New York Yankees In The Middle of 20th Century

Even when the Yankees did not win World Series titles, they almost always were a good team. From 1919 to 1964, a stretch of 46 seasons, they had just one losing season—in 1925. They won 29 AL pennants and 20 World Series championships in those 46 seasons.

All that success made the 1965 season a weird one for the Yankees. They lost six of their first nine games and struggled all season. They finished 77–85, 25 games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins. That season, injuries took a toll on the Yankees. Mickey Mantle played most of the season. But he did so with pain in his knees and had his worst season.

Unlike other seasons when the Yankees failed to make the Series, 1965 signaled a more long-term problem. The Yankees had always had better players than everybody else.But now those players were older and injured. The Yankees also had always had better minor league players than anybody else.

The star power and depth of talent that made the Yankees great was gone in 1965. Suddenly, the Yankees were just an average team—for the first time in nearly five decades. The Yankees were even worse in 1966, when they placed last in the AL. It was the first time the Yankees sank to the bottom of the league since 1912. Life did not get much easier in the following years either. In fact, after winning 99 games in 1964 and losing in the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Yankees missed the postseason in 11 straight years. It was their longest playoff drought since before Babe Ruth joined the team in 1920.

In 1973, the Yankees got the change they needed. George Steinbrenner, who worked for a shipbuilding company, led a group that purchased the Yankees for $10 million. “The Boss,” as Steinbrenner became known, demanded excellence from his team. “I learned as a young man that discipline is needed in all athletes,” Steinbrenner said in 1998. “I’m a disciplinarian.”

The Yankees were an improved team in Steinbrenner’s first three years as owner. In his fourth year, 1976, they finally got back to the postseason. They lost the World Series in four games against the Cincinnati Reds. Veteran catcher Thurman Munson was the AL’s MVP that season.

But it was several important moves off the field that helped build that team. In 1974, the Yankees traded for first baseman Chris Chambliss. In 1975, Steinbrenner made a splash by signing former Oakland Athletics pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter to a big free-agent contract. Before the 1976 season, the Yankees traded for second baseman Willie Randolph and outfielder Mickey Rivers. All of them became valuable members of the new-look Yankees, who found the 1976 season to be the start of another stretch of successful years.

In 1977, the Yankees added free-agent slugger Reggie Jackson and Ron Guidry became a regular member of the pitching staff. The core group from 1976 was still intact. Veteran third baseman Graig Nettles smashed a career-high 37 home runs in 1977. That same year, relief pitcher Sparky Lyle won the AL Cy Young Award. With so much talent on the roster, the Yankees had what it took to get back to the top. They won 100 games during the regular season and then defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers four games to two to win the World Series for the first time in 15 years.

One year later, in 1978, the Yankees did it again. They won 100 games during the regular season. Guidry, nicknamed “Louisiana Lightning,” went 25–3 with a 1.74 earned-run average (ERA) and won the Cy Young Award. The team also received pitching contributions from Hunter and reliever Goose Gossage, both future Hall of Famers. The Yankees defeated the Dodgers in six games to win the World Series. That season is best remembered for New York’s remarkable comeback, which was capped by one remarkable game.

On July 17, 1978, the Yankees sat in fourth place in the AL East, 14 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. Six days later, Yankees manager Billy Martin resigned. Bob Lemon, who had been let go as manager of the White Sox earlier that season, took over. The Yankees began catching up to the rival Red Sox. When the regular season ended, both teams were 99–63.

So, they met on October 2 at Boston’s Fenway Park for a one-game playoff to determine who would go to the postseason. Boston led 2–0 going into the seventh inning. That is when an unlikely hero emerged. Shortstop Bucky Dent, who had just four home runs all year, hit a three-run shot just over the famed “Green Monster” leftfield wall—the top portion of which is more than 30 feet off the ground. The shot gave the Yankees a 3–2 lead. New York held on to win 5–4 and earn a spot in the playoffs.

The Yankees remained a very good team for several more years. From 1976 to 1981, they made the playoffs five times and got to the World Series four times. After losing the 1981 World Series in six games to the Dodgers, however, the Yankees went through another down period, by their standards. Although they produced seven winning seasons from 1982 to 1994, they did not qualify for the playoffs in any of those 13 years.

During that era, the Yankees had some great players. Future Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield, both outfielders, played for the team in that time. Another star for the Yankees during this period was first baseman Don Mattingly. The only time that he got to the playoffs was in his final season, in 1995. Of the 16 Yankees players to have their number retired by the team through 2013, Mattingly was the only one who never played in a World Series. The others all won at least one World Series. Mattingly came to the team after one great stretch of success. And his career ended just before another great stretch.

Early Times Of New York Yankees

Today, the New York Yankees are one of the most popular sports teams in the world. But when the club was born in 1901, it was not located in New York. In fact, the team was not even called the Yankees.

Before 1901, the National League (NL) was the main league in professional baseball. One of the teams in the NL was the Baltimore Orioles, who played in the league from 1892 to 1899. At the end of the 1899 season, the NL decided to eliminate four teams. The Orioles were one of those teams. The manager of the Orioles was John McGraw, who was also a star third baseman.

When the NL eliminated the Orioles, McGraw and others were upset. A group of men led by Byron “Ban” Johnson and Charles Comiskey started a new league—the AL—in 1901. The group wanted to put a team in New York but could not since the NL already had two New York teams. So, they put a team in Baltimore and named it the Orioles. McGraw was named the team’s manager. He was also a third baseman.

After two seasons, the AL and the NL ended their feud. The AL would be allowed to move a team into New York, so the Orioles packed their bags before the 1903 season. In 1903, the team played its games at American League Park in New York. The field was located on one of the highest parts of Manhattan. Because of that, the park was referred to as Hilltop Park. The team took on the name of the Highlanders.

They were known as the Highlanders for 10 seasons. From the start, the Highlanders had great players. “Wee” Willie Keeler joined the Highlanders after spending four years with the Brooklyn team in the NL. The pitching staff in 1903 was led by Clark Griffith, who came from the Chicago White Sox, and Jack Chesbro and Jesse Tannehill, who both came from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Chesbro, Griffith, and Keeler all became Hall of Famers.

The Highlanders never did get to the World Series. They did finish second in the AL in 1904, 1906, and 1910. In 1904, Chesbro won 41 games, setting a modern record (since 1900). In 1913, the team moved to the Polo Grounds, the New York Giants’ home park. Moving away from Hilltop Park, the Highlanders changed their name. In 1913, they officially became known as the Yankees.

The franchise could not find a championship formula during its first 20 years. The team had some winning seasons. But it never could win the AL pennant and get to the World Series. Life for the Yankees was changing, however. They hired manager Miller Huggins before the 1918 season. Huggins was a former big-league player who had managed the St. Louis Cardinals. Then, the biggest change came before the 1920 season. The Yankees purchased Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox. Ruth was a slugger who was about to change baseball, and the Yankees, forever.

The Yankees did not get to the World Series in 1920 either. But they won a team-record 95 games. Ruth was even better than expected, as he smashed 54 home runs. That season, the NL’s Philadelphia Phillies were the only team to hit as many home runs as Ruth. The Phillies hit 64.

The 1920 season was just the beginning for Ruth and the Yankees. Ruth became the country’s biggest baseball star. The Yankees, meanwhile, started making the postseason in 1921. The team won the AL pennant that year and the next but lost to the crosstown Giants both times in the World Series. The Yankees then broke through in 1923 with a World Series title, beating the Giants four games to two. Ruth hit three homers in the 1923 Series.

Before 1921, the Yankees had never been to the World Series. But in Ruth’s 15 seasons (1920–34) with the team, New York won the AL pennant seven times and finished second five times. New York won the World Series in 1923, 1927, 1928, and 1932 in that period.

Of course, Ruth was not the only reason the Yankees were so good during those years. From 1925 to 1927, the Yankees had six future Hall of Famers on their roster. There were eight future Hall of Famers on the team in 1928 and as many as nine during the early 1930s. Outfielder Earle Combs was one of them. He played for the team from 1924 to 1935. Others included catcher Bill Dickey (1928–43, 1946), infielder Tony Lazzeri (1926–37), and pitchers Herb Pennock (1923–33) and Waite Hoyt (1921–30).

If anyone on those Yankees teams could come close to Ruth in terms of talent, it was first baseman Lou Gehrig. Known as “The Iron Horse,” Gehrig was a New York native. He is best known for two things—his remarkable streak of playing in 2,130 consecutive games, and the crippling disease that ended the streak and took his life in 1941. The streak was broken by the Baltimore Orioles’ Cal Ripken Jr., who played in 2,632 straight games from 1982 to 1998. As of 2013, Gehrig and Ripken were the only players in MLB history to play in more than 1,307 straight games.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the neuromuscular disease with which Gehrig was diagnosed, eventually became known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. A medical study released in 2010 suggested that concussions, or injuries to the brain, could contribute to ALS, or that there could be a separate condition that results from concussions and acts like ALS.

During his career, Gehrig had several concussions that might have contributed to the disease that killed him. Gehrig hit 493 home runs and drove in 1,995 runs during his career. He also compiled a .340 batting average. He was the AL’s MVP twice, in 1927 and 1936. He played a significant role in six World Series title seasons for the Yankees.

And he played in each of the first six All-Star Games in bigleague history (1933–38). With Ruth and Gehrig leading the way, the Yankees became a dominant team. But, as history would prove, that was just the beginning for the Yankees.

The Babe

George Herman “Babe” Ruth was a home-run king and a winner of multiple World Series titles. The Hall of Famer was a hero to American sports fans in the 1920s and 1930s and is a legendary figure even today. And more than anyone else, he was responsible for making the New York Yankees the most famous team in professional sports.

“He was the one, the first one, the biggest one to bring recognition to the sport and make it what it has become today,” said Cal Ripken Jr., a Hall of Fame player with the Baltimore Orioles from 1981 to 2001.

Ruth, simply known as Babe, grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. He was a difficult child for his parents. So, at the age of seven, he was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. It was there that he grew up. Although he had a tough childhood, Babe always loved baseball, and he was always a star on his team.

“Even as a kid I was big for my age, and because of my size I used to get most any job I liked on the team,” he said. “Sometimes I pitched. Sometimes I caught. And frequently I played in the outfield and infield. It was all the same to me. All I wanted was to play.”

Ruth signed his first professional contract as a teenager. He played his first major league game, with the Boston Red Sox, at the age of 19. By the time he was 20, he was already a major league star. Today, Ruth is known for the legendary home runs he hit when he played for the Yankees. But when he began his major league career, he was a dominant pitcher for the Red Sox. He had an 89–46 record for Boston.

With Ruth as one of their best players, the Red Sox won the World Series in 1915, 1916, and 1918. At that time, Ruth was one of the team’s top pitchers, so he did not get to bat in every game. In fact, compared to his teammates, he hardly ever came to the plate. Still, he led the Red Sox in home runs in 1915, 1916, and 1918. Home runs were hard to come by in those days. But Ruth had 11 in 1918, leading all of baseball.

Because of his powerful bat, Red Sox manager Ed Barrow thought Ruth might be better suited to playing in the outfield instead of pitching. “The Babe agreed to play the outfield principally, I think, because it got him into the game daily,” Barrow said. Ruth became an outfielder in 1919. That season, he set a major league record for home runs in one season by hitting 29.

After the 1919 season, Ruth demanded that the Red Sox pay him more money. The Red Sox refused, and owner Harry Frazee decided to sell Ruth for $125,000 to the rival Yankees. The impact of that deal would be felt for years. After winning the World Series three times with Ruth, the Red Sox went 86 years without another title. The Yankees, meanwhile, had never won a World Series before obtaining Ruth. Through 2013, they had won 27. This included the four they won with Ruth on the team.

After breaking the singleseason home-run record in 1919 with 29, Ruth had 54 in 1920—his first season with the Yankees—and 59 in 1921. He did even better than that in 1927, when he hit 60—a record that stood for 34 years. Ruth, whose nicknames included “The Bambino” and “The Sultan of Swat,” wound up hitting 659 home runs in 15 seasons with the Yankees. When he retired, he had 714 for his career. That number stood as the major league record until 1974.

Ruth was also a part of one of the greatest teams in baseball history. During his time in New York, the Yankees went to the World Series seven times, winning four of those Series. The 1927 team was considered to be possibly the best ever. That year, the Yankees went 110–44 during the regular season.

The 1927 Yankees had one of the best offensive teams in baseball history. Their lineup was so good that it was nicknamed “Murderer’s Row.” It featured Ruth, who batted .356 with 60 homers and 164 runs batted in (RBIs). First baseman Lou Gehrig, who hit .373 with 47 homers and 175 RBIs, was also an exceptional player. Gehrig was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the American League (AL) that season.(Until 1930, the AL had a rule that previous winners could not win again. Ruth was the MVP in 1923 and, therefore, could not win in 1927.) Second baseman Tony Lazzeri (.309, 102 RBIs) and outfielders Bob Meusel (.337, 103 RBIs) and Earle Combs (.356, 64 RBIs) were also sensational that season. Ruth, Gehrig, Combs, and Lazzeri all became Hall of Famers.

So did pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock. Hoyt won 22 games in 1927, and Pennock won 19. The Yankees had no problem winning the AL pennant, finishing 19 games ahead of the
second-place Philadelphia Athletics. In the World Series, the Yankees swept the Pittsburgh
Pirates four games to none.

The 1927 Yankees had a great collection of stars. And, throughout the history of the team, the Yankees have often had great stars. Ruth was the brightest of them all. He was inducted into the first Baseball Hall of Fame class in 1936. Not bad for someone who grew up with a tough childhood in Baltimore.

“What I am, what I have, what I am going to leave behind me—all this I owe to the game of baseball, without which I would have come out of St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore
as a tailor, and a pretty bad one, at that,” Ruth said.