The 1950's Yankees
Stars & Scrubs up the middle


In his 2012 "Dynasties" article, James had written,



68 points.   The Greatest Dynasty of All Time.

Key Figures:  Casey Stengel, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris

                In terms of personnel, the 1947-1964 Yankees are no match for the Ruth and Gehrig Yankees. The Ruth/Gehrig Yankees have a Hall of Fame catcher (Dickey), one of the greatest first basemen ever (Gehrig), two Hall of Fame second basemen (Lazzeri and Gordon), a Hall of Fame shortstop (Rizzuto), at least three Hall of Fame outfielders (Ruth, DiMaggio, and Earle Combs), and at least four Hall of Fame pitchers (Gomez, Ruffing, Pennock and Waite Hoyt.)   All the 1947-1964 Yankees have is Mantle, Berra, Ford, and the second half of Phil Rizzuto’s career.  

                But in terms of dominance on the field, the 1947-1964 team accomplished more in 18 years than the 1920-1943 team did in 24.    Ruth and Gehrig were in the Yankee lineup together for ten years, and won four pennants.    Mantle and Berra were in the Yankee lineup together for eleven years, and won nine pennants.    They dominated their league—and the other league—to a greater extent than any other team ever has.


And you click through the almanac ... the thing that jumps out at you is that the 1947-1964 clubs had their superduperstars at C and CF, not at RF and 1B.  The 1947-64 teams then did a really good job of "Stars & Scrubs Fungibility" -- making sure that the other 6 lineups spots had decent players in them, with no gaps.  

Take the 1953 team:

Pos, Player OPS+
C Berra 141
1B Collins 120
2B Martin 94
SS Rizzuto 103
3B McDougald 113
OF Woodling 146
OF Bauer 130
CF Mantle 144
OF4  Noren 102

You probably haven't heard of Gene Woodling or Irv Noren.  But the Yankees did this over the course of 15+ years.  The discussion at BJOL claims that they did this in part because of one "George Weiss," who was like the Jack Zduriencik of his time, keeping the minors blossoming and productive.

So, it says here, the "mystery" of the Yogi Berra Yankees was simple:  Stars & Scrubs fungibility, based on two up-the-middle cleanup hitters and a thriving farm system.


Pitching-wise, the Yankees of Stengel's era were unusual, too:  except for Whitey Ford, they tended to spread the SP innings around six fairly decent pitchers.  Especially in the second half of their run, after Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat started to fade.

Again, the 1953 ballclub gave starts to their ace and five #3-4 starters.  Remember other starters of the day could go 300+ innings, so scale these IP back by about 40% to compare to today:

Pitcher GS IP ERA+
Ford 32 207 123
Raschi 26 181 111
Lopat 24 178 152
McDonald 18 129 97
Reynolds 15 145 108
Sain 19 189 123


They kept their SP's absolutely minty-fresh this way ... sort of the mirror-image of what McClendon achieved with two bullpens full of talented-but-dubious relievers last year.

The next year, 1954 ... this time SEVEN main starters, except Tom Morgan, Bob Grim, and Harry Byrd (who?) swapped in for Vic Raschi and Johnny Sain.

I don't know how the M's could profit from this today, since SP's don't appreciate going to the bullpen for a month.  But!  If you were very slow to put Iwakuma, or Paxton, or Taijuan, back into the rotation, perhaps you'd inadvertently gain the swap-out effect?

Maybe Zduriencik was, consciously or subconsciously, trying to get to the "6-7 starters with 15 GS" goal.  Naaahhhhhh.


The eight greatest catchers ever according to James -- Johnny Bench, Yogi, Roy Campanella, Mickey Cochrane, Pudge Rodriguez, Pudge Fisk, Bill Dickey, and Gary Carter -- are (as a group) associated with oodles of championships.

By the way, Yogi Bear was introduced in 1958.  From Yahoo:


Lawrence "Yogi" Berra picked up his famous nickname from a friend, who said he resembled a Hindu holy man (yogi) they had seen in a movie, whenever Berra sat around with arms and legs crossed waiting to bat, or while looking sad after a losing game. 

Years later, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Yogi Bear was presumably named after Berra (the cartoon bear's creators denied it), something Berra did not appreciate after he started being periodically addressed as "Yogi Bear."


Hanna/Barbera picked up on Berra's popularity and crafted Yogi Bear after the catcher. Berra's extremely smart compared to his public persona for saying oddball stuff, but that's why Yogi Bear is incredibly arrogant even tho he's a complete numb skull. I also heard that Boo-Boo was named after a pitcher for the Yanks (doubt it - Dr. D).


Casey Stengel was asked how he was so successful as a manager of the Yankees, winning 10 pennants and 7 World Series titles between 1949 and 1960. He said "I never play a key game without my man behind the plate". Yogi Berra was the man. He may very well have been the smartest catcher in baseball history.


Berra was accused of being an "invisibly" GREAT manager of pitching staffs, too.  You could make an argument that Yogi Berra was the greatest player who ever lived.  He started from 1948 to 1962, and in those 15 years, the Yankees made 13 World Series and won 9.  Because of him.


Dr D



misterjonez's picture

on the club makes roster construction almost unfair. Getting league average 1B production from a plus defensive C is just not the other team.
Ditto for a CF who can do likewise with a plus glove. When your 3-4 hitters are your C/CF, you can afford to go all-in for defensive specialists at MIF and just try for league average players everywhere else. The offense is easy to construct that way; the pitching staff will outperform themselves year in, year out; and, most importantly, you'll win a whole lotta ballgames.

M's Watcher's picture

The AL of the '50s were a different era. There were only 8 teams, so about half the teams to beat as now to make it to a World Series. They played only 154 games vs 162, so there were less innings to wear out the pitchers. There were far more complete games. No playoffs: you win the pennant and go to the WS. Teams also controlled players and could keep dynasties without losing players to free agency.
Has the talent been diluted and dispersed in the era of expansion and free agency? Maybe that doesn't matter so much as, all teams are in the same boat, but there might be a larger talent gap between the elite players and the #15-25 players on the rosters. That could make the value of the stars that much greater, as well as the need to have the better scrubs (no holes).

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