Recently RAB looked at these two to see if they were the best 3-4 combo in the game. A-Rod and Tex were not the best pair of sluggers in 2009, nor were they 2nd best. The pole and runners-up positions went to Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in Milwaukee, and Albert Pujols and Matt Holiday in St. Louis, respectively. As shocking as this may sound to some Yankee fans (including this one), poor Alex and Tex just had to settle for being the best 3-4 combo in the American League ... and a pair of World Series rings.
The RAB post got me thinking, however, about where Tex and A-Rod stacked up against the best pairs of sluggers in Yankee history. Obviously, they won't be the best given that they were not the best in baseball this year, but until pitchers and catchers report or the team signs a left fielder, this is a fun exercise.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig from the 1927 team are the gold standard of power hitting teammates. In general, fans today lose sight of how good these two were, Gehrig in particular. To put things in perspective, A-Rod's career OPS+ is 147. Babe Ruth's career OPS+ is 207, while Gehrig's is 179. Those two could mash, and let's not forget that the Bambino could pitch, too.
There's a reason all great 3-4 hitter pairs in baseball will be compared to the last players to wear 3 and 4 for the Yankees, and 1927 demonstrates that reason better than any other season. Ruth put up an OPS+ of 226, all the while hitting 60 home runs, scoring 158 runs and knocking in 164 RBI. If a team got Ruth and his .486 OBP out, Gehrig was its reward. No slouch himself, the Iron Horse put up an OPS+ of 221, with 47 homers, 149 runs scored and a league leading 175 RBI (he took home the MVP). That, my friend, is dominance. Last season Pujols led baseball in OPS+ with a 188 mark, which is incredible, but nowhere near Babe and Lou. Dare I predict no players will ever match their combined 1927 numbers?
Two other Yankees, however, did come close. In 1961 Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle both made a run at the Babe's single season home run record. (Mantle also made a run for his single season alcohol consumption record.) Any educated Yankee fan knows the history. Maris broke the record on the last day of the season, but the stress of doing so is widely blamed for bringing about the early end of his career.
Lost in the midst of Maris' chase is actually the Mickster. Mantle was BETTER than Maris that season. He put up an OPS+ of 206, with 54 homers, 132 runs scored and 128 RBI. Mantle's OBP was .448, which anihilated Maris' .372.
Maris, of course, could hit a little in 1961. .372 is one heck of an OBP and his OPS+ was 167 that year. He scored 132 runs, while knocking in 142 RBI. The peformance was good enough to earn him his 2nd straight MVP. I forget how many home runs he hit.
It won't go down in Yankee lore the way 1927 and 1961 have (the team won it all both those seasons, by the way), but in 2005 Gary Sheffield and A-Rod also put on a show. Sheff had an OPS+ of 137. He hit 34 homers, scored 104 runs and knocked in 123 RBI. Both Tex and A-Rod eclipsed that performance last season, but neither matched what Alex did in '05. Bouncing back from a poor 2004 showing (for him), A-Rod put up an OPS+ of 173, leading the league in homers and runs scored with 48 and 124, while knocking in 130 RBI, all the while earning his 2nd MVP trophy. This 3-4 pair rates just a bit higher than the 2009 guys (regular season edition) on the strength of A-Rod's numbers.
Given the Ruthian heights achieved in '27 and '61 it seems unlikely that Tex and A-Rod will ever match the greatest slugger combos in Yankee history (although they may come close). However, they stand a strong chance of becoming the best 3-4 combo in baseball NEXT season. The title will rest on A-Rod's shoulders. I do expect Tex to improve next year in his 2nd season in pinstripes with A-Rod protecting him in the lineup for an entire year, but 2009 was in many ways his best season as a pro, marking something of a ceiling for his potential. A-Rod, on the other hand, could be due for a monster season in 2010. Having slain so many of the demons that plagued him earlier in his career, in 2010 Alex may well show what he's capable of when his mind is clear - I just don't think it'll be a 226 OPS+.