “greatest living Yankee” title. But he’s also 83 and eventually will need a successor.
Making sure there are plenty of candidates remains another Yankees tradition.