Between 1996 and 2003 the New York Yankees won 4 World Series titles while playing in 6 World Series. For a team that hadn’t played in a World Series in over a decade much less won a playoff series in that length of time the New York Yankees appeared to have struck gold. These New York Yankees though may have proven that they were one of the best teams to win the World Series those years but more importantly, they created the greatest dynasty in baseball history. One that rivaled their previous World Series champions. Today, we take a look back at the New York Yankees that defined the latter end of the 20th century and turned baseball back into a game where the best team occupied New York.
In 1973, George Steinbrenner took over as the owner of the New York Yankees baseball organization. Along with several other investors, Steinbrenner owned the largest stake which meant he had the largest say when it came to managerial decision making within the organization. However, Steinbrenner’s purchase received more scrutiny than it deserved. The Yankees were an organization very similar to the one that exists currently. They had not played in the World Series for an extended period of time and they were still considered the greatest sports franchise to occupy the face of the Earth. Steinbrenner wanted to change the organization and make it a place where the best players wanted to come play again. He did it the only way he knew how. Bigger contracts for better players.
The 1976 Yankees where the beginning of a brief era of prosperity for the Yankees. Under the leadership of manager Billy Martin, who managed the Yankees 5 times and was a player for them during some of their best years, the Yankees were becoming a contender. That year they fell short in the playoffs but Steinbrenner had made it clear that the team was 1 signing away from winning it all. That offseason the Yankees signed slugger Reggie Jackson from the Oakland A’s. Jackson was not the most liked teammate in the world but in October of 1977, he cemented his legacy as Mr. October. The Yankees won back to back titles in 1977 and 1978. However, the 1980s where very cruel to them. They were an organization that had been outshined by their cross town opponent, the New York Mets. The worst of those years was 1986 when the Mets proved beyond a doubt that they were the best team in baseball by winning their 2nd World Series in franchise history. The Yankees were a laughing stock of an organization. They were not even close to outshining the likes of the now confident Boston Red Sox, the Oakland A’s and even the Mets. All the Yankees needed was a second to rebuild in order to become their old selves again. So in 1996 they made a choice that would be probably the best they would make to this day.
The Early 1990s
New York was improving their team in the early 1990s. They had placed guys like Wade Boggs and Paul O’Neill in the lineup to give themselves an advantage. By building the talent around them though it seemed that most of their roster had seen better days and that New York was more of a nice pay day than a place where a team could grow and become a champion. The mid-1990s though changed everything. Building a farm system the Yankees had a plethora of young talent that all will hopefully be in the Hall of Fame one day soon. It all started with the 1992 MLB draft. The Astros had a chance to get Derek Jeter, but passed on him for financial reasons. Jeter was signed by the Yankees and played for 3 seasons before being called up to play for the Yankees. Jeter was awarded the starting job in June of 1995 due to shortstop Pat Kelly being injured. From then on, the Yankees never needed another shortstop until 2015. Jeter became an instant fan favorite but he was not the only talent that the Yankees possessed. In the outfield, the Yankees had an outfielder who had spent four seasons with the team and was coming into his own finally. Bernie Williams was a talent that appeared once in a lifetime. Along with him, a closer by the name of Mariano Rivera was called up in 1995 as well as catcher Jorge Posada. The Yankees it seemed were ready to make a championship run but needed a good leader to do so. In 1996, they hired Joe Torre to make all the pieces fall into place.
Coming off a great 1995 season which ended in the Yankees being eliminated in the playoffs. It seemed that this was a team that was ready for all the glory, they just needed a spark. Joe Torre’s hiring in 1996 sparked interest around the league. Having previously managed in New York with the Mets, St. Louis with the Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves, Torre seemed like a guy that if he had just had the correct timing he could make a team that was already good, great. He got his chance with the Yankees, a ball club that was set up but just needed final touches.
In 1996, the Yankees rocked the American League and won their division. It appeared that they were set to reclaim the throne as the World Champions and only one team stood in their way. The Atlanta Braves, previously managed by Torre in the early 1980s were bringing themselves together and had a Hall of Fame caliber team of their own. They had played in the 1995 World Series and had become the last team from Atlanta for the next 20 years to win a World Championship in any sport. The Yankees had won their division by 4 games, the Braves had won by 8. The Braves were thought to be developing a dynasty of their own but the Yankees had a thing or two to say about it.
It took six games, but the upstart, young guns of the Yankees helped lead the Yankees to their 23rd World Series in franchise history. It turned out to be one of the most Hall of Fame filled World Series ever. Derek Jeter, Wade Boggs, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, all played in the series, along with Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. That year, Jeter had won MVP honors, Bernie Williams was the ALCS MVP and John Wetteland earned World Series MVP honors for his performance(s) in the series. New York was once again at the mountain top, now it needed to stay there.
Very similar to the Yankees of old, by winning again, the Yankees added to their already outstanding roster. Signing Roger Clemens in 1999, the Yankees now had one of the best pitching rotations in the modern game. The 1998 season turned out to be arguably their best one ever. They won 114 games that year and added talent like Darryl Strawberry to the lineup to make them that much better. Instead of moving into the downward spiral that most talented teams move into after winning one world championship, the Yankees were actually getting better. The secret to their success was that they were able to keep all of their talent to stay in New York. The common goal was not financial, it was about winning and guys like Jeter and Williams knew that in order to win you had to keep the talent around.
The 1998 World Series was abysmal to watch as a talented San Diego Padres squad was left to rot after the Yankees swept them in four games to win a 2nd World Series under Torre. Mariano Rivera captured 3 saves in the series including throwing the final pitch to submit absolute victory. Again, rumors started to float about a dynasty building in New York. 1999 started with a trade between the Blue Jays for Roger Clemens for three Yankees pitchers. It was so sweet with a perfect game being thrown by David Cone in July. The Yankees were becoming what the Atlanta Braves could have been. They won yet another division title in 1999 and another World Series sweep; this time against the Atlanta Braves. They had four All-Stars on that team and Mariano Rivera won the World Series MVP award that year. It seemed that is was cool to be a Yankees fan again. In 2000, it was more of the same, the Yankees had completed a three-peat by winning their fourth title in 5 years. The 2000 World Series was more personal though than any other that had ever happened. It was a battle between the Yankees and the Mets and had the name “The Subway Series” due to basically going from one end of the city to the other. The Yankees again won handily in 5 games. The 2000 Yankees were to be the last team to see a New York Championship for almost a decade however as the team that had once ruled the baseball world began to see things move in the opposite direction.
2001, was the key year in the Yankee dynasty as they would have four-peated and been the third time that this was done in their history. The championship fatigue seemed to finally hit them that year. It was time for a new chapter in baseball. Roger Clemens won the CY Young award that year and the Yankees headed to Arizona to face the young Arizona Diamondbacks who were playing their first and only World Series. Behind aces Randy Johnson (who would play for the Yankees a bit later) and Curt Schilling (who would haunt the Yankees in the near future), the Diamondbacks were a formidable force. However, aside from this the Yankees were still kings of the block. The Diamondbacks gave the Yankees a test to remember as they put the Yankees into 7 games of pure hell. New York did not go quietly but it was still a rough pill to swallow when you had been dominating the league for the past decade. The Diamondbacks made a play that would put them in the history books that year and put Mariano Rivera and put a stain on Mariano Rivera on YouTube forever. Luis Gonzalez, an outfielder for the Diamondbacks was hitting balls left and right and had come in the clutch for the Diamondbacks coming into the series, but when you face Mariano Rivera, good luck is what you need more than skill. Rivera was planning on saving the Yankees yet again. It seemed his luck had run out for once in his career. In the 9th inning, Gonzalez hit a single that gave the Diamondbacks the series victory.
The most brutal part of that 2001 series is watching the Yankees crumble on the bench after losing in a fashion that many would consider glorious. It didn’t seem that the Yankees were done though as 2002 they did not shatter as much as they usually did but they were still a contender. They won 103 games but were eliminated by the eventual champion the Anaheim Angels. It seemed that the Yankees time at the mountain top was over. They surprised everyone in 2003 by winning all the way to the World Series in part due to a Home Run which will live forever by Aaron Boone, the current Yankees manager. In his lone season in New York, he established his legacy as a Yankee in that moment. 2003 though proved to be yet another year of falling short for the Yankees as the young Florida Marlins who had won the lone World Series that prevented a four-peat in the 1990s for the Yankees came back to bite them in 2003. Behind pitchers Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis, the powerful Marlins placed New York in a position that it seemed the Yankees would never recover from. Behind small ball talent like Juan Pierre and big hitters like Miguel Cabrera, the Marlins took down the Yankees in 6 games. The era had now come to an end as that off-season pitchers Andy Petite and Roger Clemens both signed with the Houston Astros. The Yankees purchased Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers but his value did not pay off as much as it had in previous situations. He still had his best years in New York though. The team remained in the hunt for the World Series but was more known for coming up short as they did not return to the World Series until 2009. Only Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada, remained on the team from the original run. Andy Petite made his way back to New York and in 2009, the Yankees again won the World Series. Their time though was dwindling as their talent seemed to be aging.
Why the 1996-2003 New York Yankees were the Baseball Dynasty EVER?
A big argument could be made that the 1927 Yankees were the greatest team ever. Granted a vast majority of their players ended up in the Hall of Fame for good reason. The New York Yankees of the 1990s and early 2000s have not all had their day in court yet. Jeter is enshrined along with Rivera but several others deserve their day as well including Jorge Posada and even Roger Clemens. During those Years the Yankees won 786 games, not counting the playoffs of course, Lost 506, won the division 7 out of 8 of those years and had won 4 World Series in that time period.
Furthermore, the Yankees won those World Series with a very similar roster. They were not divided by financials and greed. The stayed together for the common purpose of winning. By getting better, it seemed, every year, the Yankees never fell through a championship spell that they could not spin themselves out of. What killed them in the end was age and father time. By 2003 the Yankees were not exactly the youngest guns on the block as they had been in years past. They were struggling to maintain rather than winning. The pieces were falling away and lots of deals destroyed the team that once ruled the American League.
Not to mention, the team had two chances to achieve a four-peat which is almost unheard of and they possibly could have won 5 in a row had it not been for the Angels, Diamondbacks, or Marlins. It seems that their legacy has been forgotten by New York faithful though due to time moving forward. The current Yankees will come together in due time, their time just has not come yet. They have the talent to win they just have not been able to get past the likes of the Astros or the Red Sox. The fact remains that the Yankees of the late 1990s and early 2000s had more chances to win championships that even the New England Patriots, arguably the greatest sports dynasty in history. The Yankees though beat out everyone due to being smart enough to keep everything together for such a long length of time. Even in their down years they were still winning the World Series which in unheard of in modern sports. Needless to say, this was a team that you did not want to mess with.