Soon enough the 2015 edition of the New York Yankees will take the field. When they do, they’ll be hoping that this is finally the season that ends in a “five,” which also culminates in a World Series title. Historically, the Yanks have a mixed bag of success and failure in such years, some being historical turning points for the franchise. To derive what New York should look for, let’s take a look back.
Still known as the New York Highlanders, the club went 71-78 and placed sixth in the American League. It was a mostly forgettable squad, led by the .302 batting average of Wee Willie Keeler. On the mound, Al Orth won 18 games and Jack Chesbro earned 19 victories, Clark Griffith pitched to a 1.68 ERA.
Now known as the Yankees but still mired in futility. New York finished in fifth, going 69-83. Most notably, that squad featured a rookie Wally Pipp and a young Roger Peckinpaugh. Similar to their 1905 brethren, Ray Caldwell paced the staff with 19 wins and Ray Fisher followed with 18.
Just two years removed from their first World Series championship and playing at Yankee Stadium, the 1925 campaign was infamously known for Babe Ruth’s, “the bellyache heard ’round the world,” following six weeks in the hospital. The Yanks would be back in the Fall Classic, the following season but in 1925, they finished 69-85 and in seventh place. While Ruth (25) and Lou Gehrig (20) both reached the 20 home run plateau, Bob Meusel actually topped the team in round trippers, swatting 33. Earle Combs batted a club high .342. On the mound, New York boasted four starters with double digits in victories but only one with a sub 3.00 ERA.
With Ruth gone and Joe DiMaggio still on the way, these Yankees were on the precipice of a dynastic run. On the edge of a pennant but not quite there. The 1935 roster went 89-60, just three games back of first, ultimately finishing second. The Iron Horse was the cornerstone of the lineup, hitting .329, slugging 30 home runs, while plating 120. A good bulk of the batting order was just about ready to lift off, between Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, Red Rolfe and George Selkirk. A staff headlined by Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing, saw all five starters with double digits in victories. None however were sporting an ERA below 3.00. Following the 1935 season, the Yankees would run off four-straight World Series titles.
With the country still immersed in World War II, a compromised Yankee roster saw the worst finish of the Joe McCarthy era. New York went 81-71 that year and only finished fourth. Snuffy Stirnweiss finished third in AL MVP voting and Nick Etten knocked in 111 runs. Outside of Bill Bevens, the Yanks had a rough go of it through the rotation.
This was a great year for the Yankees, unfortunately for them, “next year,” came that season for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Having won five-straight World Series titles from 1949-53, New York was back in the World Series, following a one-year hiatus, winning 103 games in 1954 but coming up short behind the 111 win Cleveland Indians for the AL Pennant. In 1955, the club went 96-58 and brought the pennant back to the Bronx. Mickey Mantle crushed 37 long balls, hit .306, driving in 99 runs and coaxing 113 free passes. Yogi Berra swatted 27 bombs. Hank Bauer launched 20 home runs. Bill “Moose” Skowron hit a team best .319. A young Elston Howard was on the rise as well. Whitey Ford led the AL with 18 wins and as many complete games, along with a 2.63 ERA. “Bullet Bob” Turley won 17 and Tommy Byrne added 16 victories to his ledger. New York would go all the way to Game 7 of the 1955 Fall Classic, before falling to Brooklyn.
Remembered for all the wrong reasons. Yankees fans of recent vintage may know the reference as pertaining to the core of a proud championship squad finally getting too old. While that really never befell the “Core Four,” when they were all together, it did happen to this Yankees club, which had won five straight AL pennants. In 1965 the wheels came off and the walkers came out. New York finished sixth, going 77-85. It was their first losing season since 1925 and their lowest finish in the standings since that season as well. It was the final year for Tony Kubek, nearly the end for Bobby Richardson, Howard, Clete Boyer, Mantle, Roger Maris and Ford with the Yankees. Tom Tresh belted 26 home runs and Mel Stottlemyre won 20 games but their heroics aside, weren’t nearly enough to overcome the painful decline.
Following a long drought, this team, much like the 1935 team, was building up for a return to October. All of the pieces were falling into place, Thurman Munson, Chris Chambliss, Graig Nettles and Roy White were forging a solid order. Bobby Bonds, in his first and lone season in the Bronx, was a 30/30 man. Newly minted ace and free agent signing Jim “Catfish” Hunter, lived up to his billing. Catfish finished second in AL Cy Young voting, leading the league in wins (23), complete games (30) and innings pitched (328). New York finished third in the AL East, with a ledger of 83-77.
Had the Wild Card been around, this 97-win team, with the second best record in the AL, would’ve made the postseason. Instead they finished two games shy of first and in second place overall. It was the year of Donnie Baseball, as Don Mattingly earned AL MVP honors. Mattingly led the league with 370 total bases, 145-RBI and 48 doubles. Additionally, Mattingly clocked 35 home runs and banged out 211 hits. Until nearly a decade later, it would be the best shot at a playoff berth for Mattingly. That team also carried the likes of Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Don Baylor, Willie Randolph, Ken Griffey Sr. and Mike Pagliarulo. It also saw the last great campaign of Ron Guidry, whose league best 22 victories, merited a second place finish in AL Cy Young voting. Three other starters won double digits, while closer Dave Righetti won 12 and saved 29, pitching to a 2.78 ERA.
If there were a Wild Card in 1993 and there wasn’t a strike in 1994, the Yankees playoff drought would’ve been long put out to pasture but the 1995 stretch run would’ve never been quite as compelling and dramatic. Much like the ’35 and ’75 clubs, this one was getting ramped up for a run, getting the pieces in place. A 22-6 stretch to close out the season, enabled the Yankees and their Captain, Mattingly, to capture the first AL Wild Card, finishing second in the AL East, going 79-65. Bernie Williams was beginning to breakout and emerge as a clutch postseason player. Andy Pettitte had a solid rookie campaign, following an injury to Jimmy Key. Paul O’Neill, Wade Boggs and Mike Stanley all had solid season’s respectively. Along with off-season additions Jack McDowell and John Wetteland, Ruben Sierra and David Cone helped push New York over the top. That season was also significant in that along with Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada all made their MLB debuts, with Rivera shining in the ALDS. Although they suffered a disappointing defeat in Game 5 of the ALDS, relinquishing a 2-0 series lead and falling in a heart breaker at the Seattle Mariners, it gave them a taste of the Playoffs and the drive and motivation to win it all in 1996.
Just as their foes in Boston bounced back from a devastating ALCS loss in 2003, the Yankees came back from a crushing 2004 ALCS collapse of their own. No, it didn’t culminate in a World Series title but New York held on to its crown atop the AL East, edging out the Red Sox at 95-67. Despite numerous injuries to the pitching staff, they still had Randy Johnson and his 17 victories, including five at the hands of the Red Sox. It also received contributions from Chien-Ming Wang, Shawn Chacon, Aaron Small and even Al Leiter. Mariano Rivera was brilliant as always, saving 43 games, pitching to a microscopic 1.38 ERA The lineup was stacked, comprised of nine players with double digits in home runs. Alex Rodriguez was named AL MVP, the first Yankee since Mattingly in ’85, slugging a league high 48 taters. Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi cranked out 34 and 32 home runs respectively. Hideki Matsui hit .305 with 23 home runs. Posada and Jeter each hit 19 home runs, with Jeter also collecting a team best 202 hits. Williams also chimed in with 12 home runs. Tino Martinez turned back the clock in his second tour of duty, clubbing 17 home runs. A rookie Robinson Cano put 14 over the fence and batted a solid .297. While the Yankees won their eighth of what would be a run of nine consecutive AL East titles, they would come up short in the ALDS, falling in Game 5 at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.