How does one remember the 1999 New York Yankees? It would be unfair to call them the middle child of what was a three-peat dynasty, they were much better than that. Yet, for some odd reason, they get somewhat lost in the shuffle. Perhaps it’s because Yankees fans of a certain age remember the ’96 club as their first title team, ’98 as the all-time squad and ’00 as the Subway Series champs.
As the ’99 club celebrates its 20-year anniversary, we take a look at the repeat champs which put the Yankees over the top for the ’90s.
While 1998 got off to a slow start, the 1999 squad jumped out to a 7-1 record. The club played inspired ball with Don Zimmer at the helm as Joe Torre recovered from prostate cancer. It was a season in which the Yankees went 98-64, 48-33 at Yankee Stadium and 50-31 on the road.
The 1999 season saw Jorge Posada take over more of the catching duties from Joe Girardi with 112 games behind the plate and a .401 slugging percentage. Tino Martinez topped the lineup with 28 taters at first base. Chuck Knoblauch boasted his finest offensive season in pinstripes with 18 homers and a .393 OPB at second base. At shortstop, Derek Jeter finished sixth in AL MVP voting, led the junior circuit with 219 hits and established a then-franchise record with 24 home runs at the position. Scott Brosius could pick it with his glove, and his bare hand for that matter, earning a gold glove and popping 17 bombs from the hot corner.
Fresh off a batting title, Bernie Williams batted a career-best .342, collected 202 hits, a gold glove, the most four-hit games in the league and was an AL All-Star. Paul O’Neill was still as durable and reliable as ever with 19 home runs. Chili Davis, in his final season, served as primary DH, with Darryl Strawberry on the mend and also swatted 19 home runs. In left field, the Yankees mostly mixed and matched between Ricky Ledee, Chad Curtis and Shane Spencer picking up the slack.
Along with the aforementioned catcher, outfield and DH spot, the Yankees bench also boasted super utility man Luis Sojo, who helped fill in with timely hits and for Knoblauch’s defensive foibles at second base. Jim Leyritz was brought back in a trade from the San Diego Padres, providing clutch seasoned depth and perhaps to give a confidence boost to his 1996 battery mate Andy Pettitte. Clay Bellinger was also a consummate pro off the bench.
Heading the staff were Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, David Cone, Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Hideki Irabu. Hernandez topped the staff with 17 wins and 214.1 frames and was once again a big game postseason pitcher. Cone led the staff with a 3.44 ERA and 177 K’s and tossed a perfect game against the Montreal Expos. Pettitte was up and down but mostly settled down down the stretch. Clemens battled through some leg injuries and wasn’t quite his Toronto Blue Jays form of two consecutive AL pitching triple crowns but he did pitch well in the World Series clincher. Irabu had his stretches of looking unhittable for two months but also somewhat inconsistent.
Mariano Rivera placed an exclamation point on his 1.83 regular season ERA and 45 saves with a World Series MVP. Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton, and Jeff Nelson forged a solid bridge. Pitchers like Jason Grimsley and Allen Watson came seemingly out of nowhere and performed admirably.
This squad one upped the 1998 team in one facet. Their 11-1 run was a major-league record in the Wild Card Era, only since equaled by the 2005 Chicago White Sox.
During the ALDS the Yankees pitching between Hernandez, Pettitte, and Clemens continued their mastery of the Texas Rangers, baffling their lineup for one run the entire series. Williams batted .364 with one home run and six-RBI, Strawberry also swatted a home run and Jeter hit .455. The Yankees swept the series 3-0.
In the ALCS, the Yankees continued their torturing of the Boston Red Sox, winning 4-1. Williams helped give the Bronx Bombers a walk-off win with a tenth inning home run off Rod Beck in a 4-3 Game 1 victory. Hernandez earned ALCS MVP honors, making two starts, posting a 1.80 ERA with 13 K’s in 15 frames and won the clincher at Fenway Park. Cone was sharp in Game 2 with nine K’s in seven frames. Pettitte atoned for his regular season with a stopper start in Game 4 at Boston, fanning five in 7.1 innings. The table setters also set the tone, with Jeter hitting .350 and Knoblauch .333. Ledee and Strawberry also busted up Boston pitching with home runs in Game 4.
The 4-0 World Series sweep over the Atlanta Braves gave the Yankees 12 consecutive World Series victories, dating back to 1996.
Game 1 saw “El Duque” whiff eight of the first 11 batters he faced, fanning 10 overall and yielding only one hit through seven frames, a home run to Chipper Jones. An eighth-inning rally put the Yankees on the board and ahead for good. Facing Greg Maddux, Brosius singled to left, Strawberry coaxed a pinch walk and was pinch run for by Curtis, Knoblauch reached on an E3 sac bunt and Jeter squared the contest at one with an RBI-single to left, chasing Maddux. Facing John Rocker, O’Neill singled to right and plated two. A bases-loaded walk by Leyritz would cap off the scoring.
Rivera would work 1.1 scoreless frames for the save.
Game 2 was a lights out performance by Cone, yielding only one hit through seven scoreless frames. The Yankees made fast work of Kevin Millwood with an array of singles during the first frame. Three RBI-singles by O’Neill, Martinez, and Brosius gave New York a 3-0 advantage. The Yankees would continue to pull away with a 7-2 victory.
Game 3 was a statement by the Bronx Bombers that there would be no reversal of 1996. Digging out of a 5-1 hole in a spotty start by Pettitte, homers by Curtis, Martinez, and Knoblauch, off Tom Glavine, knotted the game at five. Following two scoreless frames by Rivera, Curtis smacked a walk-off homer to left in the tenth off Mike Remlinger, for a 6-5 win.
Game 4 was redemption for Clemens, who pitched a strong 7.2 frames. New York got to John Smoltz in the third, a Martinez RBI-single and a Posada two-run single posted the Yanks to a 3-0 lead. Capping off the scoring for good measure in the eighth was Leyritz with a home run off Terry Mulholland, increasing the lead to 4-1. Rivera sealed the deal with a flawless ninth, preserving the victory and the sweep.