Marlon Byrd said that finding a consistent everyday on-base threat at the top of the order "is the best thing for a lineup," according to an article in The Wall Street Journal last week (HERE). Teams that have leadoff woes lose more ball games because their heavy hitters later in the lineup can't jack up the RBIs for which they are bred. By way of illustration, since Jose Reyes departure from the Mets, the organization has .441 winning percentage. With Reyes, "third baseman David Wright averaged 112 RBIs per season over that span-and only 82 in the four full seasons since (though injuries limited him to 102 games in 2011)," stated the same article.
So I ask you Yankee fans, who are the best leadoff guys historically for the Yankees? I have a few favorites who have lead us to winning seasons. Let's check them out!
Now, I know that in the early days, before my time, we had some good ones. I will not overlook them but they did not necessarily play for the Yankees, at least not right away. According to the ESPN article (HERE) "We're in a golden age for leadoff hitters" the first golden age for this very specific, patient, skillful hitter, was 1965 when we saw the likes of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Lou Brock. A notable Yankee favorite around that time and into the seventies was Roy White, a very calm, collected hitter who set up some greats holding a career OBP of .360. By the way, in mid-seventies we saw our very own Kenny Singleton take on the role of leadoff hitter for our rival team Baltimore Orioles. I prefer his role now, much better since he hurt us too much as a great hitter for the Birds.
I personally loved Mick "the Quick" Rivers who set up the likes of Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles and our very own Mr. October Reggie Jackson. His average OBP during the 1976-1978 post season was .331 (he hit his best in 1978 post season). I loved the way he stepped up to the plate and spun the bat in between pitches. Very entertaining for a 9-year-old to watch.
According to the same ESPN article, "If there was a golden era before 2013, it looks like that 1990-1992 period, which featured leadoff hitters such as (Rickey) Henderson, (Paul) Molitor, Lenny Dykstra, Wade Boggs, Tony Phillips, Bip Roberts, Butler, Delino DeShields, Raines, Biggio, Brady Anderson and Devon White."
Probably the most under appreciated leadoff hitter was Rickey Henderson, whose speed and skill upped even his very respectable career OBP, which was one of the best at .401. "I don't think I ever got proper credit about being smart about the game," stated Henderson. During his four year stint with the Yankees in the late eighties, Rickey "Man of Steal" Henderson set a franchise record for steals (326) and he had his career best OBP in 1987 (.423). He was fast and furious down the line, giving any team he played for an additional advantage in the late innings. I loved to watch him play and set up our Hit Man Donnie Baseball.
Today, we have two of the finest leadoff batters on our club in Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner (career .382 and .354 respectively). Incidentally, Jeter's OBP in 2009 was .406. We are fortunate to have both of them playing for us. Gardner, right now, is one of the best in the league along with Mike Trout, Nate McCloud, Shin-Soo Choo (who started the year for ailing Jose Reyes), Austin Jackson, Alex Gordon, Ian Kinsler, and Carl Crawford.
We can agree, that the leadoff batter who needs to have an OBP of at least .300 to even be considered to hold the helm at the top of the order, gives any team an advantage. And we have looked at some good ones. But, as always, we are interested in yours as well, so following this article, we will open a poll on this site and ask you to vote for your favorites. Tell us who you think is the best leadoff hitter for the Yankees since 1965! We want to know!
--Suzie Pinstripe, BYB Opinion Columnist
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