It began with Earle Combs, followed by Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer and Bernie Williams.

Now it’s Curtis Granderson who patrols center field for the New York Yankees, and he has settled in nicely amid lofty expectations in the South Bronx.

Through last Sunday, Granderson is first in the majors with 61 runs scored, tied for first with 21 homers, and second on the club with 54 runs batted in.

As expected, New York (41-29) is chasing the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, and concluded an inter-league series this past weekend by taking two of three games from the Chicago Cubs.

This was a homecoming for Granderson, who grew up in a Chicago suburb where he was a high school baseball standout.

In front of a packed Wrigley Field, Granderson’s skills were on display Sunday as he tripled in a run in the ninth inning and later scored during a 10-4 win, singled twice with a run and added the go-ahead sacrifice fly in the sixth of a 4-3 triumph on Saturday.

Just like Jackie Robinson, Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson, Granderson can alter the course of a game with his bat, legs and arm, and is a viable candidate for the AL Most Valuable Player award.

Selected in the third round by the Detroit Tigers in 2002, Granderson played in Motown from 2004 until 2009, but was traded to the Yankees later that year. So far, he has drawn rave reviews with his steady play.

Quick-footed with terrific power, versatile best describes Granderson, who can hit anywhere in the lineup.

Presently, Granderson, a one-time All-Star, is batting second because shortstop Derek Jeter was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

In this spot, Granderson’s job is to reach base, and has been getting on at a .360 clip with a .283 batting average.

Slight at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Granderson is capable of walloping distant clouts and has a high of 30 homers in 2009, followed by 24 last season with the Yanks.

But it’s when the ball is ripped into the gap that he resembles a race horse. In a three-year span beginning in 2006, Granderson finished with 45 triples. His best was 23 in 2007, and has six so far.

Granderson accomplished something fairly unique in baseball: graduate from college. He earned a business administration degree from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

So it’s no surprise that a strong educational base is still important. Early on, Granderson, a left-handed batter, established the “Grand Kids Foundation,” in which grants go toward the arts, sciences, foreign language software, field trips and baseball supplies for inner-city youngsters.

Recently, Granderson donated $50,000 so New York City boys and girls would have enough wooden bats. He’s also been an ambassador for Major League Baseball International, which brought the game to New Zealand, Italy, China and South Africa.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig had glowing praise. “There are so many fine young men playing Major League Baseball today,’’ he said, “but I can think of no one who is better suited to represent our national pastime than you.”

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for, and is a columnist for You may e-mail him at

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