Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Offseason Space Filler Post: My Top 10 Favorite Yankees Part II

If you missed Part I of this epic list you can find it right here.  Now let's get back into the list and check out the Top 5.

5) David Cone- After reading all the books on the 90s-2000s Yankee dynasty, Cone has retroactively become one of my favorite all-time Yankees.  If I had known all the 'behind the scenes' stuff that I know now back then, there's a chance Coney would be even higher on this list.  Cone is another guy who established himself as a big time fan favorite despite only being a Yankee for a little over 5 years, fewer than that actually on the mound, because of his drive, his work ethic, and his insane thirst for winning that made him a great teammate and the unquestioned clubhouse leader of the 90s Yankee dynasty.

In the locker room, Cone was the team's spokesman, always willing to stick around and deal with the media, especially in situations where he knew other teammates wouldn't want to after a bad performance.  He also had the ear and trust of Joe Torre and the balls to talk crap to George Steinbrenner.  The story of Cone telling The Boss to "get the fuck out of here" when he tried to interfere in a team meeting was one of my favorite stories from Buster Olney's book.  All the stories about Cone pitching with the aneurysm, the diagnosis, how crushed he was when he found out, and how hard he busted his ass to get back out on the mound because he didn't want to let his teammates down are all perfect examples of just how badass David Cone was.

On the mound, Cone used all kinds of different pitches and arm angles to work hitters.  He was a bit like El Duque in that sometimes he would dial something up and you would watch and just think "what the hell did he just throw?"  But that was Cone's style.  He was going to use every way he could think of to get a guy out, and even more ways than that if it was a day where he didn't have his best stuff.  Watching him pitch was kind of like watching a painter put together a portrait; a little bit of this, a little bit of that, inside, outside, up in the zone, down in the zone, all kinds of angles and release points, and boom!  Done.  8 innings of 1-run, 4-hit ball.

I missed the first couple innings of Boomer's perfect game, but I sat and watched every inning of Cone's in July of '98.  To date, standing and cheering in my living room with my dad and watching his reaction as the final out was made is one of my favorite memories as a Yankee fan.  As a former athlete, I wish I could have played with more guys like David Cone.

4) Paul O'Neill- He was probably a bit too ornery, he was definitely intense, and he might have been certifiably insane, but Paul O'Neill was and is the man and was definitely one of the most fun Yankees to watch.  After basically being given away by a Cincinnati Reds team that didn't realize what they had, O'Neill flourished in the Bronx, putting up a .303/.377/.492 tripleslash line, 4 ASG nominations, and, like pretty much everybody else on this list) 4 World Series rings during his 9-year Yankee career.

O'Neill was great to watch because he was such an open book.  Just by looking at his face and his body language you could tell not only what kind of day he was having, but how he felt about it.  Some guys could go 2-4 with an RBI and be happy as clams, but O'Neill could be 2-4 and still be grumbling and shaking his head as he stepped into the box in the 9th inning because one hit was a weak grounder that found its way through the infield and the other probably should have been scored an error.  In his mind, he was stepping up there trying to get his first "real" hit of the day.  As somebody who cursed every mistake I ever made on the lacrosse field and who has to try incredibly hard not to do the same to the players I now coach, I can relate to and respect that kind of intensity and dedication to his job that O'Neill had.  Every out he made made him feel like he was letting the team down, the fans down, and himself down.  While it may be a little over the top, it shows how much O'Neill cared and that's the kind of teammate you want.  That's a guy you can go to war with.

That caring and intensity is probably while O'Neill and his stats aged more gracefully than others who still play ball at 38.  Even in his final year, with his batting average down to .267, O'Neill still managed 55 XBH, 70 RBIs, a .789 OPS, and a 104 OPS+.  The dude had skills and even as he got older he didn't lose them.  On top of the everyday stuff, O'Neill has been a part of some of the most iconic Yankees images of the last 50 years.  The running, stretching catch to rob Luis Polonia of a hit and seal the win in Game 5 of the '96 World Series, stepping on the field for Game 4 of the '99 WS just hours after his father had died, and of course, the iconic leg kick in his swing.  Oh, and if you didn't have tears in your eyes watching the Yankee crowd chant his name in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, then there is something seriously wrong with you.