Top 5 debut seasons in Yankees history

October 13th, 2023

Yankees fans frequently discuss the idea of a player "earning their pinstripes," the moment when a new face becomes accepted as part of the family. Whether they are making their mark as rookies, acquired via trade or imported as a free agent, it is a status every player hopes to achieve.

There have been several stellar Yankees debut seasons over the decades, topped by the arrival of the sport's most fantastic drawing card in 1920. With the dawn of Spring Training, there is always hope that some fresh talent could earn a place among these ranks. Here is our list of the top five Yankees debut seasons so far:

1) Babe Ruth, 1920
It would nearly be impossible to top the impact that made upon joining the Yanks for the 1920 campaign. Converted into a full-time outfielder following his acquisition from the Red Sox, Ruth's 54 home runs not only led the Majors, they were more than every other American League team -- and all but one other big league squad (the Phillies combined for 64 homers that year).

More than 1.2 million fans passed through the Polo Grounds' turnstiles for a peek at the Sultan of Swat. Ruth rewarded their curiosity by leading the Majors in runs (158), RBIs (135), walks (150), on-base percentage (.532), slugging percentage (.847) and OPS+ (255) while batting .376 in 142 games, producing a staggering bWAR of 11.8 -- a mark he would surpass in three subsequent seasons.

2) Reggie Jackson, 1977
It was one of the most incredible single-game performances in sports history: the night slammed three homers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, forever cementing his place as "Mr. October." On Oct. 18, 1977, at Yankee Stadium, Jackson cracked drives off three Dodgers hurlers on three consecutive pitches in the Fall Classic's deciding game.

Jackson's incredible achievement capped a tumultuous season in which he indeed was the straw that stirred the drink. Signed as a free agent before the campaign, Jackson batted .286/.375/.550 (150 OPS+) with 39 doubles, 32 homers and 110 RBIs in 146 regular-season games, earning selection as an All-Star. He finished eighth in the AL MVP Award voting, then made his mark in the second season.

3) Joe DiMaggio, 1936
Having reigned as the Pacific Coast League's Most Valuable Player in 1935, brought his talents to New York in May 1936, batting ahead of Lou Gehrig in the lineup. The 21-year-old Californian helped bring the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time in four years, setting a franchise rookie record with 29 homers -- a mark that stood until 2017, when Aaron Judge clobbered 52 homers.

In 138 games, DiMaggio batted .323/.352/.576 (128 OPS+) while tallying a team-leading 206 hits and 44 doubles, tying for the Major League lead with 15 triples. An All-Star who placed eighth in the AL MVP Award vote, DiMaggio's 125 RBIs were second on the club to Gehrig's 152.

4) Catfish Hunter, 1975
One of George Steinbrenner's first marquee free-agent signings, arrived in New York as the game's highest-paid pitcher. He went on to be described by The Boss as one of the players who "returned class and dignity to the franchise," but Steinbrenner expressed concern when the right-hander lost his first three starts.

There was no reason to worry. Hunter righted the ship, leading the Majors in victories (23) for the second consecutive year while firing an astounding 30 complete games, pacing the big leagues in innings (328), batters faced (1,294), WHIP (1.009) and hits per nine innings (6.8). Hunter finished second to the Orioles' Jim Palmer in the AL Cy Young Award vote in a year that he produced 8.1 bWAR.

5) Roger Maris, 1960
One year before he and Mickey Mantle electrified the baseball world with a summer-long challenge to Ruth’s single-season home run record, Maris made a terrific first impression in New York, winning the AL MVP Award and a Gold Glove Award while leading the league in slugging percentage (.581), RBIs (112) and extra-base hits.

Acquired from the Kansas City Athletics in December 1959 as part of a seven-player deal, Maris appeared on both All-Star teams and played 136 games for the Bombers in ’60, mashing 39 homers while posting a .283/.371/.581 slash line (160 OPS+). Maris’ stellar efforts helped the Yankees reach the first of five consecutive World Series.