Four weeks ago, the Yankees announced that Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill would be joining the "hallowed ground" that is Monument Park. Truth be told, I would prefer to use air quotes around hallowed ground -- but such a gesture does not come through too well in print; but I digress. Both Martinez and O'Neill were on the Yankees for their historic run of four World Series championships in five years between 1996 and 2000, and both were quite good along the way. I am not sure that either was ever the best, second-best, or even third-best Yankee in any of those four championship seasons -- but such is life on a team with first-ballot Hall of Famers in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, and surefire "Hall of Very Good-ers" in Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. It seems inane to suggest that not being as talented and productive as an all-time great is a mark against a player.
On Wednesday, however, Sweeny Murti and Craig Calcaterra broached the issue of Martinez and O'Neill lowering the standards of Monument Park (in so few words). At face value, this is an intriguing topic. Neither Martinez nor O'Neill won any awards, nor did they set any records. The two combined for all of five All-Star Games in pinstripes, and very little ink was spilled over their exclusion from the midsummer classic.
With this in mind, Murti suggests that Willie Randolph and Graig Nettles should be next in line for Monument Park. They were integral parts of some excellent Yankees teams in the 1970s and '80s, winning World Series titles in '77 and '78 -- not quite on par with Messrs Martinez and O'Neill, to be sure, but few can boast as many rings as that duo. Of course, that sort of comparison may not be fair, either. Randolph (1694) and Nettles (1535) played more games in pinstripes than Martinez (1054) and O'Neill (1254), and both were arguably better, to boot. Per 650 PA, O'Neill averaged 3.7 bWAR as a Yankee, and Martinez averaged 3.0. Now, compare that to Randolph's 5.2 and Nettles' 5.1 marks, and you begin to see that neither is intended as a snarky response -- they were legitimately superior players.
Randolph and Nettles were underappreciated in their time, due to much of their value coming from defense and on-base skills, and they have only recently begun to get their due. And I agree that the enshrinements of Martinez and O'Neill can and should open the door for players of their ilk ... though, that should not have been necessary, given their legitimate excellence.
The greatest issue I see with any of the uproar surrounding Martinez and O'Neill garnering a monument, coming full circle, is the suggestion that Monument Park is hallowed ground. Only Miller Huggins, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and George Steinbrenner have actual monuments -- this does not infringe upon that. Rather, the only effect on Monument Park this will have is adding two good-not-great names to those that have been honored with plaques -- a list that includes Roger Maris, Elston Howard and Allie Reynolds, as other good-not-great Yankees. Surely O'Neill and Martinez fit well alongside those three, right?
Regardless, I do not think that there is any reason to be upset with the addition of a couple of legitimate contributors to the Yankees' late '90s dynasty. If there are better Yankees out there, we should push for them to receive a plaque, or some other honor. There is not a finite amount of praise to be given to the greats that have taken our breath away in the Bronx -- and I, for one, adore the team's recognition of its history, as well as its fans.
Now, then -- let's get Bernie Williams in there, shall we?