Which Yankees Great is Right for the SwB RailRiders?

Al Bello

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are bringing a Yankees' legend to their opening day. Is Reggie Jackson the best choice?

Here at BtBS, I feel that one of our main responsibilities is to inspire conversation about baseball, by adding interesting and different viewpoints on research and news. Sadly the vast majority of these conversations end with no real impact on the game or teams. Last week, though, I had a chance to answer a question with real world implications. One of my friends works for the newly re-branded Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The RailRiders are preparing to open a brand new stadium on April 4, and to commemorate the occasion they will have former Yankees' great, Reggie Jackson, in the house. Before the announcement, the question was which retired Yankee should they invite to opening day? We came up with three choices: Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, or Bernie Williams. Did the RailRiders make the right call in selecting Jackson?

One important distinction before we begin; this question is not, "who is the greatest living Yankees' player?" Rather, this question is, "who is the best Yankees player to represent the Yankees brand at the opening of a new Triple-A stadium?" As Yogi Berra might say, 90% of this decision revolves around the players' baseball careers, while the other half includes everything else. With that, let's get to it.

Who was the best player?

This question could be an article in itself, and I don't think there is necessarily a correct answer. The three players played three different positions in three different eras, making it really difficult to analyze. With that said, what we can do is examine some important career totals for each player:

Name

rWAR

fWAR

WARP

JAWS

wOBA

wRC+

FRAA

Yogi Berra

59.3

63.6

62.9

45.6

.370

124

23.7

Reggie Jackson

74.0

72.8

80.8

56.5

.374

139

-9.1

Bernie Williams

49.5

44.4

53.9

40.8

.373

126

-15.3

If you are unfamiliar with JAWS or Jaffe WAR Scores, here is an explanation. *These numbers have not been updated to reflect the change in WAR.

As you can see, Jackson owns a distinct advantage in every category. Although part of the large discrepancy in WAR totals stems from the fact that Jackson played 700 more career games than either Berra or Williams, it's not really fair to penalize him for longevity. And Berra's defense, while impressive, is not enough to overcome Jackson's superior offense.

Point: Reggie Jackson

Who was the best player as a member of the Yankees?

While Jackson's career totals do surpass those of Berra and Williams, over 75% of his career plate appearances came with organizations other than the Yankees. On the other hand, Williams and Berra played only 4 games combined for other organizations. Take a look at the totals solely with the Bronx Bombers:

Name

PA

rWAR

fWAR

WARP

wOBA

wRC+

FRAA

Yogi Berra

8355

59.4

63.7

62.9

.371

125

23.6

Reggie Jackson

2707

17.3

18.3

19.3

.394

149

-13.3

Bernie Williams

9053

49.5

44.4

53.9

.373

126

-15.3

Again, even with the numbers right in front of us, I think there is some room to argue which player actually warrants this distinction. While Jackson's WAR totals lag substantially behind the others, some of the best offensive seasons of his career where during his years in New York. Despite the lofty wOBA and wRC+ for Jackson, I think have to give this point to Berra.

Point: Yogi Berra

What about the postseason and the awards?

Ahh, yes, if we're talking about the Yankees we need to discuss wins, postseason successes, and, of course, the awards. And all three of our candidates have strong resumes in this area.

Bernie Williams played his career in the wild card area, with more teams than either Jackson or Berra and still his teams managed to make the playoffs 12 times and win the World Series in 4 of those seasons. In his 25 playoff series, Williams was roughly the same hitter as he was for his regular season career, posting a .850 OPS (versus .858 in the regular season). He also won the 1998 AL Batting title, the 1996 LCS MVP, four Gold Gloves (despite less than stellar ratings in defensive metrics), and he was named an All Star five times.

Reggie Jackson can't match Williams' volume of postseason wins with the Yankees, but we can make very strong "quality over quantity" argument in favor of Jackson. During Jackson's five seasons in the Bronx, the Yankees made the playoffs four times and they took home two World Series titles. Jackson could be credited as a major contributor to both championships, blasting 7 home runs in only 43 at bats, earning the moniker "Mr. October" for his performances. As for awards, Jackson was named AL MVP in 1973 (with Oakland), the 1977 WS MVP, and he played in 14 all-star games. He was also voted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.

Besting Mr. October in a conversation of postseason success is rather difficult to do, but Yogi Berra is the man who can do it. Berra may in fact be the best winner baseball has and will ever see. Over his 18 year-career with the Yankees, his teams won an incredible 62% of games in the regular season and they won 10 championships. Furthermore, he took home 3 AL MVP awards with the Yankees and was named an all-star 15 times. Like Jackson, Berra was enshrined in Cooperstown, entering the Hall in 1972. Reggie and Bernie were winners, but no one won like Yogi Berra.

Point: Yogi Berra

Who will the fans remember and relate to?

Ultimately, we're not trying to find the best living Yankee, we are trying to find the best player to attend opening day for the RailRiders. Which player would fans remember and want to go see? Looking at the demographics (that were kindly provided to me), 52% of Scranton's fans are 35 or younger, meaning that over half of them have probably not seen either Jackson or Berra play a professional baseball game. For Berra, only 11% of Scranton's fans actually could have seen him play in the Big Leagues. The much younger Bernie Williams was a part of the most recent Yankees dynasty. Sure, there's a point for history, but it's likely that the majority of this fan base will relate to the late 90's Yankees teams with Williams, Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neil, and Mariano Rivera better than either of the old timers.

Point: Bernie Williams

Decision

We've looked at four categories, with two going to Berra and one to each Jackson and Williams. Does that mean Yogi Berra should be the Yankee heading to Northeastern PA on Thursday? It's not quite that simple. The RailRiders may be the Yankees' Triple-A Club, but that doesn't make every Scranton/Wilkes-Barre fan a Yankees fan. Truthfully, many patrons of Minor League baseball games are not at all concerned with the game on the field. Many attend Minor League games to enjoy affordable family entertainment regardless of who is playing. So, who will bring the most fans to the ballpark? I think the answer is Reggie Jackson. Not only does he have the best blend of greatness, fame, and relevancy, but he also was born and raised in Wyncote, PA which is just two hours from Moosic. Despite much different (and probably more time consuming in my case) methodology, the RailRiders and I ended up at the same conclusion. I know some of you will have differing opinions, and maybe you feel the best selection would have been someone we didn't even nominate. Let's hear it in the comments: if you were GM of the RailRiders, which Yankees great would you invite to Opening Day?

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