Every Friday we will be taking a look back at the construction of past New York Yankees World Series rosters. With 27 World Series championships, the Yankees have built teams through the draft, free agency, and trades. As the Yankees look to capture No. 28, we can see how this roster stacks up to the previous champions.
When I originally looked at starting this series, I was planning on including the 1996 team with the 1998-2000 championships. While both possessed some of the same players, the 1996 is a little more different than the teams later in the decade.
Going into the 1996 season, the Yankees made the decision to move on from manager Buck Showalter. Buck had brought the team back into the playoffs during the 1995 season but an early exit and some tension between owner George Steinbrenner and Showalter led to the change. Steinbrenner made the decision to bring in journeyman manager Joe Torre, who in three previous locations only managed to make the playoffs once in 14 seasons.
At the time, the New York tabloids labeled the manager “clueless Joe.”
Behind the plate for most of the season was Joe Girardi, who the Yankees acquired in exchange for pitcher Mike DeJean from the Rockies. Girardi had a great season, batting a career-high .294 and adding 13 stolen bases, 4 short of the team lead. Girardi was also considered to be very good behind the plate. Notably, he caught Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter and hit an RBI triple off Greg Maddux in the final game of the World Series.
Joining Girardi was Jim Leyritz, who had originally joined the Yankees in 1985 as an undrafted free agent. Leyrtiz was a little bit more impactful with his bat. After being down 6-0 in Game 4 of the World Series, down 2 games to 1, the Yankees closed the gap to 6-3 in the 8th. Leyritz tied the game on a 3-run home run of the Braves closer and the Yankees eventually won the game.
First base saw the newly acquired Tino Martinez play 155 games. Tino started his career with Seattle and came to New York with Jeff Nelson in a deal that saw Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis head to the Pacific Northwest. His first year in the Bronx saw him hit .292 and finished second in the team in home runs.
1996 saw the duo of Mariano Duncan and Andy Fox handle second base. Duncan started the majority of the games and hit a team leading .340. Duncan was brought to New York as a free agent after being released by the Phillies. His quote, “We play today, we win today…das it,” became a rallying cry for the team.
Meanwhile, Fox struggled to a .196 batting average. The former second-round draft pick for the Yankees struggled in his rookie season and saw his playing time quickly diminish. Due to his struggling play, the Yankees added Luis Sojo during the season.
Third base was primarily held by former Red Sox star Wade Boggs. Boggs left Boston after the 1992 season and landed on New York for offering him 3 years. Boggs responded, earned a second contract and hit .311 in 1996. The former batting champion was called on to pinch hit in Game 4 in the 10th inning. He worked a bases-loaded walk scoring the winning run.
Joining Boggs was Charlie Hayes, who joined the Yankees at the deadline in a trade with Pittsburgh. Hayes eventually started 5 of the 6 World Series games and caught the final out of the Series.
1996 saw the incredible rookie season of Derek Jeter. Jeter, the team’s number one pick in 1992, hit .314 on the start of his incredible career. Jeter was entrusted with the leadoff role for the team and responded by hitting .361 in the playoffs. Most notably hit a game-tying home run during the ALCS with the help of a young fan.
Right field was held down by the Warrior, Paul O’Neill. O’Neill was traded to the Yankees in 1993 for fellow outfielder Roberto Kelly. O’Neill became a fan favorite due to his fiery passion and he could be seen taking out his frustrations on water coolers in the dugout. O’Neill hit .302 in 1996 and frequently was the heart of the team.
Joining O’Neill was Bernie Williams in center. 1996 saw Williams really develop as a middle-of-the-order bat for the Yankees, leading the team in home runs while batting .305. Williams was named the MVP of the ALCS and hit a clutch home run in Game 3 of the World Series.
Left field was mainly held down by the duo of Gerald Williams and Tim Raines. Williams, who was drafted by the team hit .270 as the primary option. Meanwhile, Raines joined the Yankees from the White Sox for a low-level minor leaguer.
In 1996 the Yankees had a fearsome trio as their DH’s. Ruben Sierra, who the Yankees acquired from Oakland for Danny Tartabull, had the majority of the starts. However, they sent Sierra to Detroit for his replacement Cecil Fielder. Fielder won the 1996 Babe Ruth Award for his outstanding postseason performance.
Meanwhile, the team also used Darryl Strawberry as their DH. The former Mets’ star hit 3 home runs against the Orioles in the ALCS.
Andy Pettitte emerged in 1996 as a young ace for the team and led the team with 21 wins. Joining him was another former Met, Dwight Gooden, who joined as a free agent. Notably, during the season he pitched a no-hitter but was eventually left off the Postseason roster. Kenny Rogers and Jimmy Key both started 30 games for the team with both pitchers winning 12 games and struggling to a 4.68 ERA.
Finally, the team had David Cone for 11 starts that season but lost their true ace to an aneurysm. Cone was able to come back to pitch Game 3, the team’s first win, in the World Series.
The Yankees were led by closer John Wetteland and set-up man Mariano Rivera. Wetteland, traded to the Yankees from Montreal in 1995, recorded 43 saves that season, while Rivera finished third Cy Young voting. The team also deployed Bob Wickman and Dale Polley, both of who came through the Yankees system, and Jeff Nelson, who was acquired alongside Tino Martinez in the trade with Seattle.
Finally, a critical piece of the team was spot starter, Ramiro Mendoza. Mendoza came through the Yankees system and struggled as a starter but eventually served as an important bullpen piece for the team.