Anybody familiar with the history of the New York Yankees knows how dark and depressing the early 1990s were. While the Bombers failed to win a World Series during the 1980s, the team had been competitive throughout the decade. In fact, the Yankees managed to win more games during the ’80s than any other club.
It wasn’t until 1989 that the wheels really started to come off. After posting winning records from 1983 to 1988, the Yankees became a bad team in ’89. Steinbrenner’s squad finished 74-87, their worst showing under the Boss, and their worst as an organization since the dismal 1966 season.
As the 1990s began, things continued to fall apart for the once-great Yankees. The team posted losing records in 1990, 1991, and 1992, which extended its streak of consecutive sub-.500 seasons to four. It was the first time the club had posted losing records in four straight seasons since 1912-1915. The Bronx Bombers were in a historic slump. That slump, however, was about to come to an end.
Retooling the Roster
The first indications that the Yankees were on the road to recovery came shortly after the end of the 1992 season. On November 3, New York made a bold trade for Paul O’Neill. Gaining O’Neill meant losing Roberto Kelly, a fan-favorite who was an All-Star in 1992. O’Neill had won a World Series in Cincinnati, but his numbers hadn’t been particularly impressive in his final campaign for the Reds. Many fans were puzzled by the move, but it would prove to be a spectacular decision by the Yankees brass.
In December, the Bombers made two more important acquisitions. On the 10th they signed starter Jimmy Key, and five days later Wade Boggs inked a deal to come to the Bronx. Both Key and Boggs would go on to have All-Star seasons in 1993. In 1996, they contributed to the Yankees’ first World Series championship in nearly two decades.
Besides adding valuable players to the 1993 roster, the Yankees also added their controversial owner back into the mix. Fresh off of his suspension, George Steinbrenner was reinstated just before the beginning of the season. The Boss, humbler in the wake of his temporary banishment from baseball, proved to be a much more effective owner from 1993 onward.
Winning Games, Fighting for First
In his second season as the Yankee skipper, Buck Showalter got the team off to a strong start. The Yanks went 12-9 in April, then built off of that success by posting winning records in May and June. It was the first time that the Yankees earned winning records in three straight months since 1987. Instead of wallowing at the bottom of the AL East, New York hovered three to five games behind the powerhouse Blue Jays during the first half of the 1993 season.
After the All-Star break, the Yankees started to close the gap on Toronto. Thanks in large part to the contributions of Boggs, Mattingly, and catcher Mike Stanley, the Bombers managed to tie the Jays for first by the end of July. The Yankees were proving that their hot start wasn’t a fluke. They were a legitimately good team playing legitimately good baseball.
August wound up being a wild month for the Yankees. A pair of crippling walk-off losses to the Twins nearly derailed the team, but Showalter’s squad responded in impressive fashion. The Yankees regained their rhythm and continued to battle the Blue Jays for first place. Bernie Williams, a regular for the first time in 1993, was locked in during the team’s August surge and batted .349 with 11 RBI over the course of the month. With just a few weeks left in the season, the Yankees were in a position to head back to the postseason.
A Bittersweet September
Every great baseball season has a signature moment. For the 1993 Yankees, that signature moment came on September 4th. With 27,125 fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium, Jim Abbott threw a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. Abbott’s performance was legendary and, to top it off, the victory kept the Yankees knotted with Toronto atop the AL East.
Unfortunately, Abbott’s no-hitter was the last highlight of the Yankees’ 1993 campaign. In their final 24 games of the season, New York went 10-14. Toronto, on the other hand, got scorching hot at just the right time. The Jays won 17 of their last 24 games, took the division, and went on to win the World Series. September was the only month of the 1993 season in which the Yankees posted a sub-.500 record. It was a bad time to go cold, and it cost the team a chance to play in October.
Onward and Upward
The Yankees may have come up short in 1993, but, in my humble opinion, it was a season that changed the trajectory of the team. It was the first time the Yankees had posted a winning record since 1988. It was the first season in the Bronx for O’Neill, Key, and Boggs, all of whom contributed to the 1996 title run. The 1993 season was also the breakout year for future star Bernie Williams, a player who would do more than just about anybody for the dynasty teams of the late 1990s.
Showalter’s Yankees built on 1993 by becoming one of the best teams in baseball during the strike-shortened 1994 season. In 1995, the Bombers bounded into the playoffs and faced off against the Mariners in a thrilling ALDS. In ’96, Joe Torre took the team over the top and the Yankees were World Champions once again. I believe that 1993 paved the way for the rest of the decade. It was the organization’s first step towards a dynasty for the ages. It was a critical turning point in Yankees history.