Yankees Magazine: Rookies Of The Years

As Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar vie for 2018 honors, we examine the Yankees' previous award winners and contenders

November 8th, 2018
New York Yankees: New York Yankees

In 1940, the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America decided to honor the owner of the White Sox by bestowing the J. Louis Comiskey Memorial Award upon the top rookie in the Majors. This practice continued for seven years, with four National Leaguers and three American Leaguers -- including Yankees third baseman Billy Johnson in 1943 -- receiving the award.
But in 1947, the chapter decided to relinquish its autonomy, inviting all members of the BBWAA to vote. According to Total Baseball's Bill Deane, a group of 39 baseball writers were asked to name five rookies in order of preference, with votes distributed on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis. Jackie Robinson -- who broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947, and went on to bat .297 with 125 runs scored and an NL-best 29 steals while handling unfathomable hardships with class and dignity -- took home the first official award, topping Giants pitcher Larry Jansen, 129-105, in the voting. Forty years later, during the 1987 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions, the award was officially renamed the Jackie Robinson Award.
The practice of naming just one Rookie of the Year ended in 1949, when the BBWAA split it into AL and NL awards. And in the decades since, Yankees rookies have contended for the AL hardware on numerous occasions. Nine Yankees have won the award -- three in the 1950s, two in the 1960s, one each in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, and, most recently, in 2017. The Bombers have never had back-to-back winners, but that could potentially change this year, as second baseman and third baseman both produced outstanding rookie seasons.

While awards are nice, the impact that many of these fine ballplayers have had is of even greater import. When a roster is infused with exciting young players who bring energy and enthusiasm, the team as a whole stands to benefit. And with Yankees players garnering eight of 13 AL Rookie of the Month Awards starting in August 2016 -- after an 11-year drought -- there's a bumper crop of recent farmhands making hay in the Bronx right now.
As we await next week's 2018 AL ROY announcement, let's take a look back at some of the top rookie seasons in Yankees history since the advent of the award.
After the Jackie Robinson-led Montreal Royals ousted Yogi Berra and the Newark Bears from the 1946 International League playoffs, the two future icons and Hall of Famers produced strong rookie seasons in 1947. But while Berra would bat .280 in 83 games and deliver the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history, the top rookie performer on the Yankees that year was a 26-year-old Connecticut native dubbed "the Naugatuck Nugget." Frank "Spec" Shea had been injured in World War II, but he took the American League by storm in '47, starting the season 11-2 with a 1.91 ERA to earn a trip to Wrigley Field, where he became the first rookie to win an All-Star Game.
Shea, hampered by a neck injury in the second half, finished the season 14-5 with a 3.07 ERA, then won Games 1 and 5 of the World Series. After Brooklyn won Game 6, Yankees manager Bucky Harris tabbed Shea to start Game 7 on just one day rest. The rookie right-hander recorded only four outs in that game, but the Yankees' bullpen got the job done thanks to five innings of one-hit ball from "Fireman" Joe Page.
While winning five straight World Series from 1949 to 1953, the Yankees continuously bolstered their roster with rookies such as Hank Bauer, who hit 10 home runs in '49, and 21-year-old Whitey Ford, who would start (and nearly finish) the clinching game of the 1950 World Series.
With the team looking up at the Tigers in the standings, the Yankees summoned the brash young southpaw from Triple-A Kansas City in July to fortify the pitching staff. Ford's first eight appearances (four starts) did little to foreshadow the Hall of Fame career that lay ahead; his pitching line featured more earned runs (17) than strikeouts (16). But beginning with a 9-0 shutout at Washington on Aug. 15, something clicked. Ford started eight games down the stretch, completing and winning seven of them. The boost he provided vaulted the Yankees into first place. Ford finished second to Boston's Walt Dropo (.322, 34 home runs, 144 RBI) in the AL Rookie of the Year race, but earned the distinction of starting Game 4 of the Fall Classic against Philadelphia. Looking to finish off the sweep, Ford took a five-hit shutout into the ninth inning. But with the tying run coming up to the plate with two outs, manager Casey Stengel beckoned Allie Reynolds from the bullpen -- much to the dismay of the home fans, who wanted to see their new rookie hurler finish what he had started.

The middle year of the Yankees' unparalleled run of five straight world championships saw the swan song of one superstar (Joe DiMaggio) and the arrival of another: Mickey Mantle. But while the Commerce Comet would be sent down to the Minors, dejected and teary-eyed, in mid-July of his rookie season, it was instead Commerce (California) High School product Gil McDougald who was the '51 Yanks' sterling rookie.
After hitting above .335 in each of his three Minor League seasons and showing that he could play multiple infield positions, McDougald quickly became one of manager Casey Stengel's favorites. What began as a platoon mission -- filling in for third baseman Bobby Brown and second baseman Jerry Coleman -- ended up as a Rookie of the Year campaign for McDougald: In 131 games, he collected 123 hits and recorded more walks (56) than strikeouts (54). On a loaded championship team with DiMaggio, Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer and such, McDougald was the only player to hit better than .300 during the regular season. He started all six games of the 1951 Fall Classic against the Giants, with his Game 5 grand slam contributing to his team-high seven RBI in the Series.
BOB GRIM, 1954
If Moose Skowron had played every day in 1954, he might have been a Rookie of the Year contender; the platoon strategy that manager Casey Stengel was so fond of employing limited him to 87 games, in which he batted .340 with 41 RBI and a whopping .969 OPS. Instead, in a rookie class that included Al Kaline, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks, it was 24-year-old right-hander Bob Grim and St. Louis' Wally Moon who won the ROY awards. Grim was the first rookie to win at least 16 of his first 20 decisions -- a feat matched by in 2011 -- and he remains the only rookie in Yankees history to win 20 games other than Russ Ford, who won 26 in 1910. The Rookie of the Year ballots since 1949 were cast by three BBWAA writers in each of the leagues' eight cities, and the AL writers gave Grim -- who finished 20-6 with a 3.26 ERA in 37 games (20 starts) -- 15 votes to Jim Finigan's eight and Kaline's one.
If Gleyber Torres is not named 2018 AL Rookie of the Year and Miguel Andujar is, it wouldn't be the first time in Yankees history that one rookie was an All-Star and another won the award. Bobby Richardson was an All-Star as a rookie in 1957, but the versatile, slick-fielding Tony Kubek -- who played more than 20 games at four different positions -- would be named AL Rookie of the Year. In fact, Kubek's 1957 AL selection was technically unanimous, as the lone dissenting vote went to Bronx-born Red Sox third baseman Frank Malzone, who had 103 at-bats in 1956. Until 1957, voters used their judgment to determine who was a rookie and who wasn't. But in September of '57, the Baseball Rules Committee established criteria that disqualified Malzone. The 21-year-old Kubek had a 17-game hitting streak from June 30 to July 21 that raised his average to .309; he'd finish at .297 as the Yankees won their 23rd American League pennant. In the World Series against the Braves, Casey Stengel tabbed the Milwaukee native as his starter in left field over the veteran Enos Slaughter, and the youngster rewarded his manager by homering off the Braves twice in his hometown in the Game 3 win.
With his thick, dark glasses and tendency for wildness on and off the mound, Duren was the most talked-about pitcher in baseball in 1958. A flameout as a starter and employed by his fifth different franchise, Casey Stengel moved the 29-year-old flamethrower to the bullpen, where Duren led the AL in saves (though not an official stat yet at that time) and held opponents to a .157 average, allowing just 40 hits in 44 games (752⁄3 IP). Duren's 33 games finished and 19 saves remain Yankees rookie records, and he is one of only five pitchers in history to record eight or more strikeouts in a World Series relief performance, a Game 6 win at Milwaukee. That outing was a sweet bit of redemption for the All-Star rookie, who allowed a walk-off 10th-inning single to Bill Bruton in Game 1, and it proved to be a crucial performance as the Yankees became the first American League team in history to rally from a 3-games-to-1 World Series deficit.
When shortstop Tony Kubek's National Guard unit got called into active duty, manager Ralph Houk tabbed 23-year-old Tom Tresh to step in and join the defending world champs. The switch-hitter started at short on Opening Day (the next rookie to do so for the Yankees would be Derek Jeter in 1996) and soon developed a great double-play chemistry with second baseman Bobby Richardson. Tresh became an All-Star, relieving Luis Aparicio at short and recording an RBI double in the game at Wrigley Field, and he took over left field duties for the Yankees when Kubek returned to the lineup in August. Tresh would finish second on the team in hits (178), OBP (.359) and RBI (93), while leading all American League rookies with 20 home runs, becoming the Yankees' fourth AL Rookie of the Year Award winner. The greatest moment of his season -- and career -- came in Game 5 of the '62 World Series against the Giants, when his three-run homer broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth and helped the Yanks take a 3-games-to-2 lead back to San Francisco. Tresh came up with another huge play -- snaring a Willie Mays liner to left in the seventh inning of the Yanks' 1-0 Game 7 win at Candlestick Park -- and led the Yankees in average (.321), hits (nine) and runs (five) in the Series.
With the formidable triumvirate of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat long gone, and with Whitey Ford entering the twilight of his career, the Yankees needed to retool their starting rotation in the 1960s. A trio of promising rookies came along, beginning with left-hander Al Downing, who led all Major League pitchers in H/9 (5.8) and produced double-digit strikeouts in eight games -- a franchise record for rookies -- in 1963. A hip injury to Ford led to Mel Stottlemyre's call-up in August 1964, and the 22-year-old helped the Yankees emerge from a three-team race with the White Sox and Orioles to capture their fifth straight pennant. Stottlemyre led the Yanks in ERA and showed he could hit, too, collecting five hits in a game. In Game 2 of the 1964 World Series, the right-hander defeated Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals. "The kid's got the best sinker and curve I've seen," said Cardinals third baseman and NL MVP Ken Boyer. "There isn't a pitcher in the National League with this kind of stuff." Stottlemyre and Gibson locked horns again in Game 5, putting up zeroes for four innings until the Cards scored twice off the rookie in a 5-2 win. On two days' rest, Stottlemyre and Gibson dueled a third time in Game 7, with the Cards winning.
But as far as rookie seasons go, neither Downing nor Stottlemyre could top Stan Bahnsen's 1968 campaign. While balancing Army Reserve duties that relegated him to pitching only on weekends for part of the season, Bahnsen went 17-12 with a 2.05 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, joining Bob Grim as the only Yankees pitchers to be named AL Rookie of the Year to that point. Bahnsen finished sixth in the AL in ERA and innings pitched (2671⁄3), with 10 complete games on his record. His 34 games started remains a Yankees rookie record.
Downing, Stottlemyre and Bahnsen went on to long and successful careers, combining for 44 seasons and nearly 7,500 innings among them. But the team success that their predecessors enjoyed eluded them: None won a World Series as a player.
When the Yankees jumped from a fifth-place, 80-win team in 1969 to a second-place, 93-win team in 1970, a hard-nosed young catcher named Thurman Munson played a key role.
After a short stint in the bigs at the end of '69, Munson went to the Puerto Rican Winter League and batted .333, prompting Crabbers teammate Roberto Clemente to tell him that any season in the Majors in which he hits below .280 should be deemed a failure. That next season, despite a slow start, the Yankees' backstop batted .302 and led all Major League catchers with 80 assists.
Munson would garner 23 of 24 votes for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, joining 1968 NL Rookie of the Year Johnny Bench as the only catchers to take home the hardware up to that point. "I'm glad to see the catchers are finally getting more recognition," Munson said that November. "I think the catcher holds the club together, but a lot of the things we do go unnoticed." The gap in the lineage of great pinstriped receivers -- since Elston Howard's departure, no Yankees catcher had topped 30 RBI in a season -- had been filled; Munson would go on to become a seven-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glover, an MVP and the Yankees' first captain since Lou Gehrig. When he died tragically in a plane crash on Aug. 2, 1979, the baseball world mourned as it had when Clemente died in similar fashion nearly seven years earlier. But Clemente's analysis had been spot-on: Munson finished with a lifetime batting average of .292.
In 1971, the formal guidelines that we use today to determine rookie status -- a player who has not exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched or spent more than 45 days on the active 25-man roster -- were adopted. So even with 16 relief appearances and one start across 1975 and '76, Ron Guidry's 31 2⁄3 innings were well shy of the threshold.
The first time the Yankees ever faced the Seattle Mariners -- on April 29, 1977, at Yankee Stadium -- they had to scramble to find a starting pitcher. Mike Torrez, acquired two days earlier from the Oakland A's, had failed to report, so manager Billy Martin looked to his bullpen. He called upon the 26-year-old left-handed Guidry, thus beginning one of the great rookie seasons -- and pitching careers -- in Yankees history. "Gator" spun 8 1⁄3 scoreless innings in his "spot start" that night, and he would go 15-7 with a 2.84 ERA in 25 starts that season, including a stretch from Aug. 10 through Sept. 25 in which he went 8-0 with a 1.76 ERA in nine starts. In October, the Yankees won all three of Guidry's postseason starts as they ended a 15-year World Series championship drought.
Guidry -- who would go on to win the 1978 American League Cy Young Award and etch his name alongside Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez as the greatest pitchers in Yankees history -- did not merit any attention in the 1977 Rookie of the Year voting (won by Baltimore's Eddie Murray), but he did finish seventh in the Cy Young vote, which went to Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle.

After leaning on Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle during their '77 title run and adding Goose Gossage for the '78 championship season, the Yankees knew the importance of having a quality bullpen. Lyle's departure in November '78 opened up a spot for reliever Ron Davis, whose 2.85 ERA and Major League-best .875 winning percentage (14-2) led to a fourth-place finish in the 1979 AL ROY voting.
Lyle had gone to Texas in a 10-player deal that brought back, among others, a 19-year-old southpaw from California named Dave Righetti. And while "Rags" would go on to have a great career as a closer, he burst onto the scene as a starter during the strike-shortened 1981 season.
After going 5-0 at Triple-A Columbus to start the year, Righetti earned a call-up in late May and went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts before the strike hit. He picked up where he left off when the season resumed in August, finishing second in the Majors to Houston's Nolan Ryan in H/9 (6.4) and ERA (2.05), and allowing just one home run all year (105 1⁄3 IP). Righetti then went 3-0 with a 0.60 ERA in the AL playoffs, including six scoreless frames in the ALCS Game 3 clincher against Oakland. Pitted against Dodgers rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela in Game 3 of the World Series, Righetti lasted just two innings -- his final postseason action as a player. He did, however, win the AL ROY handily (the last Yankees pitcher to do so), and would go on to win three World Series as a pitching coach for the Giants.
After Righetti, there was a dearth of impact rookies as the Yankees relied more heavily on veteran players. Brian Fisher, who saved 14 games in 1985, finished sixth in AL ROY voting, and Kevin Maas, who bashed 21 homers in 79 games in 1990, finished runner-up to Cleveland's Sandy Alomar. But something was brewing down on the farm, and the next crop of young Yankees began yielding major results.
A slender right-hander from Panama named Mariano Rivera and the tall Texan, Andy Pettitte, both made their debuts in 1995. While Rivera would go on to have the more legendary career of the two, his rookie season (5-3, 5.51 ERA in 19 games; 10 starts) paled in comparison to Pettitte's -- which, itself, got off to a rough start.
Beginning his career as a 22-year-old lefty option out of the bullpen, Pettitte debuted on April 29 at Kansas City and gave up two runs in 2⁄3 of an inning. It didn't get much better from there, and after posting a 5.14 ERA in five relief appearances, Pettitte was optioned to Columbus in mid-May to make room on the roster for Rivera.
Pettitte was recalled two weeks later, this time as a starter. He performed well in his first start, allowing one earned run in 5 1⁄3 innings at Oakland, and in his next start he tossed the first of his 26 career complete games. Pettitte got red hot in September, going 5-1 in six starts, and earned a no-decision in the Yankees' 7-5, 15-inning win in Game 2 of the ALDS against Seattle. Finishing third in the AL ROY voting, Pettitte led the AL in pickoffs (12) and led AL rookies in wins (12) -- the start of a great career and a golden era in the Bronx.
When first-year Yankees manager Joe Torre declared that 21-year-old Derek Jeter would be his shortstop out of the gate, it didn't take long for the youngster to prove that it was a wise decision.
Jeter hit his first Major League homer and made a dazzling catch on Opening Day, beginning a terrific season and a legendary career. The New Jersey-born Jeter would lead the team he grew up rooting for in hits (183) and games played (157) in 1996, and the 17-game hitting streak he authored in September was the longest by a Yankees rookie since Tony Kubek's 17-game streak in 1957. Jeter would finish with a .314 average, and his 78 RBI led all Major League rookies.
Under the spotlight of October baseball in New York, Jeter shined even brighter, posting an on-base percentage of .400 or higher in all three postseason series. His fan-aided eighth-inning home run in the ALCS opener was part of a four-hit night, and the run he drove in off of Atlanta's Greg Maddux in Game 6 of the Fall Classic helped end the Yankees' 18-year World Series drought. In all, Jeter collected 22 hits and scored 12 runs in 15 postseason games. After his first parade up the Canyon of Heroes (there would be four more to come), Jeter was named the Yankees' first Rookie of the Year since 1981 and just the fifth unanimous AL ROY in history (not counting Tony Kubek).
The Yankees' run of success during the late 1990s and early 2000s was buoyed by rookie contributors such as Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez -- the 32-year-old who debuted on June 3, 1998, after making a dangerous escape from Cuba less than six months earlier and went 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA that postseason, including a pivotal win at Cleveland in Game 4 of the ALCS -- and Alfonso Soriano, who in 2001 led the three-time defending world champs in games played (158) and steals (43, a Yankees rookie record). Soriano's walk-off homer -- the first by a rookie in postseason history -- in Game 4 of the ALCS against the mighty Mariners began a string of clutch heroics: After batting .400 in that series, he delivered a 12th-inning walk-off single against Arizona in Game 5 of the World Series and an eighth-inning homer in Game 7.
But in 2003, Hideki Matsui arrived and made an even bigger splash. After an iconic 10-year career in Japan -- he won his third Central League MVP Award in 2002, batting a career-high .334 with a career-best 50 homers -- "Godzilla" announced his arrival with a grand slam in his Yankee Stadium debut (a first in Yankees history). He was named AL Rookie of the Month for June and was the starting center fielder for the AL in the Midsummer Classic. Matsui hit safely in a Yankees rookie-record 16 straight home games (eclipsed by Aaron Judge's 17 in 2017), and his 13 outfield assists were second-most in the AL. After collecting 106 RBI (tops in the Majors by a rookie that season), Matsui drove in 11 runs in 17 postseason games, yet finished a close second behind Kansas City's Angel Berroa in ROY voting.

The Yankees got strong rookie seasons from starting pitchers in 2011, when Ivan Nova went 16-4 and was undefeated in his last 16 starts (12-0, 3.25 ERA), and 2014, when started the season 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA in his first 14 starts and became the only rookie in Yankees history to notch back-to-back double-digit strikeout games.
A strong case could be made, though, that reliever authored the finest rookie season of any pitcher in Yankees history. The native New Yorker broke Mariano Rivera's franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever (130 K in 1996), and no Yankees rookie pitcher (min. 50 IP) has posted a lower ERA (1.40) or batting average against; opponents slashed a meager .149/.218/.224 against Betances in 2014. Half of his outs came via the strikeout, and his 4.60 H/9 set an American League record (min. 75 IP). In 10 appearances (15 1⁄3 IP) from May 10 to June 1, Betances did not allow a walk, and his punchout of six consecutive Mets on May 15 helped him reached 50 K's faster (28 2⁄3 IP) than any pitcher in Yankees history.
Tanaka and Betances became the first Yankees duo -- and the first teammates from any pitching staff -- to be named All-Stars as rookies.
While Greg Bird and put together impressive late-season performances in 2015 and '16, respectively, and posted the lowest ERA of any rookie starter in the Majors (min. 60 IP) in 2015, no Baby Bomber burst onto the scene quite like Aaron Judge did in 2017. Simply put, Judge produced the greatest rookie season in Yankees history -- and one of the best in baseball history. After a 27-game stint in 2016 during which he batted just .179, Judge came out swinging in 2017, powering the Yankees to within one victory of the World Series and finishing second in the MVP voting. A unanimous choice for AL Rookie of the Year and the first Yankees rookie to win a Silver Slugger Award, the 25-year-old became one of the biggest superstars in the sport. At 6-foot-7, 282 pounds, the hulking slugger broke Joe DiMaggio's record for home runs by a Yankees rookie on July 7 when he homered for a third straight game to reach 30 for the season. The youngest player to lead the AL in All-Star voting since 24-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. did so in 1994, Judge became the first rookie to win the Home Run Derby outright and is the only player to win both the NCAA and MLB derbies. He would go on to break Mark McGwire's rookie single-season home run record (49 in 1987), joining Ted Williams (1939) as the only players in history with 100 RBI, 100 walks and 100 runs scored in their rookie seasons. Among right-handed batters in Yankees history, only Alex Rodriguez's 54 home runs in 2007 topped Judge's 52 in 2017. In October, Judge etched his name alongside Lou Gehrig as the only Yankees with multiple RBI in three straight postseason home games, with five of his six hits in the ALCS going for extra bases. When all was said and done, Judge led the Majors in WAR (8.2) -- and jersey sales.
Gleyber and Migui. Migui and Gleyber. Either way, it has a nice ring to it, and Yankees fans hope to hear a lot more from Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar in the coming years. Neither infielder broke camp with the team out of Spring Training in 2018, but by the end of April, both had stepped into starting roles on a team with World Series aspirations and became major contributors. Torres, regarded as the top prospect in the Yankees' system, arrived with more fanfare -- and he did not disappoint. The 21-year-old second baseman batted .325 with 24 RBI in May and became the youngest player in AL history to homer in four straight games, earning AL Rookie of the Month honors. He was slowed by a hip strain in early July that prevented him from playing in the All-Star Game, but he picked it back up in August and September.
As impressive as Torres' offensive output was, Andujar's was even better. The 23-year-old third baseman was the Yankees' most consistent hitter in 2018, ranking second on the team in games played and first in batting average among regulars. The AL Rookie of the Month for June and August, Andujar led all Major League rookies in hits, doubles and RBI, breaking the franchise rookie record of 44 doubles set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936 and tying the American League rookie record of 47 set by Fred Lynn in 1975.
So will Andujar make it two straight Rookie of the Year Award winners for the Bronx Bombers? We'll soon find out. And we'll see just how big of an impact he, Torres, Judge, Severino and the rest of the Baby Bombers will have during this exciting and promising era of Yankees baseball.