Yankees' Top 5 right fielders: Hoch's take

May 11th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Bryan Hoch’s ranking of the top five right fielders in Yankees history. Next week: Designated hitters.

Yankees’ All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF

1. (1920-34)
The most celebrated character of his time, Ruth is succinctly described on his National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque as the “greatest drawing card in the history of baseball.” Fans flocked from far and wide for a glimpse of the "Great Bambino," heralded as the game’s first great slugger, and he remains a benchmark by which all other superstars can be judged to this day. Ruth, Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali have been consistently ranked among the top athletes that the world has offered.

Ruth’s accomplishments and exploits have filled tomes, but we can comfortably state that he quite literally changed the way baseball was played and viewed following his acquisition from the Red Sox prior to the 1920 season. Converted from a pitcher to a full-time outfielder, Ruth hit 54 home runs that season, more than any other American League team. He won 12 home run titles, smacking 60 in 1927, and went on to wallop 714 in his career -- a mark that stood until Hank Aaron surpassed the "Sultan of Swat" in April 1974.

The Baltimore-born icon was a major component in transforming the franchise from an also-ran into a juggernaut that scored seven pennants and four World Series titles, including its first in 1923, when Yankee Stadium opened its doors. With the Yankees, Ruth compiled a staggering 142.8 Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement, batting .349/.484/.711 with 659 home runs and 1,978 RBIs, plus 15 more homers in World Series play. Ruth paces all Bombers right fielders in nearly every statistical category, including runs (1,959), hits (2,518), extra-base hits (1,189) and OPS+ (209).

2. (1993-2001)
The acquisition of "The Warrior" from the Reds helped to lay the groundwork for the dynasty of the late 1990s and early 2000s, providing a powerful middle-of-the-order bat and above-average defensive outfielder to the lineups fielded by managers Buck Showalter and Joe Torre. A fan favorite, O’Neill’s fiery intensity spelled doom for many dugout water coolers while adding a needed quality to the club’s annual pursuit of a championship title.

A four-time World Series champion with the Yankees, O’Neill was selected to four All-Star teams during his time with the Bombers, leading the AL with a .359 batting average during the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. He batted .303/.377/.492 with 185 homers and a 125 OPS+ during his pinstriped tenure. O’Neill trails only Ruth among Yanks right fielders in batting average, hits (1,426), doubles (304) and RBIs (858). He is third in at-bats (4,700) and walks (586).

3. (1981-90)
A 2001 inductee to the Hall of Fame, Winfield played for six organizations during a career that spanned more than two decades, having fulfilled his star potential with the Padres before signing a 10-year, $23 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 1981 season. Winfield was selected to the All-Star team in each of the next eight seasons, winning five Silver Sluggers and five Gold Glove Awards.

Winfield’s icy relationship with principal owner George M. Steinbrenner and the inability to return to the World Series after ’81 soured his storyline in New York, but Winfield delivered on the field, continuing to perform as one of the game’s top run producers. Winfield batted .290/.356/.495 with a 134 OPS+ in 1,172 games with the Yanks. He ranks second only to Ruth among Yankees right fielders in home runs (205). Winfield is third in RBIs (818) and fourth in runs (722), hits (1,300) and doubles (236).

4. (1960-66)
Maris is best remembered for his pursuit of Ruth’s single-season home run record alongside Mickey Mantle in 1961, a story told well by Billy Crystal’s 2001 film "61", but Maris’ career was more than one great summer. A two-time AL MVP (1960, ’61), Maris won a Gold Glove Award in ’60 and was a seven-time All-Star, playing in seven World Series (five with the Yankees) and winning three championships (two with New York).

Acquired from the Athletics prior to the 1960 campaign, Maris batted .265/.356/.515 with a 139 OPS+ during seven seasons in a Yankees uniform, slugging 203 homers -- including 61 in ’61, a season in which he led the Majors in runs (132) and total bases (366), and the AL in RBIs (141). With his production dented by injuries, Maris was traded to the Cardinals after the ’66 season. He ranks third among Yankees right fielders in home runs, is tied for fourth in slugging percentage and is fourth in OPS+.

5. (1977-81)
“Mr. October” enjoyed a relatively brief tenure with the Yankees compared to others on this list, but Jackson accomplished enough during his tumultuous five seasons to warrant a place in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, highlighted by his unforgettable exploits in the deciding Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, when he homered on three consecutive pitches off a trio of Dodgers pitchers.

A 1993 inductee to the Hall of Fame, Jackson batted .281/.371/.526 with a 148 OPS+ with the Bombers, belting 144 of his 563 career home runs while earning All-Star selection in each of his five years. Though Jackson’s career in pinstripes did not feature the longevity required to reach the top of the franchise’s statistical categories, Jackson’s bat spoke loudly in New York. His .897 OPS is third among all Yankees right fielders, trailing only Ruth (1.195) and Aaron Judge (.952).

Honorable mentions
Aaron Judge
(2016-present) is already in the conversation for this list, and a few more healthy seasons could cement his place among the greats. Judge’s .952 OPS and 151 OPS+ are second only to Ruth. One of the Majors’ fastest to reach 100 homers (in terms of games played), Judge already ranks eighth among Yankees right fielders with 110 round-trippers.

Tommy Henrich (1937-50) compiled 39.2 bWAR that is second only behind Ruth. A five-time All-Star and four-time World Series winner, Henrich was a consistent performer for more than a decade, losing three key years to military service. Among right fielders, “Old Reliable” ranks among the Yanks’ top five in numerous categories, including runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBIs, walks and on-base percentage.

Hank Bauer (1948-59) was a gritty leader on seven championship clubs, known for a 17-game World Series hit streak and for frequently growling at rookies: “Don’t mess with my money!” Bauer tallied 29.4 bWAR during his time with the Yanks, third to Ruth and Henrich. Among the club’s right fielders, he ranks among the top three in at-bats, runs, hits and triples.

George Selkirk (1934-42) had the unenviable challenge of taking over right field in The Bronx following Ruth’s departure, a task made even more difficult when he was issued uniform No. 3. Selkirk was no Babe, but he posted 23.3 bWAR while helping the Yanks to five World Series titles, earning selections to the All-Star team in ’36 and ’39.