MLB Top 5: New York Yankees Pitchers

This is the fifth and final article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the New York Yankees. In this installment are right- and left-handed starters as well as relief pitchers.

The Best Pitchers in New York Yankees History

The Yankees have amassed a collection of arms that makes other teams envious. Unlike many other teams, New York’s greatest talent throws from the left side. However, the team’s best and most successful pitcher is a hard-throwing righty who is the game’s greatest closer.

Right-Handed Starters

Noteworthy Mention: Domingo German had one accomplishment and made several questionable choices during his time in New York. His tenure in New York (2017-23) included Tommy John surgery plus hip and shoulder injuries, as well as personal conduct issues. German was suspended for the entire 2020 COVID-shortened season due to allegations of domestic abuse. He also had issues with alcohol and earned a 10-game suspension for an illegal substance on his hands in a game early in the 2023 season. The Dominican Republic native had two early runs at no-hitters and threw the 24th perfect game in baseball history against the Athletics on June 28, 2023. German’s alcohol issues led to the Yankees distancing themselves from the pitcher after he caused damage to the team’s clubhouse in August. He finished with a 31-28 record (including an 18-4 mark in 2019) and signed with the Pirates in 2024.

Honorable Mentions – Don Larsen had two seasons with double-digit victories and won 45 games in five seasons with the Yankees (1955-59). He pitched on four pennant-winning teams and won a pair of titles in that span. His only postseason victory was one that has been etched in the lore of both the Yankees and Major League Baseball. Larsen gave his team a 3-2 advantage over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 with what is still the only perfect game in World Series history. New York went on to win the title in seven games and the hurler was named MVP of the series. Larsen played for six other teams during his 14-year career and retired in 1967. He sold the uniform he wore in the perfect game for $756,000 in 2012 and passed away on New Year’s Day in 2020 at age 90.

Dwight Gooden and David Cone were both stars with the Mets but pitched gems for the American League’s New York team. Gooden won the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards as well as the Pitching Triple Crown in Queens, but drugs were his downfall. He was suspended for the entire 1995 season but signed with the Yankees and pitched a no-hitter against the Mariners in May 1996. Gooden went 24-14 in three seasons in the Bronx (1996-97 and 2000) and won a title with the Bombers against his former team, although he did not pitch in the series. Cone won a Cy Young Award with the Royals in 1994, then spent the next six years with the Yankees (1995-2000). He went 64-40, earned two All-Star selections and led the league with a 20-7 record in 1998, Cone was a part of four championship teams, going 6-1 in 12 postseason starts with the Bombers. His best outing came against the Expos on July 18, 1999, when he threw the league’s first perfect game and no-hitter in an interleague contest.

Vic Raschi was nicknamed the “Springfield Rifle,” partly because of his hometown in Massachusetts that produced army rifles and partly because of the speed of his fastball, which he used to post a 120-50 record in eight seasons with the Yankees (1946-53), along with a 3.47 earned run average and 24 shutouts, which ranks ninth in franchise history. The four-time All-Star spent three years as a physical education instructor in the Army Air Force during World War II, then appeared in six World Series, winning a record five straight championships, and compiling a 5-3 record in 11 games. Following his retirement in 1955, Raschi lived in upstate New York, teaching in an elementary school, coaching baseball and basketball at what is now SUNY Geneseo and running a liquor store before his passing from a heart attack in 1988 at age 69.

Mike Mussina was drafted in the first round in 1990 and went on to win 147 games and earn five All-Star selections in 10 years with the Orioles. He took four no-hitters into the eighth inning (including a perfect game in 1997) before they were broken up. Mussina also finished in the top 5 of the Cy Young voting six times but never won the award. “Moose” signed with the Yankees in 2001 and won at least 17 games in his first three seasons. He had a solid start in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Athletics in his first year (highlighted by Derek Jeter‘s flip to Jorge Posada), but New York lost in the World Series to the Diamondbacks, the closest Mussina would come to a title. Mussina retired after finally securing an elusive 20-win season, giving him 270 for his career. In eight seasons with the Yankees (2001-08), he went 123-72 and finished seventh in franchise history with 1,278 strikeouts. The three-time gold glove winner with New York (seven overall) was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his sixth try in 2019.

Roger Clemens was a winner at every level, in college with Texas and the minors before joining the Red Sox in 1984. His accolades in Boston included a record 20-strikeout performance in April 1986, earning five All-Star selections, winning two straight Cy Young Awards (three overall) and the 1986 MVP after leading the league with a 24-4 record and a 2.48 earned run average. That season, he also earned the All-Star Game MVP Award, making him the first player to win that honor plus the season MVP and Cy Young in the same year. He led the lead in shutouts five times, ERA four times, and wins and strikeouts twice each with Boston and matched his own record with 20 strikeouts against Detroit in 1996. From there, Clemens went to Toronto, winning Cy Young Awards and pitching Triple Crowns in both of his seasons north of the border, combining for a 41-13 record, a 2.33 ERA and 563 strikeouts. He was then traded to the Yankees in 1999 and helped the team win four pennants in five seasons. “The Rocket” earned two All-Star selections as a Yankee, but his attitude and off-the-field issues began coming to a head. Clemens was self-centered, whether with coaches, teammates or the media, and he also helped Brian McNamee get trainer and coach jobs in both Toronto and New York, which would have ramifications later in life. One of his most notorious moments came in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series, when Mets catcher Mike Piazza shattered his bat on a dribbler foul. Clemens, who had hit Piazza in the head in a game in July, picked up a bat shard and threw it at the catcher, causing tempers to flare on both sides.

“The Rocket” won a sixth Cy Young Award after posting a 20-3 record with the Yankees in 2001 and a seventh with his hometown Astros three years later. He returned to New York and finished his career with the Bombers as a 44-year-old in 2007. Despite being one of the most dominant pitchers of his time and amassing 354 victories (including 83 with the Yankees from 1999-2003 and ’07), 4,672 strikeouts and a 3.12 ERA over 24 seasons, Clemens may never be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He and former trainer Brian McNamee had dueling defamation lawsuits against one another, with McNamee asserting that he injected the pitcher with human growth hormone. After the Mitchell Report was released, Clemens gave an inconsistent account of these dealings before Congress, highlighted by his notion that former teammate Andy Pettitte “misremembered” his conversations with McNamee. Despite being cleared of any charges of giving false statements, Clemens missed out on induction in each of his 10 years on the Hall of Fame Ballot. He and his wife continue to run a children’s foundation in Houston.

Spurgeon “Spud” Chandler was intimidating, both as a pitcher and a baserunner, during his 11-year career spent entirely with the Yankees (1937-47). Although the Cy Young Award was not around during his playing days, he was a four-time All-Star and won the American League MVP Award after leading the league with a 20-4 record, a 1.64 earned run average (also a team record), 20 complete games and five shutouts in a 1943 season in which many players were serving during World War II. Chandler missed nearly all of the next two seasons in the Army, although he had an injury classification that would not allow him to be in combat. He returned and won 20 games for the second time in 1946 but the elbow issues that bothered him his entire career finally became too much, leading to a surgery in which more than a dozen bone chips were removed. Spud finished one more year and retired with a 109-43 record, with his .717 winning percentage being the highest for a pitcher with at least 100 wins. The six-time champion is tied for sixth in franchise history with 26 shutouts and tenth with 109 complete games. Following his playing career, Chandler spent many years as a scout and was also a minor league manager and major league pitching coach. He passed away in 1990 at age 82.

Allie Reynolds showed promise during his five years in Cleveland then was traded from the Indians to the Yankees for second baseman Joe Gordon after the 1946 season. He became a star in New York, posting a winning record in each of his eight seasons with the Bombers (1947-54). During that time, he earned five All-Star selections and led the league in shutouts twice. The only time he did not get picked for the Midsummer Classic in his final six years, he did something few other pitchers in baseball history have done. In 1951, Reynolds went 17-8 with a 3.05 earned run average and a league-best seven shutouts, with two of those being no-hitters. The man known as “Superchief” because he was part Creek Indian outdueled Hall of Famer Bob Feller and Cleveland in a 1-0 gem in July and beat Boston in the first game of a doubleheader on the final weekend of the season, getting Ted Williams to pop out to catcher Yogi Berra to end the game. He is one of only six pitchers to throw two no-hitters in a season and was the second to accomplish the feat at the time and did so despite back and arm issues that could be attributed to bone chips that had broken off his elbow.

The next year, Reynolds went 20-8 and led the league with a 2.06 ERA, 160 strikeouts and six shutouts. He finished his career ranked fifth in franchise history with 27 shutouts to go with a 131-60 record, a 3.30 ERA, 96 complete games and 40 saves. The Yankees won all six of their World Series appearances during Reynolds’ tenure and “Superchief” went 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA, two shutouts and four saves, including a 2-1 mark against the Dodgers in 1952. He retired in 1955 and spent his later years working in the oil business and helping with several charitable causes in his native Oklahoma, especially the YMCA. Reynolds passed away due to complications from lymphoma and diabetes in 1994 at age 77.

5. Waite Hoyt earned his “Schoolboy” nickname thanks in part to his signing with the Giants at age 15 in 1915 and made his first big-league appearance three years later. That was his only one for the Giants, as Hoyt butted heads with manager John McGraw over his lack of usage and was traded to the Red Sox. He joined Carl Mays and Babe Ruth as pitchers Boston traded to New York and became a star with the Yankees. In 10 seasons in the Bronx (1921-30), Hoyt won 16 or more games seven times, leading the American League with 22 in 1927 and setting a career-best with 23 the following year.

“Schoolboy” is tied for sixth in franchise history in complete games (156), and he sits eight in games started (276) and innings (2,272 1/3) and ninth in wins (157-98). He pitched in six World Series with the Yankees, winning three titles and compiling a 6-3 record. Hoyt spent nearly half of his 21-year career with the Bombers and for the rest, he was a journeyman with six other teams, finishing with 237 career victories when he retired as a Dodger in 1938. Hoyt worked in vaudeville like his father in the offseason and became a mortician. Once his playing career ended, he embarked on a broadcasting career that included three years with the Yankees and 24 with the Reds. He had trouble with alcohol as a player and a broadcaster, and he said that the vice robbed him of winning 300 games. Hoyt was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1969 and passed away due to a heart attack in 1984 at age 85.

4. Jack Chesbro – He got his start in the late 1800s playing for amateur teams in New York, especially the Asylums, which represented the state mental hospital. Chesbro also worked at the hospital and was given the nickname “Happy Jack” by one of the patients because of his cheery disposition. He was sold to the Pirates in 1899, was traded to Louisville in a 16-player deal involving Honus Wagner, then rejoined Pittsburgh after the Louisville club folded. Chesbro spent four seasons with the Pirates, leading the league with 28 wins in 1902.

The following year, “Happy Jack” was sent to the Highlanders and would become the first in a long line of great pitchers for the franchise. He topped 20 wins three times in New York and set a modern record when he won 41 games (including 14 in a row) in 1904. That season, he used his fastball and the much-maligned spitball to post career bests with a 1.82 earned run average and 239 strikeouts, and he both led the league and set team records with 51 starts, 48 complete games and 454 2/3 innings. However, Chesbro was on the mound on the season’s final day when Boston won the pennant, with the winning run scoring on his wild pitch in the ninth inning.

As with many other spitball pitchers, arm (and weight) issues plagued Chesbro for the rest of his career. In seven seasons (1903-09), he went 128-93 and ranked third in franchise history in complete games (168), fifth in ERA (2.58) and tenth in innings (1,952). Chesbro pitched one game for the Red Sox in 1909 and spent the next several years pitching for and coaching semipro teams in Massachusetts. Following a stint as Senators’ pitching coach in 1924, he left baseball for good. Chesbro suffered a heart attack on his chicken farm in 1931 and passed away at age 57. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Old Timers Committee in 1946.

3. Mel Stottlemyre – He spent his entire 11-year career with the Yankees (1964-74), earning five All-Star selections and winning 20 or more games three times for the team during one of their most difficult periods. Stottlemyre went 20-9 and led the league with 18 complete games and 291 innings in 1965, then was an All-Star for a second straight year despite having the dubious distinction of winning 20 games one year and losing 20 the next. The sinker specialist faced injuries throughout his career, including shoulder tendonitis and a foot injury that resulted in surgery.

Known for his character, leadership and stellar fielding, Stottlemyre helped keep the team from falling apart in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when the club was owned by CBS. He continued his solid work on the mound despite more shoulder issues, which eventually was diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff. Since the revolutionary surgery to fix that issue had not yet been invented, Stottlemyre’s career was basically over. He was released by the Yankees in 1975 and operated a sporting goods store in Washington state. Stottlemyre is tied for second in franchise history in shutouts (40), and he ranks fourth in games started (356) and innings (2,661 1/3), seventh in wins (164-139) and eighth in complete games (152) and strikeouts (1,257). When the Mariners began play in 1977, he was their pitching coach, a position he held until 1981, when his son, Jason, died from leukemia.

Stottlemyre had two other sons (Todd and Mel Jr.) make it to the major leagues as pitchers. He returned to the dugout as a pitching coach with the Mets in 1984, helping develop the team’s young pitchers into stars on a championship team. Stottlemyre spent a decade with the Mets and, after two years with the Astros, he returned to the Yankees for another decade beginning in 1996. His tenure with New York included a battle with cancer and a strained relationship with owner George Steinbrenner, who publicly second-guessed his decisions. He took a year off in 2006, was an instructor for the Diamondbacks the following year and finished his coaching career where it began with two seasons as pitching coach in Seattle. Stottlemyre passed away in 2019 at age 77.

2. Bob Shawkey – Throughout the years, the Athletics and Yankees have been willing trade partners, with New York getting the better end of most of those deals. That was certainly the case with Shawkey, who was sold to the Yankees in the middle of the 1915 season. He spent the next 13 seasons in New York (1915-27), winning 20 or more games four times and winning an ERA title in 1920. Shawkey’s best season was 1916, when he set career highs with a 24-14 record, a 2.21 earned run average and eight saves, which led the league. In 1918, he was serving with the Navy as a yeoman and accountant while also pitching for their military team. When he pitched a couple of games for the Yankees during a furlough, he was punished by being sent to the USS Arkansas battleship in the North Atlantic. While there, he got to see the surrender of the Germany fleet in November.

“Sailor” returned and won 20 games in 1919, including a pair of one-hitters. He also gave up the home run to future teammate Babe Ruth that allowed him to set the single-season record. Shawkey’s greatest moment was arguably Opening Day in 1923, which was the first game played at Yankee Stadium. The game saw famous conductor John Philip Sousa lead the National Anthem, New York Governor Alfred Smith throw out the first pitch and Shawkey win 4-1 while scoring the first run in the stadium’s history after singling ahead of Ruth’s third-inning homer.

An injured foot led to Shawkey being released after the 1927 season. He never pitched again but became a respected pitching coach in New York and spent the 1930 season as the team’s manager, going 86-68 in his only campaign (and selling management on acquiring the next pitcher on this list). Shawkey ranks fifth in franchise history in complete games (164) sixth in wins (168-131) and innings (2,488 2/3), tied for sixth in shutouts (26), ninth in games pitched (415) and games started (274) and tenth in strikeouts (1,163).The five-time pennant-winner and two-time champion went 1-2 in seven appearances with the Yankees. Following his playing career, Shawkey was a minor league manager and major league scout for many years, owned a gold mine in Quebec, worked for General Electric making radios for the military during World War II and coached the Dartmouth College baseball team. He passed away on December 31, 1980, at age 90.

1. Charles “Red” Ruffing – He lost four toes on his left foot working in a coal mine as a teenager when it got smashed between two cars, and he modified his pitching delivery to land on the side of his foot. Ruffing began his career by spending seven seasons with the Red Sox, twice leading the league in losses. He turned his fortunes around after a trade to the Yankees, winning at least 14 games 12 times in 15 seasons with the club (1930-42, 45-46). The six-time All-Star won 20 or more games in four straight seasons, posting a league-high 21-7 mark in 1938 and leading the A.L. with five shutouts the following year. Thanks to these performances, he was a perennial holdout and he eventually had the second highest salary on the team behind Lou Gehrig.

Despite being in his late 30s, Ruffing was drafted into the Navy and spent two years leading soldier physical fitness training and pitching for the base team in California. He returned to New York and spent the better part of two seasons as a spot starter before his kneecap was broken by a line drive. Ruffing was released by the Yankees and latched on with the White Sox in 1947, but another line drive off the same knee in spring training limited him to just eight starts. He ended his time in New York as the franchise’s all-time leader with 261 complete games. Ruffing also ranks second in wins (231-124), and innings (3,168 2/3), tied for second in shutouts (40), third in games started (391), fifth in strikeouts (1,526) and seventh in games pitched (426). In addition, he retired with 273 runs batted in, the most ever by a pitcher.

Ruffing was a part of seven pennant-winners and six championship teams, posting a 7-2 record, which was the most wins in World Series history (later broken by a player on the next list). He was a scout with the White Sox and Indians throughout the 1950s and spent one season as the pitching coach for the lowly expansion Mets in 1962. Five years later, he was selected for the Ruffing, Red | Baseball Hall of Fame thanks to a runoff election (the Hall only voted every other year at that time), although his 3.80 career ERA was the highest of any Hall of Famer until Jack Morris was elected in 2018. Later in life, Ruffing suffered several strokes that left him paralyzed on his left side and lost part of an ear after contracting skin cancer. He passed away from leukemia in 1986 at age 80.

Left-Handed Starters

Honorable Mentions – Herb Pennock was inconsistent throughout his first decade in the major leagues with the Athletics and Red Sox. After his trade to the Yankees (one of 11 players acquired from their rivals in Boston during the ownership of Harry Frazee), his career took off, with him averaging nearly 20 wins over the next six seasons. Despite not having an overpowering fastball, he used a variety of pitches to baffle hitters during the “Murderer’s Row” period in Yankees’ history. He won 20 or more games twice, finishing in the top five of the MVP race in both seasons. Known for his quirky nature (including bee therapy for his injured arm, which did not go as planned), Pennock was nicknamed “The Squire of Kennett Square” because he hosted foxhunts in his Pennsylvania hometown during the offseason. He finished his 11-year run in New York (1923-33) ranked fourth in complete games (165), eighth in wins (162-90), ninth in innings (2,203 1/3) and tenth in games started (268). Pennock went 5-0 in nine World Series appearances, helping the Yankees win five pennants and four titles. After New York released him, he returned to Boston for one final year as a reliever in 1934.

Pennock was a first base coach and assistant director for Red Sox farm teams before joining the Phillies as general manager. He assembled the team that would eventually be known as the “Whiz Kids” but also was a detractor against integration in baseball, letting his players harass Jackie Robinson during games and failing to bring in a black player. On his way to a league meeting in New York in January 1948, Pennock collapsed after entering the hotel and died of a stroke at age 53. His death led to his election to the Hall of Fame later in the year after a massive increase over his previous vote totals.

Despite reaching double-digit victories seven times in eight seasons with the Yankees (1948-55), Eddie Lopat earned just one All-Star selection. Known as “The Junkman” for his ability to fool hitters with a variety of hitters (including a spitball), he was acquired from the White Sox and became part of a formidable rotation with Raschi and Reynolds for the Yankees that won a record five straight championships. His best season was 1951, when he went a career-best 21-9 with a 2.91 earned run average, 20 complete games and four shutouts. Two years later, he went 16-4 and topped the American League with a 2.42 ERA. Lopat finished his Yankee career with a 113-59 record, a 3.19 ERA, 91 complete games and 20 shutouts. He also went 4-1 in seven postseason starts, going 2-0 and allowing only one earned run in 18 innings against the Giants in the 1941 World Series. Lopat pitched 10 games for Baltimore and retired after the 1955 season. He ran a baseball academy in Florida and was a pitching coach, scout and minor league manager for several teams over the next three decades. Starting in 1990, “Steady Eddie” faced two bouts of pancreatic cancer, and he passed away two years later less than a week before his 74th birthday.

Jim Abbott and David Wells both earned their spots in Yankee lore with stellar outings during the 1990s. Abbott, who was born without a right hand, managed to switch his glove from the stub on his right arm to his left hand to field the ball, then move it back to throw. He was the starter in the 1988 Summer Olympics gold medal game win over Japan for Team USA and threw a 3-0 no-hitter for the Yankees against the Indians in September 1993. He went 20-22 in 1993-94 with New York and 87-108 overall in 10 major league seasons. Wells, a star during the team’s run of success later in the decade, pitched a perfect game against the Twins in May 1998, the 15th in major league history and the first for the franchise since Don Larson (who went to the same high school as Wells) threw one in the 1956 World Series. Wells, who had trouble with weight and alcohol throughout his career, also created a stir that day by wearing a hat originally worn by Babe Ruth that he bought at an auction (the umpire made him take it off after the first few innings). “Boomer” won at least 15 games in each of his four seasons with the Yankees (1997-98 and 2002-03), going 68-28 in the regular season, 7-2 in the postseason, winning a title in 1998 and being named the ALCS MVP that year. The three-time All-Star and two-time champion retired in 2007 after compiling a 239-157 record in 21 seasons.

5. CC Sabathia – He began his career with seven straight double-digit win seasons with the Indians, which included a Cy Young Award in 2007. After starting poorly the following year, he put together a remarkable 11-2 run after being traded to the Brewers. Sabathia had a poor start in the Division Series and his team fell to the eventual champion Phillies. He signed a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Yankees, which was the highest for a pitcher at the time. Sabathia finished the season tied for the major league lead with 19 wins and the Yankees posted a league-best 103 victories. In the playoffs, he won one game against the Twins in the Division Series and was named ALCS MVP after going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA against the Angels. Despite going 0-1 against the Phillies, he made two solid starts and helped the Yankees win their 27th and most recent championship. Sabathia continued his stellar run of pitching, leading the league once again with a 21-7 record in 2010, while earning the first of three straight All-Star selections. The Yankees did not have the same postseason success they did in his first year, but he went 4-1 in eight appearances in that three-year stretch.

Sabathia struggled with knee and hamstring injuries, as well as his weight, over the next three years (including knee surgery in 2014) but strung together three straight solid years from 2016-18. He had a stent put into his heart before the 2019 season, which would end up being his last. Sabathia had more knee issues and doctors said he would need to undergo replacement surgery. His last appearance came in relief during Game 4 of the ALCS and ended with discomfort in his left shoulder. The hefty lefty finished his 11-year Yankee career (2009-19) ranked fourth in franchise history in strikeouts (1,700), seventh in games started (306) and tenth in wins (134-88). During his final season, he became just the third southpaw to reach the 3,000-strikeout mark, ending his career with 3,093. Sabathia was hired to serve as a special assistant to Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred in 2022, and he will make his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2025.

4. Ron Guidry – He went from a hard-thrower to an ace after he was taught a slider by Yankees closer Sparky Lyle when he was also in the bullpen during his first two seasons. “Gator” had a solid first year as a starter in 1977, then put together one of the greatest campaigns by a starter the following season. Aided by his new devastating pitch, he set a career-high with 248 strikeouts (the second-best total in a season for the Yankees) and led the league with a 25-3 record, an astounding 1.74 earned run average (third in team history) and nine shutouts (also a club record) to win the Cy Young Award and finish second in the MVP race. During his stellar season, he got his unique “Louisiana Lightning” nickname thanks to a sign held up by a fan during one of his games. Included in that win total is the one-game playoff victory against the Red Sox which was best known for Bucky Dent‘s dramatic go-ahead home run in the seventh inning.

Guidry was a four-time All-Star, finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting four times, won five straight gold gloves and reached double-digit wins nine consecutive years. He was a steady presence in a locker room that faced quite a bit of turmoil thanks to managerial changes, infighting between players and coaches and several incidents of ownership misconduct by George Steinbrenner. “Gator” had another great season in 1985, leading the league with a 22-6 record and finishing second in the Cy Young race, but age, workload and a sore elbow caught up to him. He retired after a stint in the minor league in 1989 to hunt, fish and occasionally be a Yankees coach and instructor, including a two-year stint as pitching coach in 2006-07. Guidry finished his 14-year career (1975-88) ranking third in franchise history in strikeouts (1,778), fifth in wins (170-91) and games started (323), tied for sixth in shutouts (26) and seventh in innings (2,392). The 1984 Roberto Clemente Award winner went 5-2 in 10 playoff starts and was a part of four pennant-winners and two championship teams.

3. Vernon “Lefty” Gomez – Known for his quick wit and a stellar fastball, Gomez produced four 20-win seasons and led the league in strikeouts and shutouts three times each and victories and earned run average twice. In 1932, he finished fifth in the MVP voting after going 24-7 with 21 complete games. Gomez appeared in the first seven All-Star Games, starting five times and winning the inaugural contest for the American League in 1933 while also driving in the first run in the game’s history. He also amassed two pitching Triple Crowns, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts in 1934 and ’37. Gomez won 12 or more games 10 times during his 13-year tenure in New York (1930-42). He missed considerable time in 1940 due to a shoulder injury but returned the following year to win 15 games.

However, Gomez saw his fastball decline in his later years, and he was released by the Yankees before the 1943 season. He spent a few weeks with the Braves without getting into a game and pitched once for the Senators before retiring. Gomez ranks second in franchise history in complete games (173), fourth in wins (189-101) and shutouts (28), fifth in innings (2,498 1/3) and sixth in games started (319) and strikeouts (1,468). During his tenure, the Yankees appeared in seven World Series and won six (including four in a row from 1936-39). Gomez went 6-0 with a 2.86 ERA in seven starts. Following his playing career, he went on USO tours to troops during World War II, was a coach and manager in the Yankees’ farm system, led teams in the Venezuelan and Cuban winter leagues (despite not knowing how to speak Spanish), worked closely with Babe Ruth youth baseball and was a salesman for Wilson Sporting Goods for more than 30 years. Gomez was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1972 and passed away in 1987 at age 81.

2. Andy Pettitte – Whether you see him as a part of the Yankees’ “Core Four” or as one of the few who faced steroid allegations and remained popular, he excelled during his 15-year tenure in New York (1995-2003, 2007-10 and 12-13) and became one of the best postseason pitchers of his era. Pettitte had a great changeup and solid breaking balls and fastballs, but his greatest asset was his pickoff move, which was arguably the best in the game. He went 12- in 1995 to finish third in the Rookie of the Year voting. The following season, Pettitte won a career-high and league-leading 21 games, earned his first of three All-Star selections and was the runner-up for the Cy Young Award.

A five-time champion, Pettitte went 18-10 in 40 career postseason starts and was the MVP of the 2001 ALCS after going 2-0 against the Mariners. In the seven World Series he pitch in for the Yankees, he went 5-4 in 12 starts and posted two victories in the 2009 win over the Phillies, which was the franchise’s most recent title. Pettitte spent three years with the Astros, including a 2004 season which ended with surgery on a torn tendon in his forearm. He returned to New York in 2007 and was named in the Mitchell Report after the season. Unlike most of the others named in the report, Pettitte admitted to using human growth hormone and, despite his close ties to Clemens, his honesty allowed him to come out cleaner than most of the others who faced steroid allegations.

Pettitte retired for a year in 2011 but returned for two more seasons and etched his name into the Yankee record book. In addition to four top-10 Cy Young finishes, he is the all-time franchise leader in strikeouts (2,020) and is tied for the top spot in games started (438) with the next player on this list. Pettitte also ranks third in wins (219-127, including 14 seasons in double figures) and innings (2,796 1/3) and sixth in games pitched (447) to go along with 24 complete games. He was also the first player to pitch more than 15 seasons in the major leagues without posting a losing record. Pettitte was the pitching coach for a Baptist high school team in Houston following his playing career.

1. Edward “Whitey” Ford – The New York native nearly matched Pettitte with 14 straight winning seasons until his final two seasons were marred by circulation problems in his elbow. Following his senior year in high school, Ford signed with the Yankees in 1947 and was sent to Binghamton, where he was given his nickname by Gomez the former star lefty who was managing the Triplets at the time. Three years later, Ford made he debut with his hometown team, going 9-1 and finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting, then threw 8 2/3 innings against the Phillies to win his only World Series start.

Over the next two years, Ford was a radar operator with the Army during the Korean War. While he pitched for the base team in New Jersey, he ended up quitting when his commander expected him to start three times a week. Ford returned to the Yankees in 1953 and won his first seven starts, giving him 16 straight to begin his career. He went 18-6 and, although he lost his only World Series start, his team won a record fifth straight championship. From there, Ford rattled off 10 All-Star campaigns, won 16 or more games 10 times and won the Cy Young Award in 1961, when he led the league with a 25-4 record and 283 innings while posting a 3.21 earned run average, 11 complete games and a career-best 209 strikeouts.

“The Chairman of the Board” led the league in wins three times and topped the circuit in ERA, gamers started, innings and shutouts twice each and complete games once. He appeared in 11 World Series with the Yankees, winning six times and setting records with 10 wins, eight losses 94 strikeouts, 146 innings and 33 2/3 scoreless frames, which he finalized during the 1961 Fall Classic when he went 2-0 against the Reds and was named series MVP. Later in his career, Ford began experiencing numbness in his pitching arm that was found to be a blocked vein. Following three procedures to fix the problem, as well as bone spurs, Ford retired at the end of May 1967.

“Whitey” is the all-time Yankees leader in wins (236-106), innings (3,710 1/3) and shutouts (45), and he is tied with Pettitte for the most games started with 438. His record and .690 win percentage is the highest in baseball history among pitchers with 200 victories who played since 1900. Ford, who spent 16 seasons in New York (1950, 53-67) also ranks second among Yankees in strikeouts (1,956), fourth in games pitched (498), tied for sixth in complete games (156) and tenth in ERA (2.75). He admitted to doctoring baseballs at the end of his career, but the brash, confident hurler was one of the best southpaws in the game’s history.

Ford was Yankees pitching coach in 1974, the same year he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He faced heart and arm issues and gave up a full-time coaching career to become an instructor. Ford also was in the booth with the Blue Jays for their inaugural season in 1977. Later in life, he had two bouts of cancer and ran a children’s foundation before he passed away while watching a Yankees playoff game on October 8, 2020, (a 5-1 win over the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS) at age 91.

Relief Pitchers

Noteworthy Mention – John Wetteland was a spot starter in Los Angeles, then converted to a closer with Montreal, saving 105 games in three seasons before the strike ended both his time with the Expos and his team’s run to the playoffs. Wetteland joined the Yankees, where he was a dominant ninth-inning reliever over his two seasons in pinstripes (1995-96). He led the league with 43 saves and earned his first All-Star selection. In the playoffs, he went 0-1 with seven saves in 15 games and was the MVP of the 1996 World Series after saving all four of the Yankees’ victories over the Braves. Following the emergence of the top player on this list, Wetteland went to Texas, where he posted 150 saves in four seasons, giving him 330 in 12 career seasons. The Rolaids Reliever of the 1990s faced child sex abuse charges, but after a mistrial, charges were dropped by the prosecution.

Honorable Mentions – Johnny Murphy was a “Fireman” in a time before the closer was a term in baseball’s lexicon. While he started his career as a spot starter, reaching double-digit victories four times in 12 seasons (1932, 34-43 and ’46), he was used primarily at the end of games and led the league in saves four times. A six-time champion and three-time All-Star, Murphy finished with a 93-53 record, 990 1/3 innings, 104 saves (sixth in franchise history) and 383 games (tenth). During the playoffs, he was even better, going 2-0 with a 1.10 earned run average and four saves in eight appearances. Following his final season with the Red Sox in 1947, he became a scout in Boston and worked his way up to vice president. “Fordham Johnny” later became a scout for the expansion Mets, and he rose to the role of general manager. Murphy saw his work lead to the “Miracle Mets” winning an improbable championship in 1969, but less than three months later, he passed away at age 61 after suffering two heart attacks.

Joe Page took up the “Fireman” role following Murphy’s retirement and, after beginning his career as a starter like his predecessor, he led the league in saves twice during a seven-year run in New York (1944-50). The tall, powerful lefty worked in the coal mines as a teenager, but his career almost came to an end before it began thanks to a 1936 car accident that required surgery to fix a compound fracture in his leg. The injury never healed properly and kept him from being drafted into the military during World War II, but it did not prevent him from pitching. Page lost both his parents and his older sister but found success as a starter, earning his first of three All-Star selections during his 1944 rookie season. His other two selections to the Midsummer Classic came as a reliever, and he also finished in the top five of the MVP voting twice. Page finished his Yankees tenure with a 57-49 record and 76 saves (eighth in franchise history). He was also a member of three title teams, going 2-1 with two saves in seven appearances and earning the Babe Ruth Award in 1949. Page toiled in the minors for three seasons before joining the Pirates in 1954. Two bad outings led to his release and during his retirement years, he owned two bars and suffered several medical issues (multiple heart attacks and throat cancer). Page died of heart failure in 1980 at age 62.

5. Aroldis Chapman – The Cuban native defected during a tournament in the Netherlands in 2009 and earned four All-Star selections in six seasons with the Reds. He joined the Yankees in 2016 and was traded to the Cubs, where he was an integral part of “breaking the curse” with a 2-0 record and four saves in 13 playoff games. Chapman returned to New York the following year and earned three All-Star selections in six years (2016 and 17-22). The lefty known as the “Cuban Missile” regularly topped 100 miles an hour with his fastball, which allowed him to register 153 saves (third in franchise history) and an incredible 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Chapman split 2023 between Kansas City and Texas, helping the Rangers win their first title in a setup role. He joined the Pirates in 2024.

4. Dave Righetti – Originally drafted tenth overall by the Rangers in 1977, he was traded to the Yankees the following year for the next player on this list. After a brief call-up in 1979, Righetti spent all the subsequent season in the minors before joining New York’s starting rotation and winning the Rookie of the Year Award in the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. Despite pitching in the World Series (he got shelled by the Dodgers), his greatest moment came on July 4, 1983, when he tossed a 4-0 no-hitter against the Red Sox, the first no-no by a Yankee since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

Righetti was moved to the bullpen the following year, and he soon became one of the best closers in the game. In 1986, the lefty broke the single-season save record with 46 saves. Overall, the two-time Rolaids Relief Award winner went 74-61 with a 3.11 earned run average in 11 seasons (1979, 81-90), and he ranks second in franchise history in both games pitched (522) and saves (224). “Rags” spent time with four other teams and retired following the 1995 season. He was the Giants pitching coach for 18 seasons, helping San Francisco win four pennants and three championships.

3. Albert “Sparky” Lyle – He was a star out of the bullpen in an exciting but turbulent time for the club during the 1970s. Lyle signed with the Orioles in 1964 but was acquired by the Red Sox in the first-year draft after the season. He never started a game in the majors and used a slider he developed under the tutelage of Ted Williams to become a solid innings eater at the back of the bullpen. Lyle was traded to the rival Yankees before the 1972 season in what many fans and press members call one of the worst moves for the Red Sox in the past half century. After the trade, he realized his potential and became a three-time All-Star and a two-time saves leader during his seven seasons in New York (1972-78) while also showcasing his skills as a clubhouse prankster and practical joker.

In his first season with the Yankees, Lyle set a major league record for lefties with 35 saves (although the mark was passed the next year). He also briefly held the all-time saves record during the 1977 season, but he lost the record to Rollie Fingers later in the year. Despite this, he became the first reliever in American League history to win the Cy Young Award after going 13-5 with a 2.17 earned run average, 26 saves and a league-best 72 appearances. Lyle was a spark in the playoffs, going 3-0 with one save in 10 games while helping the Yankees win three straight pennants and two titles from 1976-78.

Two things led to Lyle’s departure from New York, the signing of the next player on this list and the pitcher authoring a book called The Bronx Zoo, a tell-all that gave fans an inside look at one of the most dysfunctional franchises in history, the 1978 Yankees. Lyle was sent to the Rangers in a trade that brought Righetti to New York, and Sparky spent four more years in the big leagues, ending his career after being released by the White Sox in 1982. Lyle was the all-time American League leader with 232 saves, and he held the mark until Righetti surpassed him in 1991. Following his playing career, Lyle finished his Yankee tenure ranked third in franchise history in ERA (2.41), fifth in saves (141) and eighth in games pitched (420). He managed the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League from 1998-2012.

2. Rich “Goose” Gossage – He showed flashes of potential early in his career, earning All-Star selections as both a closer and a starter with the White Sox and appearing in the Midsummer Classic with the Pirates before he signed with the Yankees in 1978. Gossage’s acquisition relegated Lyle to a setup role while allowing him to become one of the most intimidating and dominant closers of his era. “Goose” earned four All-Star selections with New York and placed in the top five of the Cy Young voting three times. He led the league with 33 saves in 1980 and added 20 more in the strike-shortened following season while posting a nearly unhittable 0.77 ERA. The 1978 champion followed that in the playoffs by a not allowing a run in 14 1/3 innings and amassing six saves in eight appearances, although his team fell to the Dodgers in the World Series.

Gossage used an overpowering fastball to dominate opposing hitters despite being used for multiple innings in most of his outings. He got the save in the one-game playoff win over the Red Sox in 1978 but missed several months the following year after tearing ligaments in his thumb. Later in his Yankee tenure, Gossage grew his signature Fu Manchu mustache. After becoming the latest in a growing line of players and managers to have clashes with owner George Steinbrenner, he signed with the Padres in 1984, ending his time in New York as the team’s all-time leader in ERA (2.14) and ranking fourth in saves (151).

Although San Diego went to the World Series for the first time in 1984, Gossage’s numbers began to decline. He played for six teams over his final six seasons (including an 11-game stint with the Yankees in 1989), spent 1990 in Japan and retired after the lockout ended the 1994 season. A 1978 Rolaids Relief Award winner, Gossage finally got the call to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, his ninth year of eligibility. After his playing days, he is active in the youth sports scene in Colorado Springs and the city’s sports complex bears his name.

1. Mariano Rivera – One of the most memorable and iconic moments in sports over the past 25 years was hearing Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blaring over the speakers and watching this flamethrowing righty run out of the bullpen at Yankee Stadium. Rivera came from humble beginnings but used his upbringing working in the sugarcane fields in his native Panama in his future career. The swinging of the machete helped him to develop a fluid pitching motion that turned into a solid two-seam fastball and a nearly unhittable cutter. After signing with the Yankees and spending five years in the minor leagues, Rivera split his rookie season in 1995 between starting and coming out of the bullpen. Despite an inconsistent year, he added speed to his fastball and New York made him untouchable, turning down nearly 20 trade offers for him in his early years.

Rivera converted full-time to the bullpen the following year and became a solid setup man for John Wetteland during the team’s run to their first World Series title in more than a decade. He finished third in the Cy Young voting after going 8-3 with a 10.9 strikeout rate in 107 2/3 innings. Rivera’s improved speed allowed the Yankees to let Wetteland leave as a free agent after the season and install “Mo” as their new closer. He would have a nearly 20-year run as the game’s greatest relief pitcher. Backing that up are his list of accomplishments: Seven World Series appearances, including five titles, 13 All-Star selections, five Top 5 finishes in the Cy Young Award race, World Series MVP and Babe Ruth Award winner during the 1999 playoffs, 2003 ALCS MVP, five Rolaids Relief and three Delivery Man of the Year Awards, three-time league leader in saves and has major league records in both saves (652) and games finished (952).

In what was supposed to be his final season in 2012, Rivera was shagging fly balls before a game in early May when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, meniscus damage in his right knee as well as having a blood clot in his calf. He decided to put off retirement for one more year and, in addition to the tributes and presents he received at opposing ballparks, he was named Comeback Player of the Year after going 6-2 with a 2.11 ERA and 44 saves. Included in the career save total for “The Sandman” are nine seasons with 40 or more and the Yankees’ only two 50-save seasons (with a club record 54 in 2004). He had an 82-60 record, and he is the all-time franchise leader in games pitched (1,115), ranks second in earned run average (2.21) and ninth in strikeouts (1,173). Rivera was even more dominant in the playoffs, going 8-1 with an astonishing 0.70 ERA, 42 saves and 110 strikeouts in 141 innings over 96 appearances.

Following his 19-year career (1995-2013), Rivera and his wife founded Refuge of Hope Church in Westchester County outside New York City. He also spends time working with causes that help impoverished families in the U. S. and his native Panama and has served on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition. In 2019, the quiet, humble closer made baseball history one more time, becoming the first (and so far, only) player to be inducted unanimously into the Baseball Hall of Fame after receiving a vote from all 425 baseball writers.

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