A review of Yankees’ history tells us something important about sports and life. Even the mighty can fall.
Anyone who has followed MLB baseball knows the NY Yankees have a rich tradition of winning. From 1926–1964, the Yankees didn’t have a losing season. That’s 39 straight years! During those 39 years, the Yankees won the American League pennant 26 times and won the World Series 19 times.
Only hockey’s Montreal Canadians have come close (32 straight winning seasons), but, in baseball, the Yankee’s reign supreme–winners of 40 American League pennants and 27 World Series trophies. The second-place St. Louis Cardinals don’t come close to those numbers (23 pennants & 11 World Series victories)
But even the Yankees have gone through some extended periods of losing. From 1903–1918, the team had only five winning seasons. That changed in 1919. From 1919 to 1964, the team suffered just one losing season. But the consecutive win streak ended in 1965.
New York finished the season with a 77–85 record, their first losing season since 1925. Things only got worse in 1966. The Yankees finished the season in last place with a dismal 70–89 record. Fans stopped attending the games. On September 22 that year, there was a paid attendance of 413 at Yankee stadium. The team continued its downward spiral in 1967, finishing the season in second to last place with a 72–90 record.
After three consecutive losing seasons, the ’68 Yankees got back to winning by going four games over .500. They still finished 20 games behind the Detroit Tigers, but at least it was a step in the right direction. The good news is that the Bronx Bombers had a nucleus of young talent with pitchers Al Dowling, Fritz Peterson, and Mel Stottlemyre, infielders Horace Clarke and Gene Michael, and outfielders Roy White and Joe Pepitone. They still had future Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle, too, who (by then) had moved to first base.
But gone were many players from the 1964 pennant-winning club, including pitchers Whitey Ford and Ralph Terry, catcher Elston Howard, infielders Bobby Richardson, Clete Boyer, and Tony Kubek, and outfielders, Roger Maris and Johnny Blanchard.
Even with Mantle retiring during the offseason, hopes were high in 1969. The team had two new players with great potential in Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson. But the outcome was disappointing as New York had yet another losing season (80–81), its fourth in five years. The team placed fifth in the newly established Eastern division. Meanwhile, the crosstown rival New York Mets were winning the World Series.
But 1970 brought new hope. The club posted a 93–69 record–fourth-best in the Major Leagues, and their best record since ’64. Ralph Houk won the AL Manager of the Year award, and catcher Thurman Munson, who batted .302, was named the AL Rookie of the Year. Left fielder Roy White had a terrific year with a .296 batting average, 22 home runs and 94 RBI’s. Centerfielder Bobby Murcer and pitchers Fritz Peterson, and Mel Stottlemyre also had solid years. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they were in the same division as the Baltimore Orioles, who finished with an impressive 108–54 record and went on to win the World Series.
With all the success the team had in 1970, the 71 season was a big disappointment as the team finished 82–80 and 21 games behind the Baltimore Orioles. The only bright spot was that Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer both made the All-Star team.
With the Orioles having an off-season in 1972, the Yankees had a good chance to win the division, but they had another disappointing year finishing in fourth place with a 79–76 record. Two bright spots were reliever Sparky Lyle, secured in a trade with the Red Sox, and Murcer, who hit nearly .300 with 33 homers and 96 RBI’s. Murcer was the Yankees’ only All-Star that year.
But things were about to change in 1973. George Steinbrenner bought the team from CBS (many Yankee fans had blamed CBS for the team’s downfall in the last eight years), and the team acquired 3rd baseman, Graig Nettles, from the Cleveland Indians. There was also a significant rule change in 1973. The American league voted yes to the designated hitter during the offseason, and on April 6, Yankee Ron Bloomberg stepped up to the plate as the very first DH. By July 1, the Yankees were in first place in their division but then went into a slump, ending the year two games below .500.
It was a sad way to say goodbye to the original version of Yankees Stadium. The 51-year-old ballpark required some remodeling. The Yankees played the 1974 season at Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets. If that wasn’t enough of an adjustment, the team also had a new manager in Bill Virdon. The change of managers and the acquisition of new players (e.g., first baseman Chris Chambliss, and outfielder Lou Piniella) wasn’t enough. The team finished the 74 season with an 89–73 record, their second-best record since 1964, but they fell short of the division title, as they were two games behind the Orioles at seasons end.
The big news during the off-season was that All-Star Bobby Bonds would be joining the club in a trade that sent fan-favorite Bobby Murcer to the Giants. Then on New Year’s Eve, the Yankees announced the signing of free-agent All-Star pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter. Unfortunately, those improvements didn’t add up to a better record in 1975 (only six games above .500). With renovations still going on at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees spent another season playing their home games at Shea stadium. In what would become a common practice for new owner George Steinbrenner, he fired manager Bill Virdon before seasons end and replaced him with Billy Martin
From 1976–1981 the picture changed significantly. The Yankees won four AL pennants and two World Series titles, but–in typical Steinbrenner style–the team did it under the leadership of three different managers, and the transition from losing to winning was anything but uneventful. After eleven years of mediocrity, the Yankees were back on top of the baseball world. But the dynasty was short-lived. Team captain Thurman Munson died in a plane crash in 1979, and All-Star Reggie Jackson, who signed with the team in 1977, left the team at the end of 1981.
The constant firing/hiring of managers took a toll. A losing season in 1982 was the first since 1973, and even though the team won consistently from 1983–1988 under the leadership of first baseman Don Mattingly and outfielder Dave Winfield, the Yankees never had quite enough to win the division. The closest finish was in 1985 when they finished 97–64, two games behind the upstart Blue Jays.
Fans had to remember the good years because the Bronx Bombers would be entering another drought. From 1989–1992 the Yankees suffered through four losing seasons in a row. In 1990 they finished the season with an embarrassing 67–95 record, the teams worst since 1912.
Things would turn around, as they always seem to do in the Bronx. Today, the Yankees are experiencing the fourth-longest winning streak in sports history–27 consecutive winning seasons (1993–2019). During that time, they have won seven AL pennants and five World Series.
But our review of Yankees’ history tells us something important. It shows that even the mighty can fall.