Ranking the Yankees championship teams in the Derek Jeter era
Before the 2007 season, Yankees general manager
It took three seasons, but on Wednesday night in the Bronx, the Yankees finally did win their 27th world championship, and when Cashman ran into the team's mental skills coach -- yes, the Yankees have a mental skills coach -- he said simply: "Mission accomplished."
Part of what makes the Yankees so admired is the fact that their single-minded pursuit of winning trickles down from the top of the corporate boardroom right into the clubhouse, and filters throughout the organization. If there is a player who represents the on-field embodiment of Cashman's stated mantra, it is
Thus, Jeter would be the first to admit that even though he has had 14 brilliant seasons in pinstripes, only five of them have been truly successful. Those five, of course, are the ones that ended with World Series triumphs in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and now, 2009. Even the relentlessly competitive Jeter, and his trio of longtime teammates (
But all title teams are not created alike. Part of what made the Yankees' 27th championship so interesting was that it was richly deserved, and not just because of the riches that made it possible. The Yankees were, without a doubt, the best team in baseball in 2009. But were the '09 Yankees the best of the five title teams in the Jeter era? Below is a snapshot ranking of each of those championship teams, each of which were different in their own way but each of which shared the only definition that truly matters: world champions.
Not only is this the best team of the Jeter era, it may be the best team of all-time. The Yanks led the league in runs and on-base percentage, but this was not a typical Bronx Bombers offense. Not one player hit 30 home runs and only two drove in 100 runs. What made them so tough to beat was a balanced lineup and probably the best top-to-bottom pitching staff in team history. Four players (
Every one of their five starters won at least 13 games and the bullpen had not one but two righty-lefty combos to attack hitters in late innings (
The Yankees spent 135 consecutive days in first place, eventually clinching the AL East in early September and finishing 22 games in front. But their most impressive moment came when they were challenged for the only time all season. After falling behind the Indians 2-games-to-1 in the ALCS, the first time they had been behind since April 29, the Yankees won their next seven postseason games, culminating in a World Series sweep of the Padres.
Any thoughts that this team would be so highly-regarded seemed foolish when it got off to 14-16 start and was mired in third place, 5½ games out, in early May. But from that point on the Yankees went 89-43 to finish with 103 wins. Since the end of the original Yankee dynasty, only the '98 team has won more games in a single season. The catalyst for their turnaround was the return of
In the postseason the Yankees benefited from curious, and at times downright hideous, play from the opposition, but the closest they came to being in trouble was when they lost Game 1 of the World Series. Undeterred, they won the next three, making their 27th title a mere formality.
The '99 Yankees spent all season being judged against their historically dominant squad from the year before, but even if they were 16 games worse -- the second-biggest drop-off in baseball -- that overshadowed the fact that the '99 team was pretty darn good in its own right. Unlike the Yankees' two most recent championship teams, that were as admired (or feared) as any Yankee teams of the past 30 years, the '99 team was the first to be hated, a trend that has only continued. It began when the Yankees acquired two-time defending Cy Young winner
Offensively, they were not as powerful as the previous season, though they were still mighty dangerous. Jeter had arguably the best season of his career, batting .349/.438/.552 with 102 RBIs, and three other players drove in at least 100 runs. They finished second in on-base percentage and third in runs and batting average, but eighth in home runs.
Their pitching was once again their most effective weapon. Clemens went just 14-10 in his first year in New York, and
This time, they didn't take over first place for good until early June, but they still managed to win the only division in baseball to feature three teams with winning records. In the postseason they even managed to be more dominant than their fabled '98 forebears, setting a record in the wild-card era by going 11-1 en route to their 25th title.
Unlike the other championship teams on this list, the '96 Yankees were actually underdogs, and had enough compelling personal stories to make them sentimental favorites. From new manager
They were also a pretty good team. Despite having Jeter, the AL Rookie of the Year, and a breakout season from Bernie Williams, the Yankees were not especially forceful offensively, ranking 12th in the league in home runs, ninth in runs scored and 13th in strikeouts. But they had a terrific defense that was second in fielding percentage, a deep starting pitching staff led by Pettitte's 21 win-season, and the best bullpen in baseball.
In his first full season, Rivera served as understudy to
Those two were the biggest reason why the Yankees ended their 18-year championship drought. In the playoffs Rivera allowed just one run while Wetteland saved seven games, including all four in the World Series to earn MVP honors, as the Yankees overcame a 2-0 deficit to upset the heavily favored, defending champion Braves.
The Yankees' most unlikely title team of recent years came in 2000, when they finished with the ninth-best record in baseball, entered the playoffs having lost 15 of 18 games and were challenged early and often in the postseason. Once again their offense had just enough to get them to October. Tino Martinez (.258, only 16 home runs), Chuck Knoblauch (only 26 RBIs) and Scott Brosius (.230 average) began their declines, but the homegrown players -- Bernie Williams (.307, 30, 121), Jeter (.339) and Posada (28 home runs, 86 RBIs) -- asserted themselves as never before to keep the Yankees afloat.
Pettitte led the staff with 19 wins, and though Clemens won just 13, he was the best starter, with a 3.70 ERA and 188 strikeouts. Rivera had, for him, an off-year, with a 2.85 ERA that stands as the second-highest of his career.
More than any other, this Yankees championship relied on imported pieces to get them back to the playoffs. It only furthered their overhyped reputation for buying championships, but it was tough to argue with the results. At various points during the year the Yankees fortified themselves by getting
Yet almost all the moves worked. Justice was the ALCS MVP in the Yankees' win over the Mariners, Vizcaino delivered the game-winning hit against the Mets in Game 1 of the World Series, Neagle helped deliver the win in Game 4 with 4 2/3 effective innings at the start, and Sojo bounced the Series-winning single to center off